Alexei Pushkov: Council of Europe to lose the continent’s largest country if Russia leaves it

The senator had a meeting with representatives of foreign media outlets and discussed the crisis in the Council of Europe-Russia relations and its media aspects.

Member of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building, Chairman of the Federation Council’s Interim Commission on Information Policy and Cooperation with the Media Alexei Pushkov had a meeting with representatives of foreign media outlets and discussed the crisis in the Council of Europe-Russia relations and its media aspects. He also informed the participants of the situation with Russia’s Council of Europe membership.

Alexei Pushkov pointed out that the Federation Council had adopted a statement on this issue. “This document explains why Russia declined to send its delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe (PACE) in 2019. In April 2014, members of the Russian delegation left the PACE session to protest the sanctions that were imposed on us. The three groups of sanctions included a ban on taking part in the voting process, a ban on taking part in the work of PACE governing bodies and the expulsion of a Russian representative from PACE’s monitoring missions.”

The delegation’s members find it impossible to work at PACE in the conditions of such sanctions, he noted.

“After that, we held several rounds of talks with senior PACE officials in Moscow, Paris and Strasbourg. As a result, we submitted a request and attended a PACE session in January 2015 because senior PACE officials expressed hope that the sanctions would be lifted in 2015. Despite talks, the 2014 situation repeated itself, and then we left for good. We did not attend in 2016, 2017 or in 2018. And today, after lengthy talks, PACE suggested the following option: members of the Russian delegation will once again be allowed to vote for prospective members of the European Court of Human Rights and for the candidacy of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (the Secretary General is to be elected in June). However, Russia finds such partial and curtailed voting rights to be unacceptable,” the senator said.

Alexei Pushkov said the reason for this decision by PACE was that if Russia did not vote for the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and members of the European Court of Human Rights, then all functionaries elected without its participation would be seen as illegitimate by Russia.

At the same time, the senator noted that PACE was nothing more but a consultative body of the Council of Europe, and that it could pass only non-binding resolutions.

Russia is involved in the work of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. The senator said: “A principled issue was raised: can the Council of Europe curtail the rights of its members?” He noted that, unlike PACE regulations, the Statute of the Council of Europe did not stipulate such restrictions.

“This inconsistency became the main reason why members of the Russian delegation declined to go to Strasbourg this year again. We are expected to pay our contributions; at the same time, they are depriving us of the right to take part in the activities of this highly important organisation,” the senator noted. Russia’s refusal to pay contributions can launch a procedure to expel the country from the organisation. This procedure may be launched in June 2019. If this happens, Russia would leave the Council of Europe of its own volition.”

Alexei Pushkov noted that the Council of Europe would be the first to suffer from Russia’s withdrawal. “Russia is not interested in this outcome, but it will not accept the violation of the principle of equality for all Council of Europe member states or the curtailing of our rights.”

“Russia is a European country, and it has always developed as part of the European civilisation. We don’t want to distance ourselves from Europe, and we believe that we need to preserve our European identity, which is seen as something natural by us. At the same time, the Council of Europe would stand to diminish its capabilities and lose its pan-European essence if it lost Russia.”