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GENEVA, July 31. /TASS/. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will consider all possible options of organizing a visit to Crimea, Swiss parliament member and leader of Socialist Group in PACE Andreas Gross told TASS on Friday.
Gross said they will consider everything, but refused to provide any details. On Thursday, head of Russian delegation to PACE Alexey Pushkov said that the State Duma will consider the possibility of organizing the visit of Gross and colleagues to Crimea, but as members of parliament, not PACE representatives.
"Since the Russian delegation halted its participation in PACE because of sanctions against it, the visit of an official delegation from PACE - a commission or a working group - does not seem possible," Pushkov told TASS. The visit of a PACE working group will be possible if all sanctions are lifted from the Russian delegation in January 2016 and if full-fledged cooperation between Russia and PACE resumes.
"If Andreas Gross assembles a group of parliamentarians who will represent their national parliaments, not Parliamentary Assembly [of the Council of Europe], in this case, I think, the issue of their visit to Crimea may be considered," he said.
On Thursday, Gross has told TASS he will propose forming a PACE group for visiting Crimea. "I can confirm that I will propose at PACE institutions to form a group of parliament members for visiting Crimea. It will happen in a month," Gross said.
On July 23-24, the delegation of French parliamentarians visited Crimea. This is the first visit of West European parliamentarians to Crimea and Sevastopol since March 2014, when the majority of Crimean residents voted to join Russia at a referendum. France’s National Assembly deputy and co-chairman of the "French-Russian Dialogue" association Thierry Mariani, who led the delegation, said the aim of his trip is to observe the situation on the peninsula.
Italian lawmakers have decided to follow the lead of their French colleagues and visit Russia’s Crimea, Manlio di Stefano, a members of the international committee of the Italian Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies, told Russia’s Kommersant daily on Tuesday. "We have decided to visit Crimea and Moscow in a Five Star Movement delegation. I will get in contact with the Russian embassy in Rome to begin the organization of the visit," Kommersant quoted him as saying.
The delegation will go to Crimea via Russia. Di Stefano said the Italian lawmakers wanted to see for themselves "how people live in Crimea after the 2014 referendum." Senator Sergio Divina with the Northern League party said he would join the parliamentary delegation.
Crimea, where most residents are ethnic Russians, refused to recognize the legitimacy of authorities brought to power amid riots during a coup in Ukraine in February 2014. In mid-March last year, Crimea re-joined Russia following a referendum. More than 82% of the electorate took part in the vote. Over 96% backed splitting from Ukraine and spoke in favor of reuniting with Russia. Results of the referendum were celebrated by many Crimeans but the vote was widely criticized by Western leaders and at the United Nations.
In the Soviet Union, Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, when Communist Party head Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimean region, along with Sevastopol, to Ukraine's jurisdiction for purposes of logistics.