‘We won’t pay for thin air’: Moscow responds to Council of Europe expulsion threats

Russian officials have replied to the Council of Europe’s demands for payment with a promise to suspend its membership unless it introduces anti-discrimination amendments to its parliamentary assembly (PACE) regulations.

Russia is interested in full-pledged participation in the Council of Europe and not mere presence in the body under discriminating conditions, Senator Oleg Morozov, who sits in the Upper House Committee for Foreign Relations, said.

If the policies of restricting our rights in Council of Europe’s organizations continues, this would objectively raise the issue of our future participation in the council. We are not going to pay for thin air, whether someone likes it or not.

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Plenary meeting of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly © Sputnik / Vladimir Fedorenko

The comments came soon after CE’s Secretary General, Thorbjorn Jagland, said that his group might expel Russia from its ranks if the regular fee payments in its budget are not paid in full. Russia froze one-third of its payments to the Council of Europe in 2017. This was the approximate share of the fee that was used to finance PACE which amounted to about $ 12.5 million. The suspension of payments was performed in protest of continuing restrictions of the rights of the Russian delegation in the assembly that started as far back as 2014.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also released a statement in response to Jagland’s threat, expressing regret over the fact that the PACE was unable to overcome its prejudices. It claimed that the body was continuing to destroy an important pillar that supports cooperation in Europe.

State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin told reporters that the current crisis in relations should be blamed on the stubbornness of PACE staff, noting that by refusing Russia any possibility of dialogue the Council of Europe was undermining the principles that underlie  the foundation of any parliamentary structure. He called the restrictions imposed on Russia “a club that falls on the dissidents’ heads” and added that in the current situation it was impossible for Russia to discuss anything in the PACE.

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Delegates at a plenary meeting held as part of the winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) © Vladimir Fedorenko

Earlier this week PACE members voted to postpone a discussion on the resolution until January. The resolution contains new rules regarding the national delegations’ credentials and voting and rules out the openly discriminating actions similar to those applied against Russia.

In reply, the chair of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, Leonid Slutsky, described the atmosphere in the organization as “anti-Russian hysteria” and promised that his country would not even apply for participation in the 2019 PACE session.

Slutsky also said that the destructive nature of the PACE policies could force Russia into freezing its membership of the Council of Europe or even exiting the organization “before some anti-Russian swashbucklers proceed with the expulsion procedure.”

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