MOSCOW, January 16. /TASS/. The Council of Europe seems to be ready to take steps to overcome the current crisis in relations between Russia and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), a senior Russian lawmaker said on Tuesday.
According to Pyotr Tolstoy, a deputy speaker of the Russian State Duma lower parliament house, it is not ruled out that in the light of Russia’s non-participation in PACE sessions the Council of Europe will amend its Charter. He said he would attend a meeting of the special commission looking into harmonizing the Council’s bodies.
"The very fact that the second meeting with Russian lawmakers will be organized in such a short period of time only proves that our colleagues in the Council of Europe are ready to review the current situation and look for ways out of the crisis, to observe the organization’s Charter, and, probably, to introduce necessary amendments," Tolstoy told TASS.
"However we think it necessary so far to refrain from taking part in PACE sessions as we see no point in that. We don’t want to be ‘whipping boys’ stripped of the right to speak and we don’t want to pay for that," he stressed.
"On January 23, I and my colleague from the Federation Council (upper parliament house) Konstantin Kosachev [chairman of the Council’s international committee] will take part in the first meeting of the special commission on harmonizing the statutory bodies, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers and PACE that was set up in mid-December following a report by leader of the Socialist Group in PACE Michele Nicoletti calling to harmonize relations within the Council of Europe," Tolstoy said.
According to the Russian lawmaker, the establishment of the commission could be seen as a result of consultations with Russian parliamentarians at the PACE Presidential Committee on December 14, 2017. "Back then, the European colleagues expressed interest in resuming dialogue with Russia and resolving disputable issues that hamper the Russian delegation’s work at the Parliamentary Assembly. For our part, we reiterated our position concerning infringement on the rights of national delegations," he said.
He noted that the upcoming meeting of the special commission in Strasbourg he and Kosachev had been invited to could be seen as a next round of talks, regardless of whether the Russian delegation would take part in PACE’s work or not. "The agenda is the same: harmonization of PACE regulatory documents," he said.
"Over the past several years, the Parliamentary Assembly has been disregarding fundamental principles of democratic procedures to drive the situation into the current crisis," Tolstoy noted, adding that PACE and the Council of Europe cannot be venues for equal dialogue of all countries as long as one of them is deprived of the right to vote.
Russia and PACE
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 2016-2017, Russia skipped PACE meetings due to the ongoing sanctions.
In late June 2017, Russia said it was suspending payment of its contribution to the Council of Europe over its non-participation in PACE. Concurrently, it suggested PACE’s regulations be amended to ensure that no one could deprive the lawmakers of their rights but for their voters.
On January 11, chairman of the State Duma international committee, Leonid Slutsky, confirmed that Russia would not apply for confirmation of its rights for 2018 and would not take part in PACE’s January session.