Despite the struggle of the Ukrainian delegation, Russia has returned to PACE. Between blaming each other or fighting under the new circumstances – the choice seems obvious. Opinion found out what led to the support of the aggressor, what will the consequences be, how Ukraine should act and whether the president Zelensky is to blame for this.

Why did the majority of deputies support the return of Russia?

Dmytro Sinchenko, the head of the public organization Association of Political Sciences, is convinced that there are several reasons for the return of the Russians to the Assembly of the Council of Europe and they can be divided into “internal” and “external”.

“Let’s start with the external ones. First, and it is on the surface, Russia has ceased to pay contributions to the budget of the Council of Europe, thereby creating a serious “hole”, which complicates the work of the organization considerably. Secondly, Moscow began to blackmail the Europeans with leaving the organization, that is, it threatened to get rid of any obligation to adhere to the decisions of the Council of Europe. For the sake of justice, it should be added that it did not fulfil them anyways, but for some reason, the Europeans do not really want to talk about it.

Now let’s consider the internal ones – Ukraine has not made enough efforts at the highest level to try to turn the situation around. This applies primarily to the sixth president – Zelensky and his administration. What is a cause for this – the lack of desire or competence, or both at the same time – is a secondary question. The absence of a clear and tangible reaction of Zelensky to this event leads to the suggestion that this President is not acting in the interests of our state.”

Mariia Heletii, the deputy director of the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research, said that the return of Russia suggests that Europe underestimates the threat from the Russian Federation and considers it mostly a problem of Ukraine.

Many EU countries have a favourable attitude to Russia, despite its aggressive policy in the world and in Ukraine in particular, and this is the merit of, first of all, Russian diplomacy. Most European countries place economic benefits above security without realizing the consequences for Europe itself. After Russia left PACE, it stopped paying membership fees in the amount of 66 million euros, and this is quite a significant amount for the Council of Europe. Therefore, they decided to return it, and therefore Russia remains in other international organizations, in particular in the OSCE, and is present in the OSCE Monitoring mission in Ukraine.

In addition, each country loses from sanctions against Russia, and the conflict, which has become a permanent phenomenon, actually causes the loss of motivation to continue the pressure and sanctions. There is another aspect – the fact that some countries believe that to solve the problem it is necessary to return Russia to dialogue through its return to international institutions. Although the decision is ineffective and will only increase the sense of impunity and can contribute to the reinforcement of Russian aggression.”

Maryna Bahrova sees the guilt of the Ukrainian delegation in the return of Russia. In her opinion, a year and a half ago they should have held a number of events that would have prevented the admission of the aggressor to the Assembly.

“The assignment of the official status of the aggressor country to Russia by the UN Security Council may have been one of such measures – although to achieve this, it is necessary to make considerable intellectual, informative, legal, and most importantly strong-willed efforts, since Russia shamefully has the right of veto in the UN Security Council. They could also start to work on changing the PACE Charter to include a paragraph, at least on the automatic termination of membership in the PACE of the aggressor country – the Ukrainian delegation has all the necessary legal grounds for this.

It seems that over a year and a half of intensive work of the Ukrainian delegation in PACE, it would be possible to achieve the adoption of appropriate rules to ensure the suspension of Russia’s membership in PACE until the complete de-occupation of the temporarily occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas. It is important to understand that Russia will leave the world stage when Ukraine gets its own foreign and international policy based on the principles and norms of international law.

The attempt to return Russia to PACE is a signal to the president Volodymyr Zelensky about the need to develop a sovereign foreign and international policy of Ukraine.”

What are the consequences of the return of Russia for Ukraine?

Dmytro Sinchenko notes that we are unlikely to feel the consequences of the return of the Russians in the short term. According to the expert, despite the unpleasantness of the decision, it does not lead to much harm. However, dangers do exist.

This may be a precedent, the first step to the abolition of other sanctions – economic ones, those that constrain the development of the Russian economy, which are imposed by the European Union and other allied countries. The argument can be the same. And the lifting of sanctions will lead to the growth of the Russian economy, and therefore to an increase in spending on the army, and consequently, to more large-scale military operations not only in the territory of Donbas, but also throughout Ukraine, and then – on the territory of other European countries. And it will not lead to thousands, but rather millions of dead and injured… And this is the case where I would like to be wrong.

But Mariia Heletii does not exclude that the return of the representatives of the aggressor country to the PACE may indicate a further decrease in the pressure on Russia and new concessions from the European Union.

“PACE’s decision to return Russia is a failure of our diplomacy, and in my opinion, first of all, of the incumbent president, and it also shows his weakness in international issues. Since this decision was made after Mr Zelensky’s visits to the European capitals, it can be assumed that he failed to convince of the need to continue to put pressure on Russia. For Ukraine, this should be a signal about the beginning of the reduction of pressure on Russia and we need to prepare for the next easing by the EU. In particular, today we need to prepare for the fact that the next step may be the abolition or easing of sanctions against Russia by the EU.”

 What should be the next steps of Ukraine?

