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To PACE or not to PACE? That is the question

May 30, 2014

As most readers will know, The Kremlin actions in the illegal annexation of Crimea, rightly caused Russian rights to be suspended within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) until the end of the year (at least).

After all, unilaterally throwing the Helsinki Final Act 1975 under a bus, and thus killing off a legally binding instrument upon which European peace and security was (partially) based has to have consequences far surpassing a collective tutting from an organisation that has rule of law as one of its overarching themes.

(OSCE (Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe) is not the same organisation but the two work very closely together.)

Neither can such an act be forgiven or forgotten when a collective and long lasting response is required.  Quite simply it is not OK – and it will never be OK  – is the message that need be sent by the rest of the continent, bilaterally, multilaterally and via every institution and channel able to convey that message.

However, it appears that The Kremlin feels that a single month of suspension is an adequate response for annexing a large part of a neighbouring state.  Sergie Naryshkin has written to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) asking for Russia’s rights to be restored, a full 6 months before the initial suspension is due to expire, and little more than a month after The Kremlin’s illegal act.

Needless to say, there will be a lot of objection to restoring Russia’s rights so swiftly – particularly from Ukraine and the Baltic States, who are in effect frontier States when it comes to continual and on-going Kremlin mischief.  Many PACE Members will feel that a far longer suspension post the initial year end  is necessary given the severe gravity of the Kremlin’s actions.

The skepticism with which The Kremlin generally holds PACE (and the OSCE) is not a secret – but both have been useful institutions for The Kremlin to try and test the regional waters regarding its views.  Put as diplomatically as possible, The Kremlin relationship with PACE (and the OSCE) is certainly contentious at best – and more than a little obstructionist at worst.

Despite Kremlin actions setting serious precedents far beyond the region (think of the vulnerability of Taiwan to annexation for example) perhaps PACE (and/or the OSCE) is a far better setting than the UN for dialogue.

The questions are then does PACE restore Kremlin rights (as a prerequisite of the Kremlin) before it engages in any dialogue to resolve Ukrainian issues?  Does it refuse Kremlin requests and thus The Kremlin refuse to entertain any dialogue?  If such a refusal is forthcoming, will The Kremlin simply walk away from PACE (and the OSCE) membership and/or continue its meddling via existing methods in Ukraine?

As the Europeans cannot suspend Russian rights at the UN, the G8 became the G7.  That entity and PACE are of the few institutions where Kremlin suspension can be achieved and sends an unambiguous diplomatic message that Kremlin action with regard to Crimea is simply not acceptable.  The removal of any suspensions (when they occur) will be understood by the Kremlin as the weak Europeans moving on unless The Kremlin has changed course prior to their removal.

Would PACE (and/or OSCE) remain relevant without a regional actor such as Russia, should it leave the organsiation?  Would it perhaps become a far better institution without Kremlin obstructionism?  Should it offer itself up as the forum for dialogue regardless of the diplomatic and perceptional cost by agreeing to the Kremlin request?

For what it’s worth, my own view is that PACE suspension should continue.  The conflicted parties concerned have already held multilateral talks in Geneva whilst Russian PACE rights were suspended.  They can do so again if the will is there to do so.

The question to ask is whether The Kremlin has done anything to alter the reasons its rights were suspended in the first place?  Clearly the answer is “no” – so the PACE incentive for returning its institutional rights are what exactly?  The kudos of being the mediating organsiation (by backing down to Kremlin demands to facilitate that)?

As meek as the European response to Crimea appeared to such a truly serious transgression by The Kremlin, those measures cannot now be withdrawn when nothing has changed.  Accepting that unless there is yet another serious transgression, existing efforts at policy change may broaden horizontally to include more individuals and Crimea-centric entities, rather than any “Stage III sanctions” across entire Russian business sectors, the withdrawal of even meek measures further undermines the Europeans and the values they purport to represent.

Perhaps PACE should reply to Mr Naryshkin’s letter by explaining that further extensions to the suspension of Russia’s rights may be considered in light of Kremlin inaction to address the reasons for the initial suspension – whilst diplomatically making clear that the continuing action against The Kremlin is not anti-Russian, but in robust support of international and regional laws that Russia ratified and then put to the sword.

The Kremlin, under current management, cannot be allowed to take a few months of grief relating to its actions in Crimea.  The repercussions of the Crimean act will last for decades – as would any swift return to “business as normal”.

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