The Russian delegation to the PACE has seen its powers restored in full, which continues similar steps the Assembly took back in 2019. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ukraine’s new delegation was working to pursue the efforts launched by their predecessors toward having Russia expelled from the PACE. Back then, it was a major bulk of annual dues to the Assembly that Russia was refusing to pay as a member state…
A recent, and very critical, report by Austrian MP Stefan Schennach on civil society rights violations, Navalny’s arrest, lack of progress on Crimea and Donbas demands, and a statement of the occupation of Georgia in Abkhazia and South Ossetia should have logically ended up with a conclusion in line with the requirements put forward by the Ukrainian delegation and their allies. Unexpectedly for everyone, however, Schennach has called on the Assembly to affirm the Russian delegation’s authority for the sake of “dialogue.” He also urged lawmakers not to return to the “institutional crisis”, referring to 2019, when the subject of such crisis was the annual monetary contributions to the PACE budget, which Russia said it wouldn’t pay.
The Russian delegation’s reinstatement in the PACE is not the Ukrainian delegation’s fault. They tried real hard not to let it happen. It’s that Europeans are set to make peace with Russia, being ready to turn a blind eye to human rights violations, unresolved issues of the Crimea annexation attempt and the occupation of Donbas, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. This all means that a new reality has come that we have to live in amid global pandemic. Besides, Joe Biden’s election in the United States is making certain adjustments to Europe’s geopolitics.
At present, the efforts to restore dialogue with the Kremlin means for Europeans a chance to resume business as usual, which had worked well right until 2014. However, dialogue doesn’t mean that Russia will pull out of Crimea, Donbas, and the occupied territories of Georgia. And neither does dialogue guarantee that Navalny will become Russia’s next president and that democratic elections will be held there. However, Europeans want to believe in this and therefore go for a compromise.
The PACE, as an institution, has no decisive influence on policies, while being a platform where delegates can and will voice arguments to prove their point on multiple issues. For example, the Kremlin will continue to emphasize their outrage over Kyiv being unwilling to hold direct talks with Moscow proxies in Donbas, also claiming that Russia has nothing to do with the ongoing conflict.
The current win of the Russian delegation in the PACE is also a result of Russia’s consistent lobbying efforts across the EU. However, the “return to dialogue” exposes Europe’s weakness and testifies, one might say, to the betrayal of the fundamental principles of the international legal infrastructure, which is designed to prevent a “big war”, preserve borders intact in the post WW2 world.
But what values then does Europe believe in and what principles does it adhere to?
Now it seems that the struggle for the same values will be raging at the level of national institutions in individual countries. For example, members of the UK House of Commons called on the government to impose sanctions against two Russian billionaires – Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, as per The Times.
According to the publication, such measures were proposed by British legislators over the situation with Alexei Navalny, who was arrested in Moscow on January 18. For example, MP Margaret Hodge (Labour) has called on the country’s authorities to support the Russian opposition “not by words but by actions”, recalling that Navalny had previously suggested that Western powers impose restrictions on a number of Russian oligarchs, including those storing part of assets in Britain.
Across the pond, both the Dems and the GOP have found points of rapprochement and cooperation, in particular on anti-Russian policy. Donald Trump once said he would like to “get along” with Putin, for which his opponents branded him “Putin’s puppy”. However, even with a loyal Trump, US policy was not soft, because it is built and focused not on one person, but on institutions. So even now, the fact that Putin has initiated a telephone conversation with Biden means that the Kremlin understands that it will be impossible to live long in sanctions. And neither the Americans nor the Europeans like Russia’s rapprochement with China. However, right now for Russia is a good time to at least try to bargain for something.