Council of Europe vote to readmit Russia divides rights watchdog

Moscow's controversial return pleases Germany and angers Ukraine

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Berlin on June 18th. “It’s sad that our European partners didn’t hear us and acted differently,” Mr Zelenskiy  said about the Council of Europe decision. Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Berlin on June 18th. “It’s sad that our European partners didn’t hear us and acted differently,” Mr Zelenskiy said about the Council of Europe decision. Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

 

Kiev has led criticism of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe for allowing Russia to return to the human rights watchdog, five years after Moscow’s voting rights were suspended over its annexation of Crimea and fuelling of war in eastern Ukraine.

Germany, France and the Netherlands argued that it was important to counter Moscow’s threat to quit the 47-state council, so as to maintain dialogue with Russia and ensure its people had access to the European Court of Human Rights.

Ukraine, along with the Baltic states, Georgia and dissenting parliamentarians from other member countries, described the vote as a cynical capitulation to a Kremlin that has done nothing to change course since 2014.

By 118 to 62 and with 10 abstentions, the council’s parliamentary assembly (known as Pace) backed a resolution stating that members’ “rights to vote, to speak, and to be represented in the assembly and its bodies shall not be suspended or withdrawn in the context of a challenge to or reconsideration of credentials”.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that during talks last week with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron he urged them to allow Russia’s delegation back into the council only after it ended its aggression against his country.

“It’s sad that our European partners didn’t hear us and acted differently,” he said on Facebook on Tuesday, while alluding to the fact that Russia will now resume payment of its annual €33 million share of the council’s budget.

“I hope that in the question of defending democratic values, no one was thinking about material values,” Mr Zelenskiy wrote.

‘Serious blow’

Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics criticised a “regrettable and disappointing resolution” and his Lithuanian counterpart, Linas Linkevicius called it “a serious blow to the Council of Europe’s credibility”.

Ukraine led an appeal against the decision, which came in the early hours of Tuesday, and in protest suspended most of its participation in Pace.

The head of Kiev’s delegation, Volodymyr Ariev, said the vote sends “a very bad message: do what you want, annexe another country’s territory, kill people there, and you will still leave with everything”.

German foreign minister Heiko Maas welcomed the decision, however: “Russia belongs in the Council of Europe – with all the rights and obligations that entails. This is good news for Russia’s civil society,” he said.

His Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, called the vote “entirely positive”.

“It’s important that the delegations that voted for this resolution, which formed a majority, clearly stated that the rights that are being returned to the Russian Federation cannot be disputed,” he added.

Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, insisted the decision was “not about money”.

“The political establishment of European countries simply matured enough to realise that without Russia they’ll get nowhere,” he said.