Russia’s path to return to PACE: through back door or with help from Assembly head
Former President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Stella Kyriakides, said that the first meeting of the special committee will be held in PACE Jan 23, seeking to find a mechanism for returning Russia to the Assembly.
First of all, it should be noted that this is not really about "Russia's return to the PACE" as such, but rather about lifting the moratorium on the Russian delegation's voting, as well as their participation in governing bodies. Formally speaking, Russia’s membership was suspended, not terminated as some may think.
However, throughout the period when Russians are stripped of their voting right, they continue their active diplomatic and other efforts aimed at restoring their full participation in PACE. After all, the PACE is the kind of an organization, where Russians need to pursue their propaganda line and claim that "the rest of the world is wrong, while Russia is simply protecting itself from everyone," and alike.
Formally speaking, Russia’s membership was suspended, not terminated as some may think
As reported earlier this week, Italy’s Michele Nicoletti was elected PACE’s new president. We are aware of the fact that Southern Europe, in general, and Italy in particular, is more pro-Russian. Therefore, Nicoletti will be lobbying, although very timidly, for the idea of reinstating Russia’s voting rights in the PACE. After all, the Europeans believe, everyone has the right to express their position, because only in a dialogue can one find truth.
But this idea simply doesn’t work out when it comes to Russia. Firstly, there is no actual parliament there as such - it is a Putin-controlled organization. Secondly, Russians constantly distort the truth, so no objective information could be heard from them.
Besides, Moscow has long sought to amend procedural regulations to be able to return to the PACE through the "back door". And Russians will continue to do so.
It is really difficult to say, to which extent Russia will succeed in regaining its voting rights in the PACE. That’s because we can only assess the public part of the latest developments but there is also a non-public, including corruption-related, part, as well as lobbying for Russian interests through certain structures. That is, there is not just public diplomacy that’s in play here.
Moscow has long sought to amend procedural regulations to be able to return to the PACE through the "back door"
Besides, we should also keep in mind that Russia is a major financial contributor to the organization. The amount of funding Moscow provides does not seem to be critical but from the perspective of the organization’s functioning at the current level, this money is indeed required.
As to the consequences, Ukraine should not be too nervous about Russia possibly regaining its voting right in the PACE. After all, one cannot always win - sometimes there are defeats.
The most important thing is that the PACE is an extremely important platform that Ukraine uses to represent itself in European structures – that’s the first thing to note.
Secondly, the PACE focuses on issues of vital importance to us, in particular, on human rights. On the one hand, human rights must be observed for the Ukrainians to live better by reaching European standards in this field (which is an internal task for the Ukrainian authorities). On the other hand, it is the best tool against the "Russian world" since the Russians believe that all that the modern Europe praises just cannot be in line with Russian values. So this platform is needed to break the myths and show that people are born free, while democracy is better than Putinism.
Human rights are Russia’s weakest link, starting with the occupied Crimea where this problem has reached an incredible scale (only in Soviet times could there be such level of persecution of dissidents, Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians, mass media, civic organizations, as well as oppression of political and social rights and freedoms), and across the entire Russia, where people have been living like this throughout the past 17 years of Putin’s reign.
Therefore, even if the Russians return to the PACE, I would in no way advise Ukraine to limit its presence in or withdraw from the organization. Of course, certain demarches are acceptable, but nothing more. We do need PACE.
Oleksandr Khara is a director of the Department of International Multilateral Relations at the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation