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Russian delegation in PACE: Is it a display of financial diplomacy?

Restoring full membership of the Russian delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, one of Europe’s key diplomatic platforms, is contradictory to the Council’s democratic traditions.

March 23, 2020 - Anton Naychuk - Articles and Commentary

Plenary chamber of the Council of Europe's Palace of Europe. Photo: PPCOE (cc) wikimedia

In April of 2014, Russia was excluded from the right to vote in Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) due to the annexation of Crimea and the start of a hybrid war in the eastern parts of Ukraine. At the time, the international community was shocked that any modern country would violate international law and forcefully annex another country’s territory within the political matrix of Europe.

This shock was followed by alienation and strict measures against Russia through the introduction of political and economic sanctions at the PACE and European Union level.

Undoubtedly, this was an absolutely justified step, demonstrating a commitment to the ideals of democracy and human values that have underpinned the European security system since World War II. However, after several years of consolidated policy in support of Ukraine, European diplomacy has begun to back away, creating prerequisites for restoring all rights which were lost by Russia, although the Kremlin’s policy towards Ukraine has not undergone any real changes. Ukrainian security experts and diplomats have not found a reasonable answer for what has caused these changes in European Union policy.

Excessive pragmatism and economic interests

A number of leading European countries have not hid their interest in strengthening economic cooperation with Russia and returning to their formerly established partnership, despite the Kremlin’s aggressive actions on the international stage. In particular, Germany and Russia have maintained fairly close trade and economic ties. Berlin has shown great interest in the success of some of Moscow’s international projects. Therefore, the Germans are openly lobbying to deepen their relations with Russians, and in some issues make significant compromises in order to achieve conditional stability. Angela Merkel is especially interested in preserving dividends from Russian projects against the backdrop of Brexit and several other crises at the European Union level, which is threatening the position of Germany’s export-oriented economy. Some similar positions are held by French President Emmanuel Macron, who is particularly keen on responding to United States President Trump and is actively lobbying for stronger partnerships with Vladimir Putin. The positions of many European Union leaders suggest that the Kremlin’s calculation largely justifies itself. Their response is discrediting the established system of international norms and calling into question the efficacy of supranational institutions.

Furthermore, in his letter to the Federal Assembly on January 15th this year, Vladimir Putin suggested accepting several amendments to the Constitution, one of which is to prioritise Russian law over international law. Such initiatives by Russia exhibit the country’s steadfastness in defying international norms. In preparation for a of transit of power in 2024, Vladimir Putin is attempting to strengthen the authoritarian model of government and emphasise Russia’s “selective” attitude to the generally accepted rules of the game in Europe. At this time, restoring full membership of the Russian delegation in PACE, one of Europe’s key diplomatic platforms, is entirely contradictory to the Council’s democratic traditions.

What really happens in PACE?

There is reason to believe that deputies who voted for the return of the Russian delegation in PACE have violated key principles of democratic society and the organisation itself in exchange for Moscow’s membership fees. Russia understands the importance of the economic component for many PACE members, which has given the country a position of strength. The newly elected PACE Vice Speaker, Pyotr Tolstoy, said that if the Russian delegation were removed or any restrictions were introduced, PACE would simply cease its work. Such statements are concerning, given that Russia has failed to fulfill any of the requirements that were attached to reinstating its right to vote. Moreover, the election of Pyotr Tolstoy as one of the PACE Vice Speakers casts considerable doubt on the motives of the delegations who voted for him. Tolstoy has worked for a long time on Russian television and has been the host of a number of propaganda talk shows on the largest state-owned channels in the Russian Federation. Also, Pyotr Tolstoy initiated the introduction of a number of State Duma deputies from the Crimea into the Russian delegation, which directly contravenes international law and undermines the authority of the very organisation he is elected to represent.

At the same time, a draft decision has been prepared by the PACE Monitoring Committee, which eliminates the possibility of applying any restrictions on the Russian Federation because some European parliamentarians claim the country has shown progress in meeting a number of requirements. This draft resolution was recently adopted at the PACE winter session. It is difficult to evaluate such actions in terms of the protection of democratic values because once again they are riddled with double standards and inconsistent claims. In such circumstances, finding reasoned explanations for the recent events is difficult for not only Ukrainian experts, but also for the wider international community.

Anton Naychuk is the director of the Civil Diplomacy Fund, an NGO based in Kyiv.

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