Council of Europe’s PACE on the brink of electing sanctioned Russian Crimea land grab propagandist as Vice President
Update: It was learned in the early evening on 26 June that essentially the same majority that originally voted for Russia’s reinstatement has rejected any attempts to restrict Russia’s powers. Six other countries - all three Baltic Republics; Georgia, Poland and Slovakia - joined Ukraine in lleaving the PACE seesson in protest. The only positive thing was that after two rounds of voting, Slutsky did not receive the required majority and therefore, seemingly, Russia’s vice premiership is vacant. There is nothing to suggest that any of the four Russians under sanctions were prevented from becoming delegates of a body which will probably now not include Ukraine.
Leonid Slutsky, a Russian politician who is under EU, US and other countries’ sanctions over his aggressive support for Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, could be about to become Vice President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE]. The fact that the unashamed propagandist for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine does not now hold this position is thanks not to the Council of Europe’s purported ‘values’ and respect for rule of law, but to a challenge lodged by Georgia and Ukraine.
PACE delegates had certainly been warned before voting on a resolution essentially aimed at enabling the removal of Council of Europe sanctions against Russia that the latter’s proposed delegation contained four individuals who are under EU sanctions. There is nothing to suggest that the majority of PACE delegations expressed concern either about the behaviour that led to these Russians being legitimately targeted or the fact that PACE will be helping them bypass the sanctions. Judging by the PACE website, the posts of vice president are allocated purely in terms of the size of a country’s delegation. The Rules of Procedure state that a country’s candidate is “declared elected without a ballot”, unless there is a request for a vote by at least 20 representatives. Since there was such a request, the results of voting were reported to be due on Wednesday morning.
The same website reports, however, that the entire Russian delegation’s credentials were challenged on 25 June by Nino Goguadze from Georgia. She lodged a challenge of substantive grounds, citing Russia’s “persistent failure to honour obligations and commitments”. She was supported by at least thirty members of the Assembly present in the Chamber, belonging to at least five national delegations.
Volodymyr Ariev from Ukraine issued a challenge on procedural grounds, pointing to irregularities in the composition of the delegation. He was supported by at least ten members of the Assembly present in the Chamber, belonging to at least five national delegations.
It was agreed that a report would be prepared on these credentials within 24 hours and this is due to be discussed on Wednesday afternoon. Slutsky told the Russian state-controlled RIA Novosti that he was optimistic that their delegation would be accepted, but that if there were the slightest restrictions on them, that they would (once again) leave PACE immediately.
At present it does look dangerously as though the same pragmatic and financial considerations that resulted in a majority of PACE delegates voting to effectively remove the sanctions against Russia may come into force again over acceptance of the Russian delegation as a whole and of the four sanctioned delegates included in it.
It is truly difficult to imagine how the Council of Europe could hope for credibility and respect if it allows Leonid Slutsky to be appointed its Vice-President.
If concerns regarding the sexual harassment allegations around Slutsky’s person in Russia may not be the business of the Parliamentary Assembly, the same cannot be said for the politician’s active part in aggression and propaganda against Ukraine. He was one of the first people to come under both EU and US sanctions, and with reason.
There have been no grounds for removing these sanctions, quite the contrary. Slutsky, who is the head of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs has repeatedly asserted that there can be no discussion on Crimea and that it is, he claims, part of Russia. He repeats Kremlin and Russian state media lies which invariably omit mention of any Russian soldiers seizing control and claim that there was simply a ‘referendum’ that chose to ‘join Russia’.
Slutsky has also been extremely active in promoting supposed ‘fact-finding visits’ to Crimea by pro-Kremlin groups of politicians. These included the shameful visit by Thierry Mariani and other French politicians, mostly from Nicolas Sarkozy’s Republican Party, who took part in propaganda events, denying glaring human rights violations under Russian occupation and slandering Crimean Tatar victims of enforced disappearances.
On the eve of Mariani’s third such visit in March 2019, Slutsky made it quite clear that his use was to ensure that people in Europe “find out” that people in Crimea have supposed “returned to their native Russia, and voluntarily”.
There are strong grounds for believing that at least one of the French trips was funded by Moscow. This is all depressingly reminiscent of Soviet times when the authorities, ‘peace committees’ or similar would invite western ‘fellow travellers’ or useful idiots to visit only what they were allowed to see and then wax lyrical about the socialist paradise that the USSR had created.
Two weeks before the vote in PACE, Russian top officials and the state media announced that the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Miatovic was shortly to visit Crimea. Miatovich herself confirmed only the intention to do so, and the Russian publicity was clearly aimed at least partly at creating the impression that it was open to observer visits to the occupied peninsula. During the last such trip by a Commissioner in January 2016, a hearing in the political ‘trial’ of Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz was postponed seconds after it began in order to avoid the Commissioner deciding to observe it.
While a new visit is better than none, it was not a carrot that should have enticed anybody given the previous blocking of monitoring missions, the destruction of independent media and persecution of independent journalists, civic journalists and activists under Russian occupation. Slutsky and the Kremlin consider the lack of fundamental human rights and persecution of people for their political or religious views to also be a ‘closed subject’, making the claims that reinstating Russia’s rights at PACE will enable ‘dialogue’ seem somewhat hypocritical. A day after the vote, Russia’s position and its intransigent refusal to release 24 Ukrainian POWs show no sign of wavering - unlike PACE’s commitment to honouring sanctions and rule of law.