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MOSCOW, January 12. /TASS/. Speaker of Russia’s State Duma lower parliament house Vyacheslav Volodin on Thursday will have talks with President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Pedro Agramunt, who is currently on a three-day visit to Moscow.
Volodin told journalists earlier that this will be the first meeting of the newly elected Duma with the PACE president after Russia’s parliamentary polls in September 2016. He said the Russian side plans to discuss the entire range of problems in relations between Moscow and Strasbourg, including those related to Russia’s withdrawal from PACE after it was stripped of the right to vote.
He admitted however that it would be wrong to think that "all the problems could be resolved overnight." Nevertheless, "it would be good if the situation clarified as a result of talks with Mr. Agramunt," he said, adding that these are "steep expectations."
No sense in Russia’s returning to PACE if regulations are not changed
Opening the Duma spring session on Wednesday, Voloding said he sees no pint in Russia’s participation in PACE work unless it amends its regulations to exclude any possibility of stripping national delegation of the right to vote as it was with Russia in 2014.
Chairman of the Duma’s international committee Leonid Slutsky, in turn, told journalists that the position of the Duma speaker is supported by all parliamentary factions. "Parliaments of all Council of Europe member states form delegations that are to assume their powers automatically and enjoy all the rights if they apply for participation in a PACE session. And no one has the right to question their competences. Otherwise it undermines the mere spirit of parliamentarism. Until it is committed to paper in the PACE charter, there is no sense in our returning to Strasbourg," he underscored.
In any event, according to Slutsky, even if Russia decides not to apply for confirmation of its rights within PACE for 2017, it will not mean that Russia "refused to work with PACE in principle."
"We have never stopped cooperation for good and have been maintaining it with all the five PACE groups and with many national delegations to the Assembly. Last September, PACE’s presidential committee and its President Pedro Agramunt visited Moscow. He has arrived in Russia again despite threats from the Ukrainian delegation to PACE that he would not be reelected president for another term for that. The president of the Assembly stands for a constructive dialogue with Russia and Russia’s parliament," Slutsky said.
He also pledged that cooperation with PACE would be continued. "If we received invitations from political groups to take part in some events, including in Strasbourg, we will consider them," he noted, adding that such events might be "possible parliamentary hearings and discussions at PACE and under its auspices on these or those matter linked with Russia’s interests directly or indirectly."
"I don’t think our non-participation in PACE’s plenary sessions and its commission will mean complete and total severance of relations. I am sure attitudes to Russia in Strasbourg will be moving towards common sense slowly but steadily. And such movement is already seen. I hope we will be able to see to it that unbiased vision of the Russian realities would ultimately prevail at PACE over frenzy Russophobia and non-constructive attitudes often based on biased and sometimes even untrue allegations about our country in the Western mass media," Slutsky said.
In April 2014, the Russian delegation to PACE was stripped of key rights, including the right to vote and take part in the assembly’s governing bodies, following the developments in Ukraine and Crimea’s reunification with Russia. The issue of restoring the rights of the Russian delegation was raised at PACE twice throughout 2015 but the sanctions are still in place: Russia is deprived of the right to vote and cannot take part in the Assembly’s governing bodies and elections monitoring missions. In response, Russia suspended its participation in the PACE activities till the end of 2015.
In January 2016, Russia refrained from applying for confirmation of its rights for 2016. It was announced early in 2016 that over the current situation Russia would pay in February only third of its annual contribution to the Council of Europe, or a sum of about ten billion euro. The sum of contributions for the current year was endorsed at about 260 million euro, with Russia accounting for some ten present of the sum. Russia’s annual contribution for 2016 was to amount to about 32 million euro.
On December 1, it was reported that Russia had paid its entire 2017 contribution to the Council of Europe, including the sum due to go to PACE.