The Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly agreed Tuesday to allow Russian representatives to return to the body, five years after it was stripped of its voting rights over the annexation of Crimea. Despite strong opposition from Ukraine, 118 parliamentarians from Council of Europe member states agreed that Russia could present a delegation, paving the way for it to participate in the election of a new secretary general for the pan-European rights body on Wednesday.
Sixty-two members of the Strasbourg-based body’s parliamentary assembly voted against the move and there were 10 abstentions following Monday’s late-night debate. Moscow representatives were stripped of their voting rights after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russia responded by boycotting the assembly, and has since 2017 refused to pay its 33-million-euro (USD 37-million) share of the annual budget of the human rights watchdog.
It had threatened to quit the body altogether if it was not allowed to take part in Wednesday’s election, a move that would have prevented Russian citizens from being able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
Amelie de Montchalin, France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, said “it would be dangerous... to deprive millions of citizens of access to bodies that protect their rights”. Ukraine, which has been supported by Baltic countries and the United Kingdom, had been against Russia’s return to the council.
It has previously warned that reopening the door to Moscow would be the first crack in international sanctions imposed on Moscow after it annexed Crimea. Volodymyr Ariev, head of the Ukranian delegation, said it sends “a very bad message: do what you want, annexe another country’s territory, kill people there, and you will still leave with everything”.
The Council of Europe, which is seperate from the European Union, has no binding powers but brings together around 300 lawmakers from 47 states to make recommendations on rights and democracy. Its centrepiece is the European Court of Human Rights.
The Council’s Parliamentary Assembly will on Wednesday elect a new secretary general to replace Norway’s Thorbjorn Jagland. Two candidates are in the running: Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders and Croatia’s Foreign and European Affairs Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric.