PACE’s Russian restoration will set a dangerous new precedent in Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

The Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz (L) leaves from Dilovasi port as a Turkish military ship accompanies it, in Kocaeli, Turkey, 20 June 2019. [Erdem Sahin/EPA/EFE]

Despite its continued meddling in European affairs, Russia has been reinstated in the Council of Europe, with full voting powers. The decision will only encourage Moscow to continue its erratic behaviour on the European continent while others, like Turkey, may follow its example, writes Mark Temnycky.

Mark Temnycky is a freelance journalist who covers politics and sports in Europe and Ukraine.

On 25 June, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted to reinstate Russia as a full voting member within the assembly. The Russian Federation was stripped of its voting power in 2014 after the illegal annexation of Crimea and for supporting the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.

PACE’s recent decision left Ukrainians outraged, and their objections were echoed by their allies. Of the European delegates, only Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Georgia and the United Kingdom voted against the resolution. Nonetheless, Russia regained its voting rights.

The decision saw the Russian delegation reinstated into the assembly, and Russia voted for PACE’s new secretary-general in the assembly’s elections on Wednesday. But what does PACE’s decision mean for the rest of Europe?

First, it demonstrates the European continent has folded under Russian aggression. In 2014, following the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, which saw the ousting of former president Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian Federation annexed Crimea arguing it was protecting the rights of Russian-speaking citizens in the region.

Moreover, the Russians have supported the separatist movements in Donetsk and Luhansk, a conflict which has resulted in the deaths of more than 13,000. These actions, among others, forced the international community to strip Russia of its voting rights within PACE.

The European Union also imposed economic sanctions on Russia to punish it for its erratic behaviour. Although the Europeans implemented these sanctions, Russia’s image has not improved.

Over the past five years, Russia meddled in the elections of several European states, was behind the cyberattacks on Ukraine’s power grid, and was deemed responsible for the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, a passenger plane that was shot down over the Donbas in July 2014.

Russia also threatened to boycott PACE and refused to pay its annual dues to the assembly. Despite these instances, however, 118 of PACE’s 190 delegates voted in favour of restoring Russia’s voting power.

“None of the reasons Russia was stripped of its voting rights have disappeared,” argued Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid. In other words, PACE’s decision has demonstrated that Russia may continue to meddle in the affairs of its neighbours without consequence.

Second, the return of Russia’s voting power will encourage it to continue its erratic behaviour on the European continent. Following PACE’s June 25 resolution, the British Royal Air Force announced it had intercepted a Russian aircraft near Estonian airspace.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities suggested Russia is to blame for a series of GPS disruptions at Ben Gurion airport. According to the Israelis, the disrupted navigational equipment has had a “significant impact” on these flight operations.

Moreover, it is believed the Russians will meddle in future European elections, as they have already meddled in last month’s European Parliamentary elections. Finally, the EU is conducting a series of war games to combat future Russian cyberattacks.

These actions, among others, hardly demonstrate that Russia is championing human rights and democracy, two of PACE’s core principles. On the contrary, recent events suggest that changes to Russia’s behaviour are unlikely to occur.

Finally, but perhaps most important, the actions of PACE may serve as a role model for other states. Despite its continued meddling in European affairs, Russia regained its voting rights within the assembly. In other words, Russia continued to behave erratically but was not punished for its actions.

This may demonstrate to other states that they too may behave in irregular proportions without facing any consequences.

For example, Turkey, a state aspiring for EU membership, was recently drilling for gas in what was deemed to be Cyprus’ maritime zone. Greece and Cyprus filed complaints to the EU, and the EU has discussed imposing sanctions on Turkey for its actions. Despite these threats, the undeterred Turks have not ceased their offshore drilling operations.

Should this issue persist, Turkey may take a page from the Russian playbook in order to continue these efforts. After all, EU sanctions have not prevented Russia from changing its aggressive behaviour. Why should the Turks act any differently?

The events which have occurred over the past few days have raised an alarm. PACE’s decision shows Europe is beginning to “lose its nerve on Russia,” and Ukraine and its allies must proceed with caution as it is unknown what the future may hold.

Overall, the European continent must hold Russia accountable for its aggressive behaviour. Otherwise, if gone unchecked, this new norm will allow states to act erratically in the international arena. If this were to occur, the rule of international law will spin on its head.

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