The Harsh PACE of Russian-European Relations
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At the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Photo by: Mikhail Japaridze/TASS

At the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Photo by: Mikhail Japaridze/TASS

Russia refused to keep European parliamentarians company

The winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly, opening January 25th, is to be held without Russian participation. Deputy Head of the Russian delegation Leonid Slutsky was the first to announce that; it was later confirmed by Sergey Naryshkin, Speaker of the State Duma. Both houses of the Russian parliament sent letters of notification to the Head of PACE Anne Brasseur. Throughout the past week, the question of Russian presence had been open for discussion. The final decision was made at the recent session of the Security Council of Russia. It is highlighted that all four fractions of the State Duma officially supported this initiative. As Slutsky says, the Russian delegation will return to Strasbourg only given that its rights are fully restored.

The delegation of the Russian Federation was deprived of its basic rights back in spring of 2014, after reunion with Crimea. The Russian parliamentarians were denied voting rights, right to participate in the sessions of the PACE principal bodies, and in the monitoring activity of the organization. They were only allowed to speak publicly and work in committees. The winter session of January 2015 was the only one the Russian delegation was present at after that incident. When the sanctions were renewed, the delegation abandoned the Assembly and suspended membership until the end of the year. The issue of sanctions will be raised again at the forthcoming session.

The demarche of the PACE has lead the Russian side to think about its financial contributions for the sake of the organization. In the opinion of Igor Morozov, a member of the committee of the Russian Federation on international affairs, “agenda in the PACE is nowadays shaped with anti-Russian orientation”. This is why there is no need to provide money for it. “We must respond reasonably to the sanctions and refuse to pay annual fees in order not to fund the Assembly’s anti-Russian position,” says the senator. This is the course of action Moscow has indeed taken as the member fees (10% of the Council of Europe budget) have not been transferred since. Russia intends to transfer a third of this sum in February.

Platform for Khodorkovsky?

Deprivation of rights is not the only sharp issue that will be raised at the winter session of the PACE. Mari-Luise Beck, wife of the head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Ralf Fücks, will present a report on the situation in Ukraine. Few years ago she was denied entry to Russia because of her Russophobe rhetoric. Little has changed since that time. The Russian delegation reckons that the report was included in the agenda of the organization deliberately.

Together with Mari Beck will be speaking Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., coordinator of the political movement Open Russia and deputy chairman of the political party PARNAS, and also Svetlana Valko, coordinator of the International Partnership for Human Rights. It was her who helped Ukraine file a suit in the International Court of Justice against alleged crimes of Russian citizens in the Donbass.

“Such people are invited to hold public speeches with a sole aim of ensuring that Russia does not return to the PACE. I think this is not a constructive position. Instead of considering facts, they dig out Open Russia which saw its end at the beginning of the 2000s,” says Vladimir Jabarov, the deputy chairman of the committee of the Russian Federation on international affairs.

The activity of Open Russia was indeed discontinued, though a bit later, in 2007-2008. However, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, released from prison in 2013, reanimated that political structure and has used it as a means of communication with Mikhail Kasyanov and Alexei Navalny. As the views of all three politicians on the Crimea issue coincide with European ones, it is not surprising to see how the PACE indulges them in their activity.

Anti-Russian PACE

In theory, the PACE is an advisory body for the Council of Europe which has little direct influence on decision-making. It acts as a coordinating facility for members of various national parliaments. There are only few of the Assembly’s functions that can impact political environment in member countries, namely monitoring of implementation of conventions and electing judges for the European Court of Human Rights. Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996, and since then the PACE has monitored its performance. 

In practice, this European structure imposes on Russia its view of social norms, which is often not shared by the majority of Russian citizens. For instance, the Russian Federation is reproached for not abolishing death penalty once and for all; not withdrawing troops from the Transnistria; forbidding homosexual activists to organize parades; and forbidding the propaganda of homosexuality among juveniles.

As for border conflicts, the PACE has always sympathized the opponents of the Russian Federation. In 2009, a resolution was issued that condemned the recognition by Russia of independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In 2014, the PACE accused Russia of “military aggression and subsequent annexation of Crimea.” Thus, actions of the Russian Federation were regarded as “aggression” against Ukraine. Moreover, the Assembly demanded that Nadiya Savchenko, who is suspected of murdering Russian journalists, be released from prison on the grounds that she had been elected in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

It seems PACE, like ECHR, is becoming an instrument of limiting Russian sovereignty, its decisions more often than ever contradicting Russian interests. As antagonism accumulates, the Russian side questions the very necessity of keeping European parliamentarians company and chooses to keep distance from them. In Leonid Slutsky’s opinion, cooperation can only continue on equal terms. 

The head of Russian delegation Alexei Pushkov, in his turn, deems it possible to resume interactions with the PACE under a new administration. To make this happen, it has to provide favorable conditions for the return of the Russian delegation. “As of now, we are waiting for the new administration to shape and reveal its political position. Until then, we intend to refrain from official contacts with PACE,” says Pushkov. 

Alexei Pushkov, Chairman of the committee of the Russian Federation on international affairs

Alexei Pushkov, Chairman of the committee of the Russian Federation on international affairs. Photo by: TASS/Mikhail Japaridze

According to the Charter of the PACE, rights of all national delegations are to be reconfirmed annually at the opening of the January session. The source of Deutsche Welle in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe informs that representatives of Sweden, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Great Britain are ready to support the initiative of appealing of the rights of the Russian delegation at the upcoming session. Thus, equality is absent from this equation. Interests of Russia and Europe have diverged too much, which leaves open the question of Russian membership in the PACE. 

Translation by Daniil Yakovenko

Оригинальный текст (original)

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