By Nina Bachkatov and Andrew Wilson
The return of Russia to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is not the Russian victory declared by those who opposed the measure. It was an act of pragmatism by the Assembly that means nothing in terms of rapprochement between Russia and EU, the latter being a body totally separated from the Council of Europe.
It was, in any cases, anyway a signal that Russia received well, notably as the restoration of Russia’s voting rights during the night of 24-25 June was adopted by an overwhelming majority vote: 116 for, 62 against, including Poland, Baltic states, Georgia, Slovakia; Ukraine’s delegation voted against and left the session. For many, and certainly for the Kremlin, this was a sign that the anti-Russian front had been seriously weakened and that Ukraine was not systematically central to the agenda concerning Russia-European relations.
In fact, the main argument of the proponent for the restoration – that it was better to have a space of dialogue with Russia and to keep a free access for Russian citizens to the European Court of Justice – hides a more prosaic dimension: Russia is the main contributor to the PACE’s Council of Europe budget and the payment of its debt, estimated at 75 million euros, will save the new general secretary from sacking staff and reducing activities.
This is not the only contradiction of a measure that demonstrates the lack of constraining powers in this organ composed of delegations of parliaments from its 47 member states in charge of making recommendations, questioning governments failing to respect human rights and electing the juges of the European Court of Justice (where two-third of the cases concern Russian citizens).
Russia’s voting rights had been taken away in 2014, in reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine on the side of the separatists. They are restored when the situation in Ukraine is unchanged and PACE’s members states continue to denounce the illegitimacy of Russian presence there.
What has changed is that, slowly but surely, Ukraine is not perceived systematically as a victim. Its Western partners stay fully in support against “foreign aggression”, but they expect Ukraine to show good will in the search for a solution, starting with the Donbass. President Zelensky obviously understood that the best way to get international and international support is no longer by defying the Kremlin as did his predecessor during all his mandate. But the new president has to manoeuvre on a tightrope not to open doors to accusations of selling out, especially as the country is in electoral campaign.
In many aspects, the actual “settlement” of the Russian delegation is a distant consequence of the situation in the early 2000s, when, for the first time, PACE deprived the Russian delegation of its voting rights because of the second war in Chechnya. In response, Russian deputies decided to abandon any work in Strasbourg, and after the 2016 Duma elections, a new delegation was not even appointed. No delegation, no sanctions.