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Duma speaker to attend PACE winter session

January 25, 2015, 0:56 UTC+3 MOSCOW

The issue of confirming the Russian delegation’s powers is expected to be the main intrigue

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© Sergey Fadeichev/TASS

MOSCOW/STRASBOURG, January 25. /TASS/. Speaker of the State Duma lower house of Russia’s parliament Sergei Naryshkin is departing for Strasbourg on Sunday to attend the winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) that begins on January 26. The issue of confirming the Russian delegation’s powers is expected to be the main intrigue. Moscow previously said the voting would clearly show the balance of forces in PACE - if the realists are stronger than the “cold war” supporters.

TASS has learned that after arriving in Strasbourg Naryshkin will attend a meeting of the PACE Presidential Committee. The structure of this supreme advisory body of the assembly consists of its chairman, the secretary general and head of the PACE political groups.

The meeting will be held behind closed doors at the Palace of Europe. The Assembly president and her Russian counterpart will make brief statements after the talks, the PACE press service said.

It is noteworthy that if previously the participation of a national parliament head in the work of the Presidential Committee had been considered rare if not unique event, then now over the past six months the State Duma speaker for the third time is meeting its members, and one of the meetings was held in Moscow.

On Monday and Tuesday, Naryshkin is expected to attend the PACE “plenary sittings” and on January 27 he will hold a roundtable discussion devoted to the role of parliaments in restoring confidence in Europe. In addition, the programme of the visit envisages laying flowers at the mass graves of Soviet citizens who perished during World War II in 1941-1945. The Duma speaker will also take part in a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

At its April 2014 session PACE stripped the Russian delegation of the right to vote until January 2015 and excluded it from all assembly’s management bodies for Crimea’s reunification with Russia. Russian lawmakers then walked out of the session in protest and refused from further participation in the PACE work. Since then the Russian delegation has not attended the Assembly’s summer and autumn sessions in Strasbourg.

In mid-November 2014, Naryshkin told the media that the Russian delegation was ready to return to the full-format participation in PACE’s work in 2015, adding that in his opinion PACE has huge potential to help in overcoming the current crisis of political trust in Europe. He also urged his foreign colleagues to renew the Assembly’s agenda, removing all unimportant questions, and adding those that are of primary importance.

The conflict between Russia and PACE reached its peak in April last year as the European body approved an anti-Russian resolution over the political crisis in Ukraine, depriving Moscow’s delegation of the right to vote, and banning it from participation in ruling bodies and monitoring missions till the end of the year.

On December 18, 2014 the Duma Council made a decision to include in Russia’s PACE delegation Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin and his deputy Sergei Zhelezhnyak. This means that in accordance with the procedural rules, Naryshkin as the delegation’s permanent member can attend the PACE January session that will raise the issue of the return of Assembly powers to Russia.

Naryshkin said on Monday that he was considering “an optimistic scenario of PACE action [towards Russia’s delegation].” “But if other opinion prevails, as for myself, I doubt the expediency of continuation of our work at PACE - at least during 2015,” he said.

In January 2015, the powers of all delegations at PACE are to be formally reapproved. At the moment, it is already known that the assembly’s delegations that have anti-Russian position will once again try to challenge the rights of Russia’s parliamentarians. There is a chance that some MEPs - mainly conservatives - on January 26 will oppose the approval of powers of their colleagues from Russia. In this case, the debate and voting on this issue will be launched at the January session. The Russian delegation will not be able to vote either in the committee or in the session itself on their rights.

In this regard, Naryshkin has already warned that Russia will fully suspend work in the Assembly in 2015, if its delegation is deprived of the right to vote. If PACE fails to return powers to the Russian delegation in the future, Russia may raise the issue of its membership in the Council of Europe, he warned.

Head of the international affairs committee of the State Duma Committee Aleksei Pushkov for his part has not confirmed information that the Russian parliamentarians are supposedly going to “make peace” with PACE. “We are not going to make peace with those trying to force Russia out of the Council of Europe,” he said. “We are going there since we are full-fledged members of the assembly and we have no reason not to attend the session.”

The delegation also wanted to join the group’s session “to reiterate its position”, Pushkov said, noting that most PACE members last year tilted in favour of geopolitics supporting Ukrainian authorities in Kiev. “We want to fight this policy. And we have allies,” he said. Pushkov also predicted a serious confrontation on the restoration of Russian delegation’s powers in PACE.

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