Wed, 24 Jul 2019

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has voted to make it possible for Russia to return to the chamber following a three-year hiatus.

The vote took place early on June 25 as PACE began its summer session in Strasbourg.

The decision marked the first time that a major sanction imposed on Moscow since its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March 2014 has been reversed.

With 47 member states, the Council of Europe is the continent's main human rights body.

A total of 118 parliamentarians from the council's member states agreed that Russia could present a delegation, paving the way for the country to participate in the election of a new secretary-general for the Council of Europe on June 26.

Sixty-two members of the Strasbourg-based body's parliamentary assembly voted against the move and 10 abstained.

PACE decided that its members' "rights to vote, to speak, and to be represented in the Assembly and its bodies shall not be suspended or withdrawn in the context of a challenge to or reconsideration of credentials."

In a resolution, the assembly said this clarification of its rules was to "ensure that member States' right and obligation to be represented and to participate in both statutory bodies of the Council of Europe is respected."

The assembly also invited the parliaments of Council of Europe member states "which are not represented by a delegation" to PACE to present their credentials during the current.

Normally, credentials can only be presented at the opening of the ordinary session in January, a statement said.

In 2014, Russia was stripped of its voting rights in PACE following Moscow's takeover of Crimea and its backing of militant separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed some 13,000 people since April 2014.

Russia responded in 2016 by boycotting the assembly, and has since 2017 refused to pay its annual contribution of 33 million euros, roughly 7 percent of the council's budget.

The country had threatened to quit the body altogether if its delegation isn't reinstated and it can't vote on the next secretary-general to succeed Norway's Thorbjorn Jagland.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have supported Russia's reintroduction to PACE, arguing that it's better to have Russia included to promote dialogue even if there are disagreements on issues.

Ukraine has been opposing the move.

"Russia plans to roll into PACE like it rolled into Crimea - unpunished, arrogant and largely unopposed," Oleksandr Scherba, Ukraine's ambassador to Austria, tweeted ahead of the vote.

With reporting by AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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