Shutting down an entire university due to breaches of fire regulations would sound a little harsh at the best of times.
When the university in question is St Petersburg’s European University, however, suspicions are naturally raised – not least thanks to numerous EU-funded courses, including one on election monitoring. We are, lest we forget, just a few short weeks before Russia’s controversial presidential elections.
Little wonder, then, that some among Russia’s isolated opposition are digging out the colourful rhetoric:
Maxim Reznik, the head of the St. Petersburg branch of Russia’s liberal Yabloko faction, said the real reason for the order was an election monitoring course funded by the European Union.
“No doubt, it’s about politics,” Reznik said. “Fire inspections is just an excuse. It’s another example that the authoritarian regime is going to the new stage, to the stage of totalitarianism.”
The suspension of the university’s activities comes amid tensions between Moscow and the West over Russia’s March 2 presidential elections. An election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has refused to send observers to the vote because of restrictions on their activities — an announcement likely to strengthen Western concerns about democracy in Russia.
When the university’s closure comes the very same day that Moscow announces it will maintain favourable gas prices for the pro-Russian dictatorship in Belarus while threatening to cut off supplies to the EU-leaning Ukraine, it’s very hard not to see the university’s closure as part of a coordinated campaign designed to tell Ukraine to look east, not west if it knows what’s good for it…
Update: Ahem… BBC News – Russia in Ukraine missile threat