The Interpreter

A special project of Institute of Modern Russia
Russian State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin

How To Avoid Sanctions Like Sergei Naryshkin

Two days ago, the discussion on social networks was about how people on the EU sanctions list could nevertheless travel to France and even give press conferences in Paris.  The fourth most powerful official in Russia, the Speaker of the Russian State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin, did just that. He found himself on the EU sanctions list after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Indeed, Naryshkin quietly entered the EU, and indeed he was not only in Paris, but also in Meaux, another French city.  How is it possible ? Very simple. Those who think that his status as a deputy gives Naryshkin immunity from sanctions are mistaken. No, it does not.

Very few people paid attention to who invited Naryshkin to Paris. The Speaker of the Duma was in Paris on the invitation of UNESCO to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Russia’s membership in the Organization.

A French diplomat who requested anonymity told me that “the invitation from such organizations is the perfect way for those on the list to avoid sanctions and nothing can be done about it.”

Remember Ahmadinejad, at the UN session in New York?  He spoke there despite of the sanctions against Iran. Naryshkin is not the only one to have managed to enter the EU after the sanctions had been implemented.
Leonid Slutsky , a member of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in early April, also came to Strasbourg, France.

As for Sergei Naryshkin, he received an invitation from an international organization with an “accord de siège” – an agreement signed in 1954 between UNESCO and the French government.

According to this protocol, the organization is guaranteed independence and immunity on French soil.
So, technically, Sergei Naryshkin’s visit was not part of French-Russian bilateral relations, but of Russian-UNESCO’s relations.  Furthermore, if, for example, UNESCO were to ask that the security of Naryshkin be guaranteed, then this would be the responsibility of the French police forces.

Such a paradox: on the one hand, the French police must ensure that Naryshkin does not enter French territory, but on the other hand, it also must guaranteed Naryshkin’s security inside UNESCO’s headquarters.  What’s more, according to this agreement, French police cannot legally enter the UNESCO building to enforce the ban on Naryshkin and cannot expel him from the country.

There is an article in this agreement which states that French authorities will not interfere with transit to the UNESCO headquarters of those people invited by the international organization:

The French government agrees to authorize, without visa fee nor delay, entry and stay in France during the duration of their functions or mission for the Organization of the following persons:

a) Representatives of member States including their substitutes, advisers, experts and assistants (…).

In addition, Sergei Naryshkin could bring with him to Paris his entire family because, according to this document, they also fall under the protection of the document.

During his press conference in Paris, Sergei Naryshkin once again presented Moscow’s official position on the Ukrainian issue: “The so-called Kiev authorities and the West are responsible for what’s going on in Ukraine today.”

Naryshkin also said a couple of words about the sanctions: “As you know, your noble servant is under the sanctions and this prevents a constructive political dialogue between parliamentarians.”

Indeed, in Paris, Naryshkin could not hold an official meeting with French members of the National Assembly. French MP Chantal Guittet, a member of the Assembly’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, told me that Sergei Naryshkin would not be able to enter the French Parliament.

Moreover, just before his arrival, the French Foreign Ministry warned French deputies that they should not meet with Naryshkin.  One person, however, broke the ban: Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right movement Le Front National.  Oh yes, she claimed she was not aware of the French Foreign Ministry’s instructions.

Naryshkin returned home safely. But for France, the challenge will resume next week when Gennady Timchenko, a member of Putin’s inner circle, the major shareholder in the gas company NOVATEK, who is on the U.S. sanctions list, will participate in a roundtable organized by the Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS) in Paris.

It’s worth remembering that Timchenko sold his stake in GUNVOR, an international oil trading firm, just ahead of the sanctions. This way, GUNVOR was spared the sanctions.  In Paris, Timchenko will speak at the roundtable with French oil giant TOTAL’s CEO, Christophe de Margerie, who, despite the difficult relations between the EU and Russia, is not going to stop doing business with Moscow. On top of that, Timchenko and de Margerie are the co-presidents of Economic Council of Russian and French businesses.  This time, French minister of Foreign Affairs remained silent. And this is understandable: Gennady Timchenko is not on the EU sanctions and from France he received the highest award: the Legion of Honor.

C’est la vie, as we say here in France.