A Russian Return in the Council of Europe?
9 January, 2018

In April 2014, not long after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the Council of Europe suspended Moscow’s voting rights in its Parliamentary Assembly. The sanctions marked what can be effectively be understood as a standoff between the Council of Europe and Russia, which nonetheless remains a member of international organization.

The Council of Europe renewed its sanctions against Russia in 2015. However, when they lapsed the next year, the Russian parliament never submitted its credentials for ratification. The same happened in 2017.

But, at the end of last year, Russia appeared poised to make a return to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in 2018. Now, however, its prospects look distinctly less optimistic. Hromadske spoke with Ambassador Dmytro Kuleba, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the Council of Europe. He explained how Ukraine is working to prevent Russia from returning to PACE.

Can you explain what is the situation right now and whether Russian succeeds in its advocating its return to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Well, Russia felt rather confident in the success of its effort to return to PACE. But that was only 3 weeks ago. The situation has changed recently.  It doesn’t feel that confident anymore. It actually hesitates whether to submit its delegation for the consideration by the Assembly in January 2018 and therefore the situation has changed dramatically comparing with what we had only 3 weeks ago. But nothing has been decided yet. We should remain vigilant and follow all the development. And no way should Ukraine or our partners sit with our hands laid down and wait to see what happens in January. We should keep actively working on making sure that unconditional return of the Russian Federation to the Parliamentary Assembly becomes impossible.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

What are the major arguments of Ukraine and its partners against the return of Russian to the Parliamentary Assembly?

Well, we stick to the founding documents  of the Council of Europe and basically argue two things. First that the unconditional return of Russia will mean that principles and values of the Council of Europe will be compromised. Because after everything Russia did in Ukraine, after suppressing democracy and the rule of law domestically, in Russia, it is just impossible, I mean, it seems to be impossible and inappropriate to accept such a country back to PACE without seeing any changes or concessions from its side. And the second point is that there is a number of resolutions adopted by PACE with the regard to…in response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. These resolutions contain a list of demands that Russia should implement. So if it returns to PACE without implementing them this will send a clear message to other member states of the Council of Europe: you can do whatever you want, even commit the most heinous crimes and still, you know, go away with it, and still remain unpunished and feel no consequences for your behavior. So it will be rather attempting for other member states to follow Russian threat of blackmail and crackdown on democracy and the rule of law. Some will be attempted to follow. And that is exactly what we need to avoid if we want to maintain the Council of Europe as the international institution of high integrity.

It is generally sometimes it is believed that the Council of Europe is not that much important for Europe than compared to the European Union. How would you explain the importance of this situation to those people who disregard the importance of this institution?

Well, you are absolutely right, among the EU members, all the Council of Europe, this institution kind of rests in the shadow for the European Union. However, it is extremely important beyond the borders of the European Union and countries such as Ukraine where the Council of Europe makes a difference by supporting democracy and the rule of law and human rights. So it will be very unfortunate if the Council of Europe gets discredited and compromised in our part of the world as basically the West will have minus one leverage in Ukraine and in other countries. At the same time some EU members will also face challenges where the Council of Europe can help them and assist them in overcoming this situation. So we all need a strong Council of Europe, but to remain strong it has to resist the Russian blackmail and reject unconditional return of Russia to the Parliamentary Assembly.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

You said that Russia felt confident some three weeks ago, now it’s not the case. How would you explain the reasons why Russia is not that confident that it will return?

There are three drivers of change that I can mention. The first one is the work that was done by Ukrainian diplomacy in numerous capitals of Council’s of Europe member states. We basically lobbied, we campaigned, we advocated, we explained the negative consequences of the unconditional return of Russia. Then, a lot of work has been done by members of the Ukrainian parliament that represent our country in the Parliamentary Assembly. They’ve done a lot of work at their level. And we are most grateful to those journalists and experts who noticed this problem, this unfolding crisis. They’ve paid attention to it in public statements, in publications, in media publications. This has dramatically influenced the public discourse and the public debate about the effort to take Russia back. I can assure you that what I know Russia’s advocates didn’t expect such a strong public rejection of the attempt to unconditionally bring Russia back to the Parliamentary Assembly. This was also a turning moment to some extent, changing the public discussion about the matter.

But you’ve said that we should remain vigilant and that something may happen in December and January. What should we follow and what can actually happen?

Well, we should make sure that no one gets relaxed anywhere, that those who are ready to oppose the unconditional return of the main on guard, so to say, and we should wait also until the week before the session of the Assembly begins in January for the moment when Russia may submit its delegation for the approval by the Assembly. That would be the decisive moment. If this happens Ukraine and its friends should be fully mobilized to oppose to this move and to succeed or to prevail in a vote that will take place. So we should remain mobilized. And we should keep talking to our partners and those who are still hesitant trying to convince them to take our side.

Which are the key dates? Is it close to the 20th of January?

Yes, the session will start on the 22d of January. So the week before the session will be a benchmark when we will see what Russia has on its mind.

/By Volodymyr Yermolenko