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PACE finalizes capitulation to Russia, while listing all reasons why this is appeasement

29.01.2021
Halya Coynash

PACE, Just one of the many children of Crimean political prisoners whose father was taken away by masked men with machine guns in 2020

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] voted on 28 January to confirm the credentials of the Russian Federation.  This was certainly a fait accompli after Russia’s voting rights were reinstated on 26 January 2020.  It is staggering, nonetheless, given the PACE rapporteur’s acknowledgement that Russia had used 2020 to “make a solution for the Crimea issue in line with international law virtually impossible.”  And that is without mentioning Russia’s use of a prohibited nerve gas to try to kill a political opponent, the latter’s arrest after he annoyed Moscow by surviving, and much more. 

Russia’s voting and other rights were withdrawn in 2014-15 due to its invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and then its military intervention in Eastern Ukraine.  Not only were none of the conditions for the reinstatement of these rights ever met, but the human rights situation under Russian occupation sharply deteriorated and continues to worsen.

The first signs that the Council of Europe was considering reinstating Russia’s rights came in 2017 after Russia suspended its considerable annual payment to CE, claiming this to be over the ‘crisis’ in PACE.  Russia asserted then that it was being ‘punished’ for what it termed the “free expression of the will of Crimean residents to join Russia”, with Russian PACE delegates alleged to be facing “persecution”.  The Russian foreign ministry statement then only hinted at other consequences, including to its participation in the European Court of Human Rights.  Later that year,  Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the Federation Council (upper house) and long-time associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened that Russia would not recognize European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] judgements “until conditions are created for the Russian delegation’s return to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe”.

This Russian threat was fairly widely used by those within the Council of Europe, including the then General Secretary, Thorbjørn Jagland, lobbying for Russia’s reinstatement.  Jagland claimed that this would be very bad for Russian citizens, ignoring the fact that Russia had already placed its compliance with ECHR judgements in question.  In December 2015, Putin signed into force a law which allows Russia to flout the ECHR by claiming that its judgements are in violation of Russia’s Constitution.  Since the effective capitulation to Russian threats and to Moscow’s refusal to pay its dues in January 2020, Russia has gone even further, writing into its ‘constitution’ the precedence of that document over international law.  This was condemned by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in June 2020, two years after the lobbyists effectively won their battle for Russia’s reinstatement, but long before the vote this week to confirm Russia’s credentials.

In June 2019, a majority of PACE delegates voted for a deceptively named resolution, aimed solely at enabling Russia to return triumphant to the Council of Europe while continuing its occupation of Crimea and aggression against Ukraine.  Among those pleading with the PACE delegations to not take such a disastrous step were the relatives and lawyers of the ever-mounting number of Moscow’s Ukrainian political prisoners, the families of the MH17 passengers murdered by a Russian BUK missile on 17 July 2014, and numerous human rights NGOs.

The claims in January 2020 that there had been some ‘positive moves’, with respect both to Ukraine and to Chechnya as an excuse for reinstating Russia were rejected both by veteran Russian human rights defender Sergei Kovalev and by Ukrainian human rights groups.  

There had been none then, and have been none since.  The Council of Europe is continuing to collaborate with Rosfinmonitoring, the Russian body involved in the persecution of a huge number of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners, Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Russians imprisoned for their faith or political views

See: CoE’s Russian partner persecutes 90-year-old believer & hundreds of Crimean & Russian political prisoners

It appears to have been naïve to hope that PACE delegates were simply not aware of the 18-19-year sentences passed on Crimean Tatar political prisoners, and other flagrant human rights violations in both Crimea and Russia.  This is abundantly clear from the report by Stefan Schennach (Austria SOC), seemingly for the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee)

Schennach notes “a number of exacerbating negative tendencies with regard to democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the Russian Federation which are having an impact on the fulfilment of commitments and obligations of the Russian Federation.

Rather strangely, he saw no need to mention such ‘negative tendencies’ in occupied Crimea, even though these included the arrests and imprisonment of a further 24 political prisoners just in 2020, massive sentences against civic activists and journalists, further moves to drive the Ukrainian Orthodox Church out of Crimea and much more.

The PACE report does, however, acknowledge a critical development in 2020, namely the constitutional amendments with direct relevance to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.  

“[5] Furthermore, the newly amended provisions of the Constitution on the protection of territorial integrity and the prohibition of alienation of territories, together with the implementing legislation adopted in 2020, outlaw and make criminally liable any steps aimed at the cessation of territory to another country. This thus makes a solution for the Crimea issue in line with international law, as repeatedly demanded by the Assembly, virtually impossible.”

It should be noted that Russia’s leaders have made it quite clear that the constitutional amendment is aimed at preventing anybody ensuring that Russia begins complying with international law by ending its occupation of Crimea.  In July 2020, the Speaker of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin announced that a new bill was being rushed through to make it possible to extradite foreigners and put them on trial in Russia on ‘extremism’ charges for seeking an end to Russian occupation of Crimea.  In December, Putin  signed into law a bill envisaging prison sentences of up to 10 years for putting an end to Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, or making calls to do so. 

The PACE rapporteur also “deplores the crackdown on civil society, extra parliamentary opposition and critical journalists as well as restrictions imposed by the Russian authorities on basic freedoms, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of association.”

The Assembly, we are told is “extremely worried by the poisoning of Mr Alexei Navalny, the lack of any meaningful investigation by the Russian authorities and the lack of co-operation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. It is also extremely worried by the arrest of Mr Navalny upon his arrival in Moscow and his subsequent detention, as well as arrests and use of violence and disproportionate force against peaceful demonstrators supporting him.”

None of this, however, has any impact on the Assembly’s supposed “continuous commitment to dialogue as a means of reaching lasting solutions” and the report is therefore about indicating that the “Assembly resolves to ratify the credentials of the members of the Russian delegation.”

One wonders how Mr Schennach and the other delegates who voted for the confirmation of Russia’s credentials understand “dialogue as a means of reaching lasting solutions”   Perhaps the Russian money now once again paid to PACE talks, but dialogue is hardly possible with those who commit international crimes and either deny them, or prosecute those who demand an end to their lawlessness. The PACE report does go on to list all sorts of things that the Russian Federation is supposed to do “in return” for its slate being wiped clean.  Considering that the PACE delegate has already noted the constitutional changes that entrench Russia’s unwillingness to play by international rules, these really are merely words.  Like the ‘dialogue’ that the PACE is purportedly committed to.

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