Ukraine's diplomatic defeat or Europe's pragmatism: Why was Russia allowed to return to PACE
Judging by Russia's reaction – reports in Russian media and statements by Russian politicians – Moscow sees a decision of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on a change of sanction mechanism, which will allow the Russian delegation to return to work in this organization, as its largest diplomatic victory over the past five years. In addition, they are convinced that the move will be the first step towards changing the overall tone of relations between Europe and Russia, which will now gradually normalize and become more pragmatic, and in the future this could lead to the lifting of economic sanctions. In general, Moscow believes that this is the first step towards resolving the Ukraine issue in their favor.
Therefore, Russians are celebrating today. They are convinced that they are moving in the right direction. And the return of the Russian delegation to the PACE session hall will be an additional tool in their hands to propagate the Kremlin's position. Russians have a firm intention to solve the problem with Crimea and Donbas with the same success.
In addition, Russians are convinced that they are doing it right when acting from the position of force and the ruble.
However, one should not overestimate the consequences of Russia's return to active work in the Council of Europe. In reality, this will not particularly affect the organization's work. Everything will be the way it was, there will be scheduled work.
Russians are celebrating today. They are convinced that they are moving in the right direction. And the return of the Russian delegation to the PACE session hall will be an additional tool in their hands to propagate the Kremlin's position. Russians have a firm intention to solve the problem with Crimea and Donbas with the same success
The only thing is that the conflict atmosphere in the PACE will now increase, because Russia is an irritant not only for Ukraine, but also for a number of European Union countries. And Russians will use the PACE hall as another platform for delivering their official position.
In response to the decision of the PACE, Ukraine started considering possibility of a demarche, and even the withdrawal from the Council of Europe.
In general, in my opinion, our country needs to audit its membership in all international organizations. After all, Ukraine is a member of about a hundred various organizations and working groups, but the effectiveness and outcome of this membership is almost zero. In this regard, I am a supporter of Trumpism: as we know, the Americans under Trump's presidency withdrew from a number of useless organizations. That's because there are a lot of regional organizations that convene meetings only once a year, where the result of membership is not very noticeable, but at the same time, a lot of money is spent on them from the state budget.
I believe that PACE is one of such unnecessary organizations for Ukraine. Therefore, as for me, one should consider the possibility of leaving it. We need to be realists: in foreign policy, money dictates rules. And in this case, Ukraine is not able to compensate the Council of Europe for the losses that were a result of Russia's failure to pay membership fees after it was deprived of the right to vote in the PACE. Russia uses its strength and money in its foreign policy, and in this regard, we cannot compete with them.
Moreover, one should not forget that Ukraine could simply suspend membership in the PACE and not withdraw from the Council of Europe in general
Ukraine has other things to spend budget funds on which are now allocated for membership fees to a large number of organizations. It would be wise to direct these resources to domestic needs – the army, infrastructure, reforms, or the like.
Moreover, one should not forget that Ukraine could simply suspend membership in the PACE and not withdraw from the Council of Europe in general.
What's an explanation for such a leniency of Europeans in relation to Russia? Why did they decide to "forgive" to her all that she did in Ukraine? It's not just about money. Many European countries are seeking to return Russia to legal space to solve the issue in an international legal format. Thus, Western partners of Ukraine explain that this decision of the PACE is oriented not toward the Russian government, but toward the needs of ordinary Russians. In particular, President of France Emmanuel Macron spoke about this during a recent Paris visit by President Zelensky. In Europe, officials explain their position by saying that this provides an opportunity to protect the rights of Russians, including in international courts, to investigate human rights violations, illegal persecution, pressure, beatings, etc. Europeans say they are convinced that this step is aimed at ensuring the rights and interests of ordinary Russian citizens in European institutions.
But the problem is that Europeans have not done their communication work with Ukraine. Therefore, this PACE decision is perceived only as a diplomatic failure by the Ukrainian side.
Although, in a way, it is a fair remark, because Volodymyr Zelensky was rather passive and did not pay enough attention to the question of the possible return to the Russian delegation of their voting right in the PACE. He didn't hold any meetings, didn't to any work, didn't try to divert the decision. Zelensky had to raise a hassle over the issue. But the new president's team and Zelensky himself kept silent, thereby handing this instrument to Russia.
It should be noted that the question of Russia's return to PACE had been discussed long ago, even under Poroshenko's presidency. But now the top leadership in Ukraine is represented by Zelensky, so rightfully or not, it's exactly on Zelensky that all the blame will be laid
This failure of the new president's team will be actively exploited in political competition by opponents of European integration. They will emphasize that Europe has "conned" Ukraine, that Europeans do not care about Western values, that Europe only pays attention to money and force. This is a great trump card in the hands of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. Both the "Opposition Bloc" and "Opposition Platform - For Life" will be actively playing this card, emphasizing that Ukraine is on the farthest end of European interests. And the main thing is that it will be very noticeable, especially on the eve of parliamentary elections in Ukraine.
It should be noted that the question of Russia's return to PACE had been discussed long ago, even under Poroshenko's presidency. But now the top leadership in Ukraine is represented by Zelensky, so rightfully or not, it's exactly on Zelensky that all the blame will be laid.
Indeed, it was a long and logical process in the Council of Europe. But, at the same time, Zelensky did not act all that right while the issue was under consideration in the PACE and immediately after the decision was adopted – he kept silent for just too long. Zelensky needed to quickly outline his position, make statements, and raise hype around it. But now, whatever he says, his political rivals will point to the fact that he is a weak politician, and shower criticism on him over the first diplomatic defeat. After all, in Ukraine, not all politicians understand the prerequisites for the adoption of this PACE decision, not to mention ordinary Ukrainian citizens...
Can the lifting of sanctions off of Russia in the PACE be the first step in a chain of decisions to lift other Russia sanctions? It is unlikely. In the end, many political sanctions against Russia have been introduced against Russia: over Donbas, the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, and the annexation of Crimea. And they are still in force, no matter the latest developments.
Anatoliy Oktysiuk is a political scientist, analyst at Democracy House