European leaders have welcomed the award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to activists standing up for human rights and democracy in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has pushed Moscow’s relationship with its western neighbours to a new low.
Even before that, ties had been fraught over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s backing for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Syrian leader Bashar Assad, and his repression of political opponents such as Alexei Navalny at home.
“I hope the Russian authorities read the justification for the peace prize and take it to heart,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said after the Nobel Committee awarded the prize to imprisoned Belarus rights activist Ales Bialiatski, the Russian group Memorial and the Centre for Civil Liberties in Ukraine.
“It sends a signal that keeping civil society down is protecting one’s own power. It is seen from the outside and it is criticised.”
French President Emmanuel Macron was among world leaders who praised the laureates, tweeting that their prize “pays homage to unwavering defenders of human rights in Europe”.
“Crafters of peace, they know they can count on France’s support,” Mr Macron said.
In Paris, exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press that the award was “recognition of all the people who are sacrificing their freedom and lives for the sake of (Belarus)”.
“Physically, you know, this prize will not influence their situation but I am sure it (will) influence the moods and intentions of other countries to help those people who are behind the bars,” she said.
Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg congratulated the winners, tweeting that “the right to speak truth to power is fundamental to free and open societies”.
Danish foreign minister Jeppe Kofod said the award needs to be seen against the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine.
“There is war in Europe. Your work for peace and human rights is therefore more important than ever before,” he said to the winners. “Thank you for that.”
Over the last two years, the government of Belarus has waged a violent crackdown on journalists and protesters who say that the 2020 presidential election was rigged, beating thousands, detaining tens of thousands, and charging human rights defenders with cases that the opposition calls politically motivated. Many have fled the country for their own safety.
However, Belarus’s Foreign Ministry denounced the Nobel committee’s decision to award the prize to Mr Bialiatski as “politicised”.
Ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz said that “in recent years, a number of important decisions – and we’re talking about the peace prize – of the Nobel committee have been so politicised, that, I’m sorry, Alfred Nobel got tired of turning in his grave.”
He added: “But it’s their kitchen and their consciousness, we don’t want to interfere and comment. We just lost all interest in it at some point.”