Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland (left) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Photo: RFE/RL
The nerves of Ukrainians had been hardened in observations of the campaign to lift sanctions from the Russian delegation to PACE, which unraveled in 2017. But the speech of Thorbjørn Jagland, Council of Europe Secretary General, during the winter session on 22 January, was a real shocker. Without doubt, this speech has a historical value for the relations between Ukraine and the Council of Europe.
The current Secretary General of the Council of Europe hardly enjoyed the trust of Kyiv before, raising questions with his statements. But the level of cynicism and manipulations in his current speech divided the relationship with him into “before” and “after.”
It’s difficult to talk about “relations as usual” with a politician who lobbies lifting sanctions from the Russian delegation at PACE, manipulates the documents of the Council of Europe, and ignores actions by Russia which are criticized by the whole world. This can hardly be a worthy excuse, even if Jagland’s actions are motivated by the organization’s financial crisis and a desire to return Russia’s membership fees to the Council of Europe’s coffers. But Jagland, it seems, has made his final decision.
Manipulations by the Secretary General
On January 22, during the evening session of PACE, the Secretary General made his annual planned speech. His speeches have traditionally made the Ukrainian delegation nervous over the last few years, but this time it was over the top.
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe (CoE) attempted to prove to the MPs at the Assembly that Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine doesn’t constitute grounds for punishment – on the contrary, it is a reason to increase the collaboration between Russia and the CoE.
“I would compare our role with the role of the Red Cross… Conflicts should not prevent us from protecting people’s rights in Ukraine – including in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine – and in Russia. On the contrary, simply because there is an open conflict, we should deploy all our instruments in these areas, including those in the hands of PACE,” the politician claimed.
He believed that the Russian delegation must return to the Parliamentary Assembly before the spring of 2019, when the large-scale summit of the CoE is expected. The Secretary General has also identified a mechanism for returning the Russians – for this, any possibilities of renewing sanctions against Russia must be eliminated – by changing the rules of the Council of Europe.
This statement is certainly nothing new. Negotiations for the return of the Russian delegation have been ongoing for more than a year, and Thorbjørn Jagland has been actively involved with them. However, it appears he hasn’t yet spoken so frankly about the need to forgive Russia.
But the real bombshell was dropped at the end of the speech.
The Council of Europe’s Secretary General explained that Russia’s actions in Ukraine were not a reason to punish it in the Council of Europe, because, allegedly, the country did not violate the four main articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Modern Europe, after the Second World War, was defined by the values enshrined in four articles of the European Convention,:
– No death penalty
– No torture
– No forced labour or slavery
– No punishment without law
These articles cannot be derogated, not even in times of state of emergency. They define the soul of Europe. Any member state that violates these fundamental values cannot be a member of our family. On this there can be no compromise… So there are limits to what we can accept,” he explained.
The situation is different, in the opinion of the secretary general, with other violations. They pose no immediate threat to the membership of a country. For the offenders (without referrals to Russia, just hints), Jagland suggests using other means of influence, through pressure of the court and the Committee of Ministers. It doesn’t matter that this pressure has not yet yielded any results.
Well, the Secretary General has the right to such an opinion.
Has Jagland not heard about the torture taking place in Crimea? We have no doubts the Ukrainian mission to the CoE would be delighted to organize a meeting with human rights activists from there. Or about the appeals of Ukrainian de-facto political prisoners Karpiuk and Klykh, filled of gut-wrenching details of how they were tortured to confess of crimes they didn’t commit, to the European Court of Human Rights?
Does he not know about the executions in the Donbas “people’s republics,” committed by their puppet leaders who are appointed to these “posts” by Russia?
But if such constructions are too complicated for the Secretary General, we will remind that the Council of Europe, whose secretariat he heads, does not recognize the activities of the so-called Crimean “courts” located on Ukrainian territory, but controlled by the Russian authorities.
Week after week, Russian citizens in judges’ mantles hand out illegal “sentences” to Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists, often on the basis of obviously false evidence. The whole civilized world, all major international organizations, including the Council of Europe, do not consider these bodies “courts.” And only the Secretary General of the Council of Europe does not see that we’re talking about extrajudicial punishment, or diligently avoids mentioning that in public.
