Photo: Press service of the Council of Europe
Article by: Serhiy Sydorenko
On Monday, 3 June, a regular meeting of the Rules Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe took place in Paris. At first glance, this was a routine, insignificant event – PACE is by far not the most influential body European body, and the meetings of its committees no longer attract attention.
But this meeting was special.
During it, European Assembly members agreed to capitulate to the requirements of the Russian Federation and fulfilled all its wishes. The draft resolution approved by the Regulatory Committee introduces a special, individual procedure to return the Russian delegation, which was sanctioned after the annexation of Crimea, to the PACE session already this summer. And in order for the Russians to not be afraid of coming to Strasbourg, PACE should undertake a “self-amputation” and remove the right to sanction Russia from its own powers.
It has been put up for a vote several times yet failed in each of them. Now, the situation has changed drastically – committee members overwhelmingly supported the project. This isn’t the final victory for Russia – in three weeks, this document will be voted upon in the session hall. But it’s already clear that Russia’s supporters have done everything possible and impossible to guarantee such support.
European Pravda has looked into what the committee decided, why the decision appeared now, and how Russia succeeded in gaining the support of European PACE members.
Down with the sanctions!
Attempts to lift the sanction pressure on Russia in PACE are nothing new.
The idea of ”forgiving” Russia is openly supported by the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, as well as by a number of very influential assembly members, and therefore the struggle for de-sanctioning Russia had become pronounced in recent years.
The Ukrainian delegation managed to stop these efforts each time.
The most active and flagrant attempts came in the fall of 2018, but then the defeat of Russia’s friends was so devastating that it seemed to be definitive. And the acting rules of the Assembly left no chances for the Russians’ return – at least, not this year.
But do the rules matter when political expediency is at stake?
The governments of Germany and France became the main drivers for removing restrictions from Russia.
The initiators of the changes did not hide the key idea behind them: to make the new procedure as cumbersome and complex as possible. So that applying it against Russia would be close to impossible.
Ukraine was not able to win the round in the Committee of Ministers but did not lose it, either. The decision included a critical point for Kyiv – that the new sanction mechanism would complement the existing sanctions mechanism rather than replace it. Consequently, the old sanctions should not be abolished automatically – only if the Assembly would agree to amputate its own powers. This seemed almost unrealistic.
But Berlin and Paris know how to find arguments that make dreams reality.
The dreams, however, are theirs, and the reality can become Ukraine’s.
What has already been approved and what’s left
Here is a very important detail: as of now, the sanctions pressure has not yet been lifted. The PACE resolution has been approved only by the Committee. This is an important preparatory step, but the final decision should be made by the Parliamentary Assembly.
This gives Ukraine a chance to persuade their European colleagues, to explain to them how serious the consequences of their decision may be.
But, to be frank, there is no certainty of success. The standards agreed upon by the profile committee are too serious. Even incredibly so. Moreover, they were adopted by an absolute majority of votes.
The draft resolution of the PACE which was approved by the committee has already been published.
The title of the document makes it seem as if it’s about something extremely positive: “Strengthening the decision-making process of the Parliamentary Assembly concerning credentials and voting.”
Among the 12 paragraphs of the decision, two are of key importance – exactly those that are addressed specifically to Russia. You, however, won’t find any mention of Russia in them, despite there being no other Member State that is under sanctions pressure and because of this does not take part in PACE activities.
The first norm of the approved project proposes to abolish the right of PACE to impose key sanctions. Not only against Russia, but sanctions altogether. The regulation adds a rule according to which the assembly will no longer be able to restrict the right to vote, the right to speak, the right to participate and vote in the committees of the assembly. In essence, the only sanctions that can be imposed by PACE, according to the project, are a ban on holding senior positions in PACE bodies and a ban on participation in observation missions. And this is not the limit – the last point of the decision suggests that the sanctions rules “need further revision”!
The second norm of the project allows the Russians to return to the Assembly in the middle of the year, “as an exception,” and even more – in the middle of the summer session. This rule is contrary to the Council of Europe’s statute and therefore only applies to the June 2019 meetings. The reason for it is that the Russians do not want to travel to Strasbourg until PACE waives its right to impose sanctions on Russia at any time in the future.
