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Russia’s return to PACE would end Council of Europe as human rights instrument – Ukraine’s ambassador to CoE

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the Council of Europe. Photo: Dmytro Kuleba’s facebook
Russia’s return to PACE would end Council of Europe as human rights instrument – Ukraine’s ambassador to CoE
Translated by: Alya Shandra

Russia had been sanctioned – effectively, stripped of its voting rights in PACE – in 2014 and 2015 following the occupation of Crimea and military involvement in eastern Ukraine. In the summer of 2017, Russia stopped its mandatory payments to the Council of Europe and in a public statement has stated it will resume them only if the Russian delegation is readmitted in its full rights. The fact that many PACE members are ready to discuss Russia’s return without the country fulfilling any of the demands to end aggression against Ukraine, which PACE had expressed in numerous resolutions, allow to speak of financial blackmail of the institution, and of a crisis of values. In his recent interview with European Pravda Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to Council of Europe, dwelled upon the risk of Russia’s comeback to PACE.

According to him, at its next session scheduled to be held in autumn, PACE is going to vote a resolution on what is officially known as harmonization of the Assembly’s and Committee of Ministers’ rules. However, in reality, the adoption of this resolution will result in the extreme complication or even abolition of PACE’s mechanism of sanctions that it can impose on a state. Adoption of this resolution is reportedly Russia’s condition for its return to PACE. Here we translate the key points of Kuleba’s interview.

Implementation of the Russian scenario

According to Kuleba, the activities masked under the codenames of “harmonization of the Assembly’s and Committee of Minister’s rules” and “reform of the sanctions mechanism” have one goal: to return Russia to PACE unconditionally by January 2019, i.e. without Russia implementing any of the demands of the resolutions adopted by PACE against Russian aggression in Ukraine.

If this happens, it will be the first incident since 2014 of pressure on the aggressor country being lowered.

According to Kuleba, Russia’s demand is clear. They say: “We will return to PACE if you can guarantee that sanctions will not be used against us.”

If Ukraine’s opponents win, PACE’s sanctions mechanism which PACE can use to respond to the violation of principles and values and responsibilities of member states will either be abolished (which is unlikely) or will be complicated to the extent that using it will be practically unfeasible.

Far-reaching consequences

If it happens, the lifting of sanctions on the Russian delegation in PACE will serve as a signal for Europe as a whole.

“Those who support the reduction of sanctions in the EU will receive an additional argument: ‘Look, PACE has backed down let’s back down too.’

Therefore, we shouldn’t underestimate the danger. It is not just ‘some sort of assembly,’ it’s about changing the system of relations with Russia as a state which violates international law,” Kuleba stressed.

He says that it’s important for Russia to return to PACE in January 2019 in order to portray this as a “failure of Ukrainian politics” and use this within Ukraine. [The presidential and parliamentary elections are set to take place in March and October 2019, respectively – Ed.]

But apart from that, this situation will have far-reaching consequences for the European human rights movement.

If the plan of Russia’s supporters will end successfully, PACE’s sanctions mechanism will become ineffective – not only for Russia but for any country.

“This creates a fundamental problem for human rights defenders in Europe overall. Let’s imagine that some European country will start violating human rights – for example, torture will start being used massively, or minorities will be persecuted, or there will be such a judicial reform where all the judiciary will be subordinated to the executive branch. Then, human rights defenders will have to put pressure on the local government and deputies. But PACE will no longer be an instrument to punish the state for such actions,” Kuleba warns.

Russian supporters

Among those who support Russia’s comeback are the organization’s Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland as well as far-left and far-right political forces.

Kuleba also mentions that there are worrying signals that the number of those who support Russia’s comeback increases; these worrying signals come, inter alia, from Germany.

He says that ultimately, the outcome depends on the votes of the deputies of the member countries. And these depend on the position of the national governments. The countries which are more positive towards Russia are represented by PACE delegates who are also more inclined to return the Russians to the Assembly.

What moves the people advocating for Russia’s return? Kuleba believes that there are reasons to believe that Russia “systematically invests in lobbying its interests in PACE”:

“Based on the logic of actions of some specific people, I have a hard time believin that they are doing it for ideological reasons or their own beliefs.”

Kuleba notes that the Russian supporters in PACE don’t place any demands on Russia in exchange for lifting sanctions, but instead search for ways to suit the Russians:

“I get the answer: ‘You know, there’s no point in pressuring the Russians…’

And this is a fundamental problem. Instead of holding real negotiations with the Russians, people just concentrate on implementing Russia’s fancies.”

“A tragedy for the Council of Europe”

According to Kuleba, the unfolding story about Russia’s return to PACE is a “drama and tragedy of the Council of Europe:”

“PACE has grown into a very serious institution which has leverage over countries and their politics. Now the Assembly is being recommended to go down the path of amputation. They are ready to amputate their own hand, with which they had influenced countries to adhere to standards of justice, human rights, and democracy.

And now the organization is ready to limit itself, deprive itself of its own authority in order to fulfil the interests of one country which is the greatest violator of international law on the continent.”

Russia’s supporters make the argument that if Russia is not returned to the Council of Europe, then in the summer of 2019, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will have no other choice than adopt a decision to exclude the country for not paying its member fees over more than two years.

Kuleba says this is a manipulation. First of all, the adoption of decisions takes a long time in the Council of Europe, and a situation when Russia is simply waved goodbye in 2019 is unimaginable. Secondly, the rules of the Council of Europe state that in case a country does not pay its member fees over two years, its rights can be terminated either in the Committee of Ministers or in PACE. According to Dmytro Kuleba, the Committee of Ministers can simply formalize the termination of Russia’s rights in PACE, using this as an official sanction for non-payment of two years worth of member fees.

However, with time this will raise questions over how Russia could be represented in the Council of Ministers [where it is not sanctioned – Ed] and influence the work of the Council of Europe if it doesn’t pay its fees.

The future of the Council of Europe as an organization

Regarding actions which may be undertaken to prevent Russia’s return to PACE, Kuleba states that they must be made on all levels and appeals to experts and human rights defenders:

“Colleagues, if this scenario works, you will not only get Russia in PACE and its influence on the decisions of the Assembly. You will lose the parliamentary assembly as an instrument for protecting human rights in Europe. But that’s not all.

The Council of Europe will be discredited in general together with PACE. And you will lose the Council of Europe as your partner in protecting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

Just imagine: they will do it, forgive Russia all its violations. And when the Council of Europe tries to make a remark to anyone, it will hear in response: ‘My dears, haven’t you recently betrayed your principles, closed your eyes to all of Russia’s violations to return it. What is your moral right to teach someone now?’

This is a very serious matter. Now it’s not just about protecting Ukrainian interests.

It is about the future of the Council of Europe as an organization.”

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Translated by: Alya Shandra
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