Out of Sight, out of Mind: Could Russia Leave the Council of Europe for Good?
10 October, 2018

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has postponed the vote on changing the sanctions mechanism for Russia on October 9, which means that Moscow will now stay out of PACE until at least January next year.

More than four years ago, in April 2014, Russia was stripped of its right to vote in PACE over its annexation of Crimea, as well as its actions instigating war in eastern Ukraine. Since 2017, Russia has stopped paying its contributions into PACE – about seven percent of the Council’s total. The country has, however, repeatedly lobbied its full return to the organization. Albeit on particular terms, which would most importantly include eliminating any future chances of being placed under sanctions.

This, of course, did not leave PACE members indifferent. Some applauded the idea of Russia’s possible return to PACE, which was strongly pushed forward by Thorbjørn Jagland, the Council of Europe’s (CoE) Secretary General. Some – most notably Ukraine and the United Kingdom (whose relationship with Russia has also been seriously deteriorating recently) – opposed it relentlessly.

READ MORE: MEPs, Politicians and Intellectuals Call to "Save the Council of Europe"

Former CoE human rights commissioner Nils Muižnieks says that the question of Russia’s future at PACE hugely depends on the country’s relationship with the assembly.

“If Russia remains in [PACE] and undermines the system from within, then I would rather have it out,” he told Hromadske in an interview on September 28.

Muižnieks believes that Russia’s destiny, including the possibility of the country’s expulsion from PACE altogether, needs to be decided based on the organization’s impact on the Russian people.

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“The question we have to ask is: do the citizens of Russia derive any benefit from Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe? Until recently, I would answer that in the positive, I would say less and less, but still, there are many people who would derive benefit. What will be the case by the time this vote comes around in March is difficult for me to say. But it’s been on a declining trend of benefits that Russian citizens derive from membership in the Council of Europe,” he said.    

However, Muižnieks also says that recent developments could indicate that Russia’s expulsion from PACE might be approaching faster than we think.

“If nothing happens by next spring, if Russia has not paid its past-owed contributions, then automatically a process whereby Russia might be expelled from the Council of Europe kicks in,” he said.

“There will be, I’m sure, somewhat, a change to the rules so that that would not happen, but if nothing changes on the financial front, then automatically, two years you haven’t paid your dues, the process of you being excluded from the organization begins.”

/By Maria Romanenko