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PACE – As 2014 ends, a question looms large

December 17, 2014

Last week, more or less unreported anywhere, a photo exhibition at the European Parliament took place at the instigation of Ukraine, entitled “Donbas – War and Peace” – and why not?  The parliamentary building is a public building and quite entitled to hold a public exhibition should it so desire.  Freedom of expression is a foundational part of democracy, and such a parliamentary building enhanced by the non-liability privileges that MPs hold is theoretically one of the most sacrosanct locations in any democratic nation/institutional infrastructure.

Whilst clearly an effort by Ukraine to keep the Donbas/Kremlin aggression uppermost in the minds of the European Parliamentarians, the exhibition appears to have drawn no formal or public comments – not even from Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian Ambassador to the EU.

The very same photo exhibition has been denied permission to be displayed at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) by Anne Brasseur, the institutions current president.  Her letter explaining her reasons for denying the exhibition in January 2015 below:

PACE letter

It is of course a judgement call.

“Whilst appreciating the aim of the proposed exhibition, its content may nonetheless raise controversy and, potentially, further tensions, which would not be in the interests of the Assembly as a whole.  Furthermore some of the pictures could be misinterpreted and this would not be in the interests of Ukraine.  I therefore regret that I am not in a position to give my agreement to this proposal.”

Not having seen the photographs, it is impossible to comment upon their ability to be misinterpreted – although everything can be misinterpreted with sufficient effort.  It also has to be noted that any reactionary photo exhibition the Kremlin may have wanted to stage in retaliation, will also meet with the same response.

PACE however, is not the European Parliament.  It is a very different institution.

PACE does indeed include the Russian Federation – albeit Kremlin voting rights are currently suspended, with an extension to that suspension due for discussion very soon – or not.

By some accounts the PACE President is one of the voices supporting the return of Russia’s voting rights, although having suspended Kremlin voting rights in April until the 2014 year end in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea, it seems somewhat unclear what circumstances have changed to now return said voting rights.

If voting rights were suspended as a sanction to send a signal, or to contain or to change Kremlin policy, it is difficult to see how they can be removed without PACE looking weak at best – Crimea remains illegally annexed.  If the suspension of voting rights was a punishment – and not a sanction – then a 9 month ban on voting rights for the most serious challenge to all that PACE stands for, is without doubt is the most meager of admonishments.

Perhaps the existing suspension of voting rights will simply be allowed to expire quietly with no attempt to extend them – with Russia regaining its full participation within PACE automatically.  If so, what does PACE get in return, to avoid looking weak and/or appeasing of the Kremlin aggression that would otherwise unambiguously undermine PACE as an organisation with regard its stated goals of supporting rule of law, human rights and democracy?

The trade off, an end to Kremlin “humanitarian convoys” violating Ukrainian sovereignty?  Far greater and more tangible assistance with Ukrainian/Russian border control along the entirety of the currently very porous sections between Luhansk, Donetsk and Russia?  Both?

What would be the quid pro quo in allowing the return of Kremlin voting rights within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe?

How much does the Kremlin care about its voting rights within PACE vis a vis what it is prepared to cede to regain them?  It is not an institution it dominates, can dominate, or have an influence multiplier (veto) within – unlike the UNSC.

Something to watch over the next week or so.

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