“The amnesty to the criminal, who did not repent,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin is straightforward in the statements. France and Germany act according to Orwell. “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is power,” Volodymyr Ariev, Chairman of the Permanent Delegation of the Parliament in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, is no less straightforward. We are talking about the likely return of Russia to PACE at the session, which will be opened today. How wide will be the Old World embraces for the aggressor? Will we be able to appease the eastern predator? What will Ukraine do?
Everything is so Orwellian
“1984 in 2019,” Volodymyr Ariev, people’s deputy, said on Facebook, apparently hinting at the similarity of the situation with the events of the dystopian novel by George Orwell. According to him, we are being forced to destroy the main European human rights structure as a blessing. It is a frank cynicism, although “a chance to preserve the values and principles remains”. While there is no answer to the question: will PACE use it or not?
“On June 24 there will be voting on the report, and on Tuesday morning (on the next day ‒ E.D.) It will become clear if the Russians submit the delegation,” Mr Ariev told. “An exception is made for them, the special resolution procedure does not comply with the Statute of the Council of Europe. The statute says: delegations can be added only at the beginning of the session, in January of the current year. The only exception is if there were elections, then a delegation could be submitted within six months after that. There was no election, so the Russians cannot do it.”
On June 3, the PACE Regulatory Committee approved the draft resolution that may complicate the imposition of sanctions on the Russian delegation and allow it to return without fulfilling international obligations. On June 24, the Assembly must approve this decision. Almost no one doubts that the Russians will be accepted in PACE. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel openly announced this at meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Mr Macron took care of Russian citizens, who allegedly suffer from the full withdrawal of the Russian Federation from the Council of Europe. They say that Russians should be able to file complaints with the Russian Federation at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), while Russia itself must pay contributions to PACE. On the sanctions against the Russian Federation, Mr Macron assured ‒ they should be continued until the conditions are met. And Mrs Merkel stressed that Germany is making efforts to return the Russian delegation to PACE, but with a search for ways to fulfil their obligations. So, for the leaders of influential European states, the interests of the citizens of the aggressor country are more important than the interests of those affected by Russia, Ukrainians. There are thousands of people killed in the east of the country, hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of the occupied territories, displaced people, Crimean Tatars.
However, Volodymyr Zelensky sees no reason for Russia’s return to PACE, after all, it hasn’t done anything. According to him, while Ukraine has not fully regained its territory, the lifting of sanctions from the aggressor is out of the question.
They cater the brazen Kremlin
The Russian delegation was deprived of the right to vote in PACE in 2014 due to the aggression against Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea. In response, the Russian Federation ceased its participation in the work of this organization and ceased to pay contributions. The pro-Russian lobby in the Assembly has repeatedly tried to return the Russians, but attempts were blocked on time.
“The likelihood that all amendments will be adopted at the PACE session that no sanctions can be imposed against any state, although it is the Russian Federation that is meant, is high,” Andrii Karakuts, an international expert, said. “There are many different versions ‒ why? In my opinion, the main one is that at this session they should elect a new Secretary General of the Council of Europe. If the Russian delegation does not participate, then there is a danger that then it will be the Russian Federation that will be able to put forward any complaints about the legitimacy of this Secretary-General and the entire organization.”
However, it’s just the top of the iceberg for the Ukrainians. There are hidden initial steps to legitimize the annexation of the Crimea and the presence of Russia in the Donbas in the return of the Russian Federation to the PACE.
“It is possible that the Russian Federation will insert into its delegation so-called State Duma deputies elected by Crimean citizens,” Volodymyr Ariev noted. “This will also be decisive for the PACE since it is not possible for parliamentarians to be in the Assembly. If they are accepted, the legitimacy of PACE will be multiplied by zero. There are still many important issues, but virtually the whole machine of the external political departments of France and Germany is acting against us.”
“PACE imposed sanctions on the Russian delegation, economic sanctions against the Russian Federation have a rather complicated structure,” Yevhen Magda, executive director of the World Policy Institute, said. “However, the return of the Russian delegation to PACE will mark the period of the restoration of Russian influence on the processes of international politics, the Kremlin’s attempt to look “warm and fuzzy”. I do not think that Putin will succeed in imitating civilization for a long time.”
Will Ukraine slam the door?
There are calls that if they are treating us this way, then we also need to be tougher with PACE, it is possible that there is a need to break off relations at all. However, emotional decisions and slamming the door will hardly save the situation. Maybe it is not really so pessimistic.
“We’ll have to put aside emotions,” Yevhen Magda said. “Announced by Pavlo Klimkin ‘a change in Ukraine’s relations with the Council of Europe’ only makes sense if the Ukrainian position is supported by other countries. Russia skillfully made a bet on the PACE split and achieved its goal by blackmailing. Ukraine should not go with the Assembly, but should focus on defending its own interests.”
The Council of Europe risks becoming weaker and losing confidence if it reinstates the RF in its membership. It threatens the decline of PACE. The approaches of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to participate in this organization will become more pragmatic. Kyiv will not make “formal and polite gestures” towards PACE. Such an opinion was expressed by Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.
“We should protest, declare that the full restoration of the rights of Russia in this organization is impossible,” Andrii Karakuts advises. “The mechanism of imposing sanctions provides for the preservation of certain restrictions of the Russian delegation. Minister Klimkin seems to have said that Ukraine can withdraw from PACE, but this should not be done. It is better to use this platform for criticism of the Russian Federation and its delegation. We should not resort to extreme methods but increase diplomatic pressure. We must declare that this is a dangerous precedent that Russia can use to pressure other international organizations, in particular, the EU, to lift the sanctions.”
