Latvia might quit Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly as Russia returns

File photo. The Latvian national flag (left) and the EU flag wave in the wind. [Omer Messinger/EPA/EFE]

Latvia said Thursday (27 June) that lawmakers will vote next month on whether to suspend its participation in the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly after the rights body agreed to reinstate Russia.

In 2014, Russian delegates were stripped of their voting rights in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Despite fierce opposition from Ukraine and objections from several Eastern European countries, the Strasbourg-based assembly voted this week to allow Russia’s return.

Council of Europe assembly authorises Russia's return

The Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly agreed Tuesday (25 June) to allow Russian representatives to return to the body, five years after it was stripped of its voting rights over the annexation of Crimea.

It was the first relaxation of international sanctions that were imposed on Moscow for seizing Crimea.

“The decision to renew Russia’s voting rights at the PACE came despite the fact that nothing has changed in Russia’s behaviour since it was barred,” Latvian lawmaker Rihards Kols said in a statement.

“PACE has shown that international rights are no longer its priority. It could mean that Russia may continue to violate human and international rights and spread its aggressive foreign policy with no consequences whatsoever.”

The Latvian parliament will soon be in summer recess but is to hold the PACE vote on 8 July during a special session for the inauguration of incoming president Egils Levits.

Ex-Soviet dissident favourite for Latvian president

The Latvian parliament will on Wednesday (29 May) choose the Baltic state’s next president, with long-time European Court of Justice judge and former Soviet dissident Egils Levits the frontrunner.

If Latvia withdrew, the country would nonetheless remain a member state of the Council of Europe itself.

Latvia’s foreign ministry tweeted Thursday that the “renewal of Russian participation in PACE is in direct opposition with the values and principles of the Council of Europe.

“It seriously damages the Council’s reputation and ability to act.”

Even Boriss Cilevics, a member of Latvia’s pro-Kremlin Harmony party, expressed disapproval.

“Letting Russia return is a crucial decision, and cannot be done without preconditions,” he told the web portal Delfi.

“Russia’s return to PACE on its own terms would be wrong,” Cilevics said.

The Council of Europe, which is separate from the European Union, has no binding powers but brings together 47 European states to make recommendations on rights and democracy.

Its key institution is the European Court of Human Rights, to which citizens in member states can appeal if they feel their rights have been infringed.

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