Ukrainophobic activist Michel Balique and sanctioned Russian ship still in France

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a French activist (Russian influence agent), Michel Balique, has used the association he presides, “Friends of Tall Ships,” as a tool for commercial promotion of the Russian ship “Shtandart.” 

In 2022, many demonstrations were held in the port of La Rochelle, in front of the Shtandart, against Russian ship presence in France.

Moreover, Balique uses it to spread a parallel pro-Kremlin reality intended to screen the circumvention of the 5th package of the EU sanctions against Russia, with the decision-makers, the media, and the opinion, Bernard Grua wrote. The French newspaper “Libération” sheds light on the actions of the pro-Russian lobbyist.

Michel Balique repeats an obsolete version of the sanctions

Michel Balique does his best to defend the Russian ship’s right to stay in France. However, his version, which Putin would praise, contradicts some facts. 

“It is neither a Russian military ship nor a ship linked to the Russian state since it belongs to a non-profit association. It is not in the hands of an oligarch either, so it has full right to stay in French ports”, Michel Balique said in an interview with Libération on January 14, 2023.

Indeed, on April 8, 2022, the Council adopted the fifth round of sanctions following the atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces in Boutcha, Ukraine, and other places under Russian occupation. These sanctions are aimed directly at Russian vessels, regardless of ownership. By Article 3e bis, they are incorporated into European Regulation No. 833/2014.

1. It is prohibited to give access, after April 16, 2022, to ports and, after July 29, 2022, to locks located in the territory of the Union to ANY IMMATRICULTURAL VESSEL UNDER RUSSIAN PAVILION, except access to locks to leave the territory of the Union.

The prohibition in paragraph 1 shall apply after April 8, 2023, to any vessel certified by the “Russian Maritime Register of Shipping.”

When Michel Balique stated in Libération that “it (the Shtandart) therefore has full right to remain in French ports,” he was spreading false information. The sanctions are aimed at the Russian vessel Shtandart registered under the Russian flag. The Shtandart does not fall within the scope of possible exemptions.

The collective #NoShtandartInEurope, as a whistleblower, repeats these regulatory elements for over six months. Consequently, Michel Balique must recognize them. By his canvassing and his untruths, he puts the organizers of maritime events, partners, and elected officials, in a situation of financial risk, such as the cancellation, at the last minute, after deposits or full payment of the Shtandart service. 

This was the case in Bordeaux. Balique exposes these same decision-makers to criminal risks after the Council unanimously adopted a decision on November 28, 2022, to add the violation of restrictive measures to the list of EU criminal offenses in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.

Who is the owner of the Russian vessel “Shtandart Project”?

It can only be said that the Russian vessel is owned by an entity, “Shtandart Project,” registered in St. Petersburg, apparently non-profit, which does not mean without commercial activity. 

Nevertheless, Vladimir Martus owns 60% of the shares of this entity in Russia. According to the group #NoShtandartInEurope, the Shtandart is indeed a private yacht. The ownership is listed below.

  • Vladimir Vyacheslavovich Martus – 60.34%
  • Andrei Andreyevich Akhmatov – 17.88%
  • Lidia Borisovna Plekhanova – 15.64
  • Sergei Alfeevich Neustupov – 3.07%.
  • Sergey Georgievich Alekseev – 3.07%.

Fabrice Loher, mayor of Lorient, said to Ouest-France: “The Shtandart belongs to the Shtandart Project, based in St. Petersburg, whose company is not known to have direct links with the Russian state.” 

All of the above are the same as far as the application of sanctions is concerned. On the other hand, as far as links with the Russian state are concerned, we can prove at least part of it. So, this vessel must leave France under the EU sanctions.

Michel Balique has spread, since March 2022, false accusations against Ukraine and pro-Ukrainian protesters and disinformation in line with the Kremlin’s narratives in the name of the association of “Friends of Tall Ships” that he presides. 

His campaign aims to discredit the Ukrainian or pro-Ukrainian whistleblowers who oppose the illegal presence of the Russian ship Shtandart in French ports. The boat that Michel Balique promotes. 

This is a Ukrainophobic discourse whose accusations have no basis except for their direct filiation with the Russian cultural elements popularized by Moscow since 2014 and which “justified” the Russian invasion and its crimes in Ukraine.

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