“The direction in which Ukrainian diplomacy has acted in recent years has failed, so we must try to change it,” Olga Kurnosova, a Russian politician in exile, assured. “This does not mean to be pulled by the strings but to change the arguments and methods. In words, it was a rather tough confrontation, but in fact, the business continued and much more happened. And Mr. Medvedchuk was in the negotiating group. Consistency is very important, and stiffness must be supported by something. Therefore, if we are talking about a change in the movement of Ukrainian diplomacy, then we must clearly set a goal and go towards it. And the goal is one, and Zelensky repeated it ‒ de-occupation of the Donbas and the return of the Crimea.”
To free the captives
On June 3, the “Open Appeal of Ukrainian Human Rights Organizations to the PACE Committee on Procedure, Immunity and Institutional Affairs and National Delegations of Council of Europe Member States” was published. It noted: “the return of the Russian delegation to PACE looks like the moral capitulation of the Council of Europe as an intergovernmental organization that cares about ensuring human rights, the rule of law and democracy”. The addressees are convinced: “any discussion on this matter should begin with a demand for Russia to release all illegally detained citizens of Ukraine in Russia and in the occupied Ukrainian territories of Crimea and Donbas”. Did the Europeans respond to the appeal? What are the next steps if Russia returns to PACE? Opinion got some answers from leaders of human rights organizations.
Oleksandra Matviychuk, the head of the NGO “Center for Civil Liberties”:
“The topic of lifting the sanctions on Russia in PACE is vividly discussed both in the Ukrainian and in the foreign media. We hear different positions and opinions of European politicians. But will the national delegations of the Council of Europe member states support the appeal of Ukrainian human rights activists, or not, will be known only during the voting on June 24. I guess we will have more work. The Kremlin has not complied with any requirement of the Council of Europe for the release of political prisoners, the restoration of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, the observance of international humanitarian law in the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories. Therefore, such an unconditional return will untie the Russian Federation. Human rights defenders will find it harder to use the “cooling effect” lever of the Council of Europe during human rights violations. After all, it will become quite obvious that its requirements can be easily ignored.”
Igor Kotelyanets, chairman of the NGO “Association of relatives of political prisoners of the Kremlin”:
“I don’t know anything about the reaction. During the press conference of the presidents Zelensky and Macron in Paris, Macron voiced a popular thesis that the Russians themselves are promoting that it would be impossible to deprive the Russian Federation of the right to be a full member of PACE, because it hits primarily not the country, but citizens of the Russian Federation, who are deprived of the opportunity to protect their rights in the ECHR. And it seems that through such humanistic reasons France is in favour of the lifting the sanctions and the return of the Russian Federation to PACE. I would have objected to the President of France: has Russia been fulfilling the decisions of European courts for the past 5 years? At least one decision of the European Court on the release or sending to the hospital of the Crimean political prisoners (whom the Russian Federation itself after the occupation of the Crimea calls its citizens)? At least one decision of the ECHR on torture of citizens of Ukraine and the Russian Federation? Or did the Russian Federation consider the decision of the European Court to immediately transfer the political prisoner Edem Bekirov from the detention centre to the hospital (Edem is disabled, he’s in very bad shape – E.D.)? No, Russia completely ignores its obligations and does not comply with any decisions of international institutions. So what kind of European court and protection of citizens of the Russian Federation are we talking about when Europe itself does nothing to make Russia comply with the decision of the European Court or deprive it of its membership in the international community, which gives citizens the right to use the European judicial system? Who else, but the Russians choose the power in the country, and do not they support the president’s course for self-isolation of the country? Why does PACE impose illusory assistance to the citizens of the Russian Federation, which they do not need, and ignore the implementation of their decisions, but ignore the hundreds of facts of the Russian system’s abuse of political prisoners and prisoners, who remain so even after the European Court attempts to intervene and restore justice?”
Olga Skrypnyk, coordinator of the Crimean human rights group:
“Now a number of human rights organizations are preparing an event for the Council of Europe, including the Crimean human rights group. The active phase of work with the PACE delegates continues, so that they vote against or abstain from voting in the Russian Federation question. Further actions of Ukrainian human rights defenders: the continuation of an information campaign on Russia’s gross violations of the resolutions on Crimea and Donbas, the preservation of the restrictions that still remain, work with the ECHR and the Commissioner for Human Rights, in particular, her visit to Crimea to objectively highlight human rights issues on the peninsula.”
Maria Tomak, Coordinator of the Media Initiative for Human Rights, advocacy expert UHHRU:
“There was no immediate reaction, but it can be considered that the PACE Regulatory Committee supported the resolution, which we urged not to support. It will be put on a vote on June 24. This is not the end of the world, but it will have significant consequences for the tolerance of Russian aggression, it will significantly complicate the activities of Ukrainian human rights activists and the permanent mission of Ukraine to the Council of Europe. The first sign was a UHHRU Volodin’s statement (Chairman of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation ‒ E.D) that the Russian Federation intends to delegate to PACE the so-called Crimean deputies. This will be a challenge for the assembly. What will be the reaction, if PACE adopted a resolution that the Crimea is annexed? And the international community did not recognize the elections in Crimea. The Russian Federation announced that it immediately intends to take up the cause of “protecting” human rights. Therefore, there will be a different atmosphere, tougher than when the Russian delegation was deprived of the right to vote. The atmosphere, in general, was not toxic. The Russian delegation will actively respond to Ukrainian initiatives, events that will be held within the framework of the Assembly, and, obviously, will oppose. I think it will be more difficult, but we will work under these conditions. An important point: we will have elections soon, and, obviously, the composition of the Ukrainian delegation will change. We don’t know yet which people’s deputies will represent Ukraine in PACE, whether there will be changes at the Foreign Ministry level with the arrival of the new minister.”
Text by Viktor Tsvilikhovsky