- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A pan-European parliamentary body voted early Tuesday morning to restore full voting rights for Russia, a move critics say is the first major weakening of the sanctions imposed on the Kremlin after its invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The vote in the Strasbourg-based Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe sparked an angry walkout by the delegation from Ukraine, which claims Crimea as part of its territory and is currently battling Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

A top Kremlin spokesman hailed the vote as a “victory for common sense,” and private analysts said the vote in the 47-nation assembly could embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin to push harder against the international isolation and economic sanctions Moscow has faced in the five years since the Crimea seizure.

“[Russia] will not take Western sanctions seriously,” said David Satter, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, who noted Russia had not met any of the conditions laid down when its voting privileges were stripped by PACE in 2014. “They may feel that they can get all kinds of concessions.”

PACE is the parliamentary arm of the 47-nation Council of Europe, with a mandate to monitor human rights, democracy and the rule of law across the continent. The 28 countries of the European Union are members.

France and Germany were big drivers for reinstating Russia’s voting rights, despite a last-minute appeal by new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel against the move.

“It’s a pity that our European partners haven’t heard us and committed otherwise,” Mr. Zelenskiy wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday it was recalling its permanent representative to the Council of Europe to protest Russia’s reinstatement.

The Council “has lost our trust in everything else, and to restore it will be extremely difficult,” Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told reporters.

France and Germany were among the countries who argued that it would be better to have Russia restored to full PACE membership to promote dialogue, even if there are disagreements on certain issues. Delegated voted 118 in favor, 62 against and 10 abstentions for restoring Russia’s voting rights.

Mr. Satter said it’s hard to say if this rollback of sanctions was the start of a large push to ease the punishments on Moscow, but said it’s a troublesome precedent. Russia did not meet any of the demands PACE put on it when it was sanctioned in 2014.

Jeffrey Mankoff, deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said the PACE vote suggests that there is “less appetite” in Europe for confrontation with Russia.

“I don’t think it’s a terrific signal, obviously. But it’s also indicative of the recognition that approach that has been adopted towards Russia over the last couple of years hasn’t gotten results,” Mr. Mankoff said.

Russia had threatened to withdraw from the Council of Europe if its delegation was not reinstated and stopped its annual payments to the organization in 2017, which Mr. Satter said amounted to blackmail.

“If [Russia] leaves the Council of Europe, it’s no longer a member of the European Court of Human Rights and can no longer be sued in the ECHR,” Mr. Satter said.

The ECHR can only take cases from members of the 47 state parties that are part of the Council of Europe. If Russia left the Council of Europe, Russian citizens could no longer appeal to the ECHR.

“There were many European countries that decided that it was more important to continue to keep Russia in the Council of Europe and member of the European Court of Human Rights,” Mr. Satter said.

Petr Tolstoy, head of Russia’s delegation to the assembly, argued on Facebook that the Council of Europe cannot work without “taking into account the opinion of the largest European power.”

“Without listening to the voice of Russia, it is impossible to plan a common European future,” Mr. Tolstoy wrote.

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