Take a guess, did Jagland comment the illegal sentencing of Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz, along with politicians and human rights activists around the world?
No, he simply “did not notice” it. The Secretary General of the CoE, an organization created for the protection of human rights, did not comment one of the most blatant violation of human rights on the continent. Hard to believe, yet true.
UPDATE. After the publication of the article, Yevropeiska Pravda was handed a copy of Jagland’s speech at the Cabinet of Ministers of the CoE in September 2017 where the sentence against Chiygoz was condemned. Representatives of the Secretary General’s office insiste that this text should have become public but didn’t due to a mistake. At the same time, it doesn’t say anything about the problem of extrajudicial sentences in Crimea, and the Russian occupation isn’t mentioned altogether.
The abovementioned is only a part of Russia’s violations. Russia became the only member state of the CoE which adopted a law allowing it to defy the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. This decision is unprecedented, but Jagland – based on his speech – is worried about this much less than the loss of Russian funding,
The legacy of the Secretary General
What’s happening is genuinely surprising. A successful 67-year-old politician who passed through all the stages of the national political system up to Prime Minister, became the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and has long been a Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, chose a new path 1.5 years before the end of his cadence at the CoE – to openly lobby Russian interests. But it makes sense to immediately warn against excessive simplifications.
And there is no sign of accepting the annexation of Crimea or the like. The situation is much more complex. The Secretary General is lobbying Russian interests only in one question: in fully lifting the political sanctions imposed on Russia within the structures of the CoE. And this will be the first precedent for “forgiving” Russia in international organizations. No more, but no less.
Nevertheless, we can say that Jagland chose a path which could ruin the many years of work he put into creating his own image. And it is this which raises eyebrows.
Everyone who personally knows the current CoE Secretary General insists: the Norwegian politician especially values the legacy, i.e. the political heritage he will leave. This is what is of prime importance to him when he chooses strategies of action in key questions in a narrow circle. Jagland is genuinely concerned with spreading democratic values, and the values of the Council of Europe – including in Russia.
His second term of office on the position of Secretary General expires in the fall of 2019, and it’s likely that he will decide to end his active political career next year.
“What he will leave behind in the history of the Council of Europe is important for Jagland,” stressed Yevropeiska Pravda’s interlocutors in Strasbourg.
We have already reported about the harsh financial problems that Strasbourg faced in the recent months – Russia and Turkey had announced that they would reduce their contributions to the organization’s budget. And if Ankara did it within the legal framework (two years ago, Turkey voluntarily began to pay the CoE more, and now returned the standard payment), Moscow simply stopped paying.
One way or another, the annual budget of the Council of Europe now has a deficit of EUR 53 mn, or nearly 12% of the budget of the organization. There is nothing to fill it up with.
This is the reason for the panic at the Secretary General’s office.
Russians felt that it was a sore spot for Jagland, and began to press on it systematically. First they announced that they will cut the 2017 contribution by one third. Then Moscow informed Strasbourg that they would not pay two thirds of the contribution. And this year, they warned that they would not pay at all until the issue of sanctions and the return of Russians to the PACE session hall was resolved.
Because of this, the issue of preserving the values of the Council of Europe faded into the background for Jagland – his attention is taken by the legacy problem.
Thorbjørn Jagland does not want to be remembered as the Secretary General during whose cadence the CoE lost one of its members – even if it wasn’t the CoE’s fault, but the will of the member state. Moreover, he does not want to remain in the role of Secretary General, according to the order of whom hundreds of employees will be dismissed from the apparatus of the Council of Europe.
And there is a significant chance that exactly this will happen.
Now Strasbourg is actively working on a scenario that will allow Russia to return to PACE already in the summer, and by that time – to receive generous Russian funding. If this happens, it will solve one of Jagland’s problems.
But it’s a pity that the Norwegian politician does not see the problem in remaining in history as the first Secretary General who sold out the CoE’s values.
And the fact that he denies this motive does not in any way change its reality.
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