Oleksiy Goncharenko: How Russia overpowers Europe in PACE
The Council of Europe was conceived as a dream of Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok. A dream about a common space dominated by democracy, human rights, and freedoms, mutual respect between countries, and non-violent conflict resolution.
However, this dream was shattered by the cruel realities of 2014, when Russia occupied Crimea and started a war in Ukraine’s Donbas. It became clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime would aggressively test the strengths of the values on which modern Europe is based on.
We see Russia’s aggression against Ukraine; Russia’s support for pseudo-republics in Georgia and Moldova; blasting warehouses with weapons in the Czech Republic; support for destructive organizations in Europe; poisoning of Kremlin political opponents; threats and diplomatic wars.
Russia is doing its best to show that it’s not going to play by the rules. They play by the rules only when it’s beneficial to them in a particular situation.
Russia uses European organizations in order to spread its influence, taking advantage of the peculiarities of the European political system. And clearly, one such example is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE.
How PACE has forbidden to criticize the Russian delegation
On April 27, the PACE Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs made an unprecedented decision. As a member of the permanent delegation of Ukraine in the PACE, I was denied the right to speak in the Assembly for three months for a post on social media. (Editor’s Note: Goncharenko posted a video of himself mocking and insulting a Russian representative at PACE, Petr Tolstoy).
The complaint was written by the head of the Russian delegation and PACE Vice President Petr Tolstoy and supported by PACE President Hendrik Daems.
In addition, another complaint against me, initiated by Daems, was filed in the beginning of June. It concerned the two situations that happened at the spring session. During my speech, I demonstrated the national flag of Ukraine with holes from Russian bullets shot in the Donbas, which is not prohibited by any PACE rules. Then, Daems interrupted me and threatened to forbid me to speak.
The second situation concerned my question to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which I called Putin a murderer. To this, Daems also responded with reproach, although he had no reason to do so. Merkel herself did not in any way reject the phrasing of the question and calmly answered it.
Heads I win and tails you lose
Why have disciplinary sanctions been applied against me and why do I believe that this is evidence of the PACE’s double standards caused by the increase of Russia’s influence on the organization?
To begin with, one needs to understand what preceded these complaints.
The first complaint against me was made after the winter session, where there was a rather heated debate over the situation with the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with a chemical weapon known as Novichok. During my speech, I pointed out the involvement of the Russian authorities in this crime, which is confirmed by the investigation done by the Bellingcat investigative journalists and Navalny himself.
In addition, I called Putin a murderer and called the members of the Russian delegation who had been “justifying” their president throughout the debate his accomplices. The Vice Speaker of the State Duma of Russia Petr Tolstoy did not particularly like these words. He filed a complaint.
However, it is worth mentioning that Russia itself has completely rejected the proposed resolution on the Navalny case. Later, Tolstoy threatened to withdraw from the PACE if it was accepted.
It is also worth noting that Tolstoy himself is an odious politician known for his Ukrainophobic, Europhobic, and anti-Semitic statements. He has repeatedly stated that “Ukraine is a fake nation” and that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”; he called Ukraine and Georgia “two evil invalids”; denied the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights on the legitimacy of its decisions; threatened Russia’s withdrawal from the PACE if resolutions on Navalny’s case were passed; in 2017, he stated that the descendants of those who “jumped out of the settlement zone” (a territory where Jews were allowed to live in the Russian Empire) are objecting the transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in Saint Petersburg to the Russian Orthodox Church.
And not only did this man return as a PACE delegate, but he was also elected as vice-president of the organization whose main goal is to fight for human rights.
In March, the PACE President Daems had come to Moscow with a working visit but the details of the trip are unknown. After that, Daems supported Tolstoy’s first complaint against me. And in April, just before the spring session, it became known that Daems would go to Russia to observe the elections to the Russian Duma, which would be held in the Russian-occupied Crimea as well.
It should be noted that many current PACE resolutions condemn the occupation of Crimea.
Moreover, in April 2014, this was the reason for imposing sanctions on the Russian delegation to the PACE. However, in 2019, the Russian delegation was returned to the Assembly without any sanctions, although Russia did not fulfill any conditions.
During these five years, the scandalous PACE President Pedro Agramunt, against whom the organization has imposed sanctions for corruption and lobbying of authoritarian regimes, has been an active lobbyist for the return of the Russian delegation. In one of the high-profile scandals, Agramunt flew to Syria to meet with dictator Bashar al-Assad on a Russian government plane.
And I’m mentioning this example for a reason. It shows that Russia’s influence on European policy and in particular on the activities of the PACE is really intense. It’s not invented by “the opponents of dialogue with Russia.”
That is why President Daems’ complaints against me should be seen as a battle between those who are willing to turn a blind eye to everything that Russia is doing and those who consider it unacceptable.
Same rules in Vladivostok and Lisbon?
“Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok” means that the same rules should be applied in Vladivostok as they do today in Lisbon. Democracy, human rights and freedoms should be the fundamental principles.
But if we continue the policy of appeasement towards Russia, we will get the exact opposite: Russia will impose its way of living on Europe. Protesters will be arrested in Lisbon as brutally and unjustifiably as in Vladivostok in 2020. And the PACE will gradually turn into the State Duma of the Russian Federation, which is a parliament only formally. Instead of real discussions, they only approve the decisions made “on a higher level.”
It is no secret that after the return of the Russian delegation to the PACE in 2019, the organization has been going through a crisis of legitimacy. The return of the Russian delegation without any sanctions was presented as a call for a “dialogue” with Russia. However, as we see, Russia is not going to have a dialogue. The Kremlin will listen only to what it wants to hear.
The PACE is called the “conscience of Europe.” How can the “conscience” be sold out? The PACE is called the “watchdog of democracy.” But why do we need a “dog” that can’t bite, or one that bites not the aggressor, but those who suffer from it?
As a result, the “appeased” aggressor only increases its influence. Its impudence grows with each case when its actions remain unpunished. Yes, it is banal, but for some reason, we forgot about it: unpunished evil grows.
Oleksiy Goncharenko is a member of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, representing the 27-member European Solidarity faction. He is a member of the Ukrainian Delegation in the PACE.