Following the annexation of Crimea in 2014 Russia lost its right to vote in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) " />

“The shame of European diplomacy” – why PACE voting rights were given back to Russia

Following the annexation of Crimea in 2014 Russia lost its right to vote in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has returned the right to vote in the organisation today on June 25 after Russia promised to pay its dues and fines to the organisation – 75 million euros.

The decision to deprive Russia of the right to vote in PACE was made in 2014 after the annexation of the Crimea.

Now, PACE appears to have had a change of heart. An overwhelming 118 deputies voted for the return of Russia to PACE. Only 62 deputies voted against and another ten refused to vote.

Why the right to vote was returned to Russia

At first glance, the proposed revision to changes in the voting process appears purely bureaucratic. The head of the PACE Rules of Procedure Committee, Petra de Sutter of Belgium, presented a report entitled “Improving the decision-making process of the Parliamentary Assembly regarding powers and voting”.

This bureaucratic report, however, is only a guise – concealed within is a rule written specifically for Russia’s benefit: from now on, the report announces, “the rights of members to vote, speak and be represented in the assembly and its bodies cannot be suspended or withdrawn”.

In fact, the assembly has lost the tool that allowed the punishment of violators.

Without consequences, the future of PACE looks more like a club than a political association.

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Aside from this proposal, 220 amendments, proposed mainly by deputies from Ukraine, were presented to the assembly.

Almost all the amendments were rejected. Though the discussion of each took no more than three minutes, the chairman of the meeting still urged deputies to hurry.

As a result, Russia is again a full-fledged member of the PACE.

The individual deputy votes from the recent assembly can be viewed here.

Opening of the PACE summer session in Strasbourg, France, June 24, 2019 Photo: Council of Europe / Klara Beck

Why Russia was deprived of the right to vote

The Russian delegation was deprived of voting rights in PACE in the spring of 2014, immediately after the annexation of the Crimea.

In response, Russia used a simple, and, as it turned out, an effective, solution: in June 2017 Moscow cut funding for the Council of Europe.

Russian money makes up a tenth of the Council’s budget.

In the subsequent years, PACE remained firm. Statements were made that only “serious progress” in matters of the Crimea and Donbass could open the door for Russia to return to the assembly.

Now these requirements have been forgotten. This was influenced by the fact that Moscow promised to pay all debts and fines over the past years (amounting to approximately 75 million euros) immediately after the return of “all rights” to the Russian assembly.

“The shame of European diplomacy is not that Russia returned to PACE, but that it returned the way it did,” Dmitry Kuleba, the permanent representative of Ukraine to the Council of Europe said while commenting on the decision.

PACE summer session opening in Strasbourg, France, June 24, 2019 Photo: Council of Europe / Ellen Wuibaux

“Real politics”

A number of factors are behind the recent decision.

First, the desire of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland of Norway, to go down in history as a “peacemaker” by returning Russia and Europe to a common platform. Connected to this desire is the recent phenomenon of  “real politics” in Germany and France. President Macron and Chancellor Merkel in a telephone conversation with Putin at the end of May stressed that Russia “has a full place in the Council of Europe” and noted the importance of “quickly finding a solution to keep [Russia] in the Council of Europe with all its rights and responsibilities.”

The role of France and Germany – the two biggest players in the European Union – in the process of returning Russia to PACE is a worrisome sign. As evidenced in the assembly’s recent decision, Western countries are becoming more and more ready to return to a “normalization” of relations with Russia.

What now

In response to the PACE decision, members of the Ukrainian delegation ceased to participate in the session, except for issues related to the return of the Russian delegation to the assembly.

The Russian delegation has already begun preparations for the return to PACE.

State Duma deputy Leonid Slutsky was nominated, thanks in part to PACE’s quotas* for the post of PACE vice-president, but the Ukrainian deputies managed to block his automatic appointment.

Now all PACE members must vote by secret ballot for the confirmation of Slutsky. It should be noted that Slutsky is among 6 of the 11 members of the Russian delegation who are under international sanctions for having voted to introduce troops into Ukraine.

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