Russia Might Rejoin PACE. What Would That Mean?
5 June, 2019
Prime Minister of Georgia Mamuka Bakhtadze delivers his speech at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, 10 April 2019. EPA-EFE / PATRICK SEEGER

Flashback to February 2014, Russia is in the midst of changing its path from one of cooperation to one of isolation. However, on June 24, a major decision by The Council of Europe could push Russia’s trajectory back towards cooperation. Or, it could make the Council an institution in name but not in practice.

“The council will turn itself into a classic talk shop,” says Dmytro Kuleba, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the Council of Europe

Previously, “only significant and measurable progress towards implementation of resolutions 1990, 2034, 2063 could lead to lifting sanctions on Russian delegation.”

But on May 17, a majority of foreign ministers represented in the Council of Europe made the reintroduction of Russia into the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (or PACE) an easy task and the sanctioning of Russia, or any other country, a difficult one.

READ MORE: Council of Europe Set to Bring Russia Back

With virtually no concessions from Russia, reintroduction has caused a rift of emotions. Dmytro Kuleba summarizes this as “not diplomacy, but a surrender of the Council of Europe to the Russian Federation.”

If the resolution is passed, in order to impose sanctions, a process would require joint action of the Committee of Ministers and PACE. Joint action may not sound critical, but a cursory glance at the past actions of the Committee of Ministers, illustrates an unwillingness to sanction infringing countries.

Meaning, reimposing sanctions will become a long, bureaucratic complex process – a process that will most likely never herald any tangible results.

Editor of European Pravda Serhiy Sydorenko describes in his article that it essentially diminished the monitoring mechanisms of the Council of Europe,

“It creates precedent that sanctions can be lifted under blackmail. In this case Russian blackmail.”

Moreover, this decision opens a door for semi-legitimization of the annexed Crimea. If Russia decides to send Crimean "MP’s" to PACE, there is no precedent to challenge these credentials. Meaning, PACE could inadvertently legitimize the annexation of Crimea.  

READ MORE: Out of Sight, out of Mind: Could Russia Leave the Council of Europe for Good?

This can be a shock to many Eastern European countries, especially Ukraine. As Leiden University professor and expert on Ukraine Max Bader points out, PACE represents “an instrument for defending those values (the values of the Council of Europe).” Without such an institution, Chairperson of the Ukrainian delegation to PACE Volodymyr Ariev notes, Europe will “lose a strong partner in defending human rights and freedoms across Europe.”

It’s important to note that this decision from the Council of Europe comes at a time when Russia continues to defy International Courts and governing bodies claiming illegitimate jurisdiction.

Most recently, Russia violated its international obligations by closing the jointly operated Kerch straight. On May 25, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered Russia to release the 24 Ukrainian seamen they seized last November. So far Russia has failed to comply.

In this era, the fundamentals of democracy are continually coming under fire. The decision to succumb to threats by the Russian Federation only shows the brittle foundation that European values stand upon. It may not be in the Council of Europe or in the next elections but the status quo as we know it gradually chips away.

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

“Russia is in a league of its own, it may not have immediate ramifications for other countries, but indeed the broader signal is that maybe the values of the Council of Europe are diluted,” Bader says.

There is reason to believe that both long standing democracies and relatively new ones will continue to move away from the democratic values that Europe holds. However, the reintroduction of Russia into PACE is not the cause of the dissolution of democracy, but a symptom.

Despite the complications, on June 24, MP’s can still vote “no.”

READ MORE: A Russian Return in the Council of Europe?

/By Allison Martinez-Cortes