And so, upon an agreement with the Russian Federation, PACE’s leadership has adopted an unprecedented working schedule. The decision of the Assembly to abolish sanctions should be adopted on Monday as soon as Assembly Members arrive in Strasbourg, without leaving them the opportunity to discuss these changes in party groups. This means that the Ukrainian delegation will not have time to lobby for its position in Strasbourg at all – and usually, this lobbying was the most effective. Having received a “green light” regarding the elimination of the threat of sanctions, Russia, according to this scenario, submits a list of its delegates and on Wednesday they already begin working in PACE.
And, finally, about the current balance of forces. The meeting of the committee showed that the absolute majority of its members support “forgiving” Russia. “The voices were distributed as follows: 18 in support, six against (Ukrainians, British, the Baltic countries); one (Pole) abstained,” Volodymyr Ariev, the head of the Ukrainian delegation to PACE, told after the meeting.
What’s at stake?
The following year, these restrictions were prolonged, and from 2016, Moscow just stopped sending its delegation to Strasbourg, avoiding the humiliating sanctions procedure (according to PACE rules, if the delegation isn’t there, then formally sanctions are not imposed against it).
Meanwhile, without the influence of the numerous Russian delegation, PACE turned into an organ that was rather critical of Russia. This was seriously irritating to the Kremlin, so two years ago, they rolled out the blackmail, having stopped paying contributions to the budget of the Council of Europe. An annual deficit of 33 million euros, or 7% of the budget, brought about a financial crisis in the organization (although PACE itself received only a fraction of that money). In parallel, Moscow began talking about the possibility of Russia’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe.
It seems that, ultimately, the blackmail worked.
How is this dangerous for Ukraine?
Moreover, Russia would receive vivid confirmation of its strategy: the West so greatly appreciates a “dialogue” with the aggressor that even ordinary blackmail could be enough for lifting sanctions imposed against it. And there is no doubt that attempts to attack the sanctions regime will continue.
But this is far from being the only problem.
Strasbourg is reluctant to admit it, but starting from 2018, PACE delegates have received signals that Ukrainian civil society will lose confidence in the Council of Europe if sanctions on Russia are unconditionally lifted. Ukrainian human rights activists have already made a rather harsh joint statement about the “surrender of the Council of Europe. And the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has officially warned the Council of Europe that it is preparing harsh steps if Russia will return to PACE.
- Read more: Looks like 1938: how Berlin and Paris made a step towards lifting sanctions on Russia in PACE
Even Ukraine’s interests are put aside, even if one turns a blind eye to the values of the Council of Europe, this decision of PACE – if the resolution is approved in its current form – will be catastrophic for the Council of Europe. And this is not an exaggeration.
After all, the sanction mechanism will be killed for everyone, not just from Russia. Under these changes, PACE’s monitoring mechanism, one of the key instruments of the Assembly, ceases to work. Will many states follow the monitoring instructions if their violations of the rules will no longer result in penalties?
For example, the Council of Europe rules and traditions require all countries to send a balanced delegation to Strasbourg: the ratio of the power and opposition, the number of men and women, various parties, etc. should be exactly the same as in the national parliament. And if, for example, a certain state sends a purely male delegation to Strasbourg, then other PACE deputies, having learned about this, challenge the powers of the national delegation and force the offending country to rectify the problem.
Today this works, but now this opportunity will simply be annulled if PACE decides to “amputate” its own sanction powers
But if Russia returns, Ukraine may face another, even more dangerous issue.
According to all the rules and logic, PACE would have to stop this malaise and deprive the Russians of voting rights, or maybe terminate their powers altogether, but will not be able to do so, because it would have killed its sanctions powers. And so Russia announces that it has won the recognition of its delegates from occupied Crimea at the level of the Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Do France and Germany strive for this scenario or dozens of other similar ones? That’s unlikely
The operation of “forgiving Russia,” which is being implemented now, looks more spontaneous and emotional than sober and thought out.
Will the Ukrainian delegates, public activists, human rights activists, and journalists be able to communicate to the West an understanding of this danger and stop them from making a mistake in June? I can’t be sure, but this chance does need to be taken.
- Russia’s return to PACE would end Council of Europe as human rights instrument – Ukraine’s ambassador to CoE
- Reforming PACE rules of procedure must not lead to a weakening of the current sanctions regime
- Open letter of lawyers & foreign policy experts: stop efforts to weaken Council of Europe’s powers to sanction violators
- Relatives of Ukrainian hostages of the Kremlin ask PACE to prevent lifting Russia sanctions
- Rebecca Harms: Germany and France should stop supporting Russia’s unconditional return to PACE
- Russia ignores PACE resolutions to end aggression against Ukraine. So PACE prepares to lift sanctions