Dmytro Sinchenko insists that Ukraine should resort to a demarche. However, its format can be discussed, since it is not necessary to leave the Council of Europe and stop any cooperation, according to the expert.

“I would suggest first of all to stop paying contributions if it is so important for the Europeans, to stop having the observers from PACE at the elections, to stop the cooperation with other missions of the discredited organization. From now on, the future recommendations of the CE bodies should not be mandatory for us, because it is not known whether they will not be under the pressure of the Kremlin. And most importantly – we must try to make a demarche together with our allies. If such actions are supported by any other countries – there will be a tangible blow. At the same time, we should maintain our influence on the decisions, especially those related to our country.”

Mariia Heletii is sure that one of the main steps should be the focus on improving and strengthening Ukrainian diplomacy.

“Ukraine needs to strengthen its diplomacy and cooperation with partners, in particular, the EU and the US. In addition, it is extremely important to strengthen the president’s team with high-quality diplomatic personnel and to conduct more aggressive diplomacy to increase the pressure on Russia and to intensify the search for a solution to the war in Eastern Ukraine.”

But the patent attorney and the trainer of the teams of people’s deputies of the program USAID RADA Yurii Trachuk emphasizes the need to suspend the membership of Ukraine in PACE.

“The suspension of membership is not the termination of membership, we do not completely break the ties with the EU parliaments. Moreover, we have the right to contact the parliamentary bodies of the European countries directly, also within the framework of party cooperation.

Please note that PACE has commissioned on the areas of activities. The most important of them are the Political Affairs Commission, the Legal and Human Rights Commission, the Commission on the Implementation of States Obligations. It should be recognized that all these commissions failed their missions (the main purpose), because PACE recognized that Russia’s financial contribution is more important than the European and parliamentary values of political ethics and inviolability of territories (ARC, ORDLO); the rule of law and the protection of human rights (the political prisoners of the Kremlin are the citizens of Ukraine; disregard of the international maritime arbitration and the decision of the ECHR).”

Is Zelensky indeed to blamable for the return of Russia?

Dmytro Sinchenko assured Opinion that the involvement of Volodymyr Zelensky in such a decision is obvious. One of the reasons is his weakness in foreign policy.

“Volodymyr Zelensky did not make any tangible efforts to prevent the lifting of the sanctions mechanism. But this is not the only reason for this decision, as I explained above. The sixth president is quite weak in foreign policy, it was obvious even before he submitted his candidacy for the presidential election, but for some reason, this fact did not stop the voters, so we will have to put up with it for some time. The Germans and the French, along with other countries more loyal to Moscow, have long wanted to start the process of “reconciliation” with the Kremlin, and the change of power in Ukraine is the most convenient window of opportunity to do it as painlessly as possible for them. Could they have done it if Poroshenko had remained in power? It is unknown. They would definitely try, but so far the Ukrainian diplomacy has somehow managed to repel all attacks, and it is possible that this time it could happen as well.”

Mariia Heletii agrees that this thesis is partly fair, because, as the expert reminds, foreign policy is the prerogative and the responsibility of the president.

“As we can see, so far there are not so many specialists in international relations in his team, and most likely, there was no signal strong enough to stress the inadmissibility of reducing pressure on Russia during his visits to the European capitals. There is a clear lack of experience in such negotiations. However, it is worth remembering the pragmatism of the Europeans who are willing to sacrifice many issues for the sake of the economic interest (Nord Stream 2 is an example).”

Are we withdrawing PACE observers from the parliamentary elections?

The Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin proposed to cancel the invitation for PACE observers to the parliamentary elections in Ukraine.

“If PACE confirms the powers of the Russian delegation, I would, in the place of the Verkhovna Rada, cancel the invitation for PACE to participate in the monitoring of our parliamentary elections. After all, PACE with the Russian deputies and PACE without them are, as they say in Odesa, two big differences.

And finally, who are these people to teach us democracy after they allowed Russia to return to the Assembly? Let the ones who really want it to take part in the bilateral monitoring missions. But we no longer have confidence in this Assembly. We have every right not to have it.”

Mariia Heletii welcomed the proposal of Klimkin, because, despite the PACE decision, Ukraine cannot just come to terms with it, and therefore we have to continue our struggle at the diplomatic level.

“Therefore, the decision to withdraw the invitation for PACE observers to the parliamentary elections shows our position of the rejection of the PACE decision to return Russia. Similarly, the parliament’s decision not to allow the observers from Russia to the presidential elections was important from the point of view of diplomacy and it testified to our position towards Russia and showed that we do not tolerate what they do in Ukraine.”

Dmytro Sinchenko is also convinced that such a step would be quite logical.

“Why do we need observers from the organization that discredited itself? How can we be sure it is not engaged? Yes, it could work, together with a number of other steps of the Ukrainian demarche. We must show how unacceptable the actions of this organization are. We cannot put up with them, so Ukraine must demonstrate its indignation as loudly as possible. And it would be better if such actions are made by our allies in sync with us.”

Text by Dmytro Zhuravel

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