Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Says Russia Will Check EU on Rights

President Vladimir Putin told European leaders that he was planning to set up a think tank for freedom and democracy in the very heart of the European Union.

The proposal, which seemed designed to turn the tables on countries that have criticized Russia on human rights and democracy issues, caused some consternation at the EU-Russia summit Friday, when the Kremlin's top aide flatly denied that the Europeans would be allowed to play any role in the institution.

Putin said the center was to be opened in Brussels or another European capital, adding that the aim was to counter Western nongovernmental organizations' activities in his country.

"With the aid of grants, the EU helps develop such institutes in Russia," he told reporters after the summit in Mafra, Portugal. "I think the time has come for Russia, given the growth in our financial capabilities, to make its contribution in this sphere as well."

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates then suggested that the center would be set up jointly.

"We received President Putin's proposal of a Euro-Russian institute dedicated to promoting human rights in the two blocs with satisfaction," Socrates told the same news conference. "We will now discuss the details of the proposal with the Russian side."

But Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Putin's senior aide on EU relations, quickly made it clear that there was little need for cooperation.

"This is not going to be a joint venture," Yastrzhembsky said Friday, Interfax reported. "This will be a Russian institute, which will be created in accordance with the legislation of the country where it will be located."

He added that it was still too early to say when the institute would be established.

Putin said the institute would receive the same kind of funding as European-funded bodies operating in Russia receive from the EU.

Moscow has accused Western NGOs of being behind both Georgia's Rose and Ukraine's Orange revolutions, as well as interfering in Moscow's domestic affairs.

Yastrzhembsky stressed that the financing would come "exclusively" from Russia.

He said the institute would monitor the situation regarding the rights of ethnic minorities, immigrants and the media in Europe.

The plans were first made public earlier this month by Anatoly Kucherena, a member of the Public Chamber.

Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected analyst, said one of the institute's priorities should be highlighting discrimination against ethnic Russians living in countries once part of the Soviet Union, like Estonia and Latvia.

"The European Union sadly closes its eyes on this," he said in a telephone interview Sunday.

Markov added that that there were also plans to set up a political fund for United Russia, the country's dominant political party. The fund would be modeled after U.S. and German institutions such as the National Democratic Institute or the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which have offices in Russia.

Late last year, Gleb Pavlovsky, another Kremlin-friendly analyst, presented plans to set up a Washington-based think tank to combat negative U.S. perceptions of Russia.

Other so-called "soft power" projects designed to influence foreign opinion about Russia include Russia Today, a 24-hour English-language news station funded by the Kremlin.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the Greens in the European Parliament, said he welcomed a Russian human rights office in Brussels, if only an office with similar powers could be set up in Russia.

"Let them both have totally free access to prisons and let us set up annual joint meetings to discuss the situation," he said in a telephone interview Sunday, referring to the fact that human rights organizations have been denied access to see former Yukos executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky in his Siberian labor camp.