Russia has been deprived of a right to vote since 2014, after Crimea voted to join Russia in a referendum.
After nine hours of deliberation on the night of 24 to 25 June, parliamentarians from Council of Europe member states voted to allow the Russian delegation to participate again in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), an international organisation created in 1949 and now comprising 47 countries, including the 28 member countries of the EU.
To encourage a return of Russia, PACE has thus adopted a text allowing a country to present a delegation during the year and excluded the possibility of depriving the country of its main voting rights.
After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, PACE sanctioned Moscow by depriving the Russian delegation of its voting rights in the parliamentary body of a non-binding institution whose purpose is “protect human rights and democracy”.
In response to the sanctions against Russia, Moscow then responded by a boycott, repeatedly threatening to leave the Council of Europe. The possibility that the Russians would be deprived of access to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR, legal arm of the Council of Europe), ended up “convincing the majority of countries that it was better with Russia, than without it, “AFP reported.
Ukraine, supported by the Baltic countries and the United Kingdom, believes that “the reopening of the door to the Russians is comparable to a first breach in the sanctions, imposed on Moscow for annexing Crimea”.
In the Council of Europe hemicycle in Strasbourg, 118 parliamentarians voted in favor of the text, 62 against it and ten abstained.
Even before the vote, Moscow had sent a delegation to Strasbourg, said the vice-speaker of the Russian Parliament, Piotr Tolstoy, as quoted by the agency Ria Novosti, anticipating in advance the resistance of “a healthy majority of ‘spirit’ to ‘the hysteria of a small minority'”.
This latest development comes in a context of several European countries expressing a willingness to cooperate with Russia. On June 24, the leaders of the French and Russian governments met in Le Havre, stressing that their respective countries had never brokenoff dialogue or cooperation, especially on economic issues.
Despite some differences between France and Russia, Edouard Philippe and Dmitry Medvedev both expressed their desire to continue to work together. “What we sometimes hear in France, is the idea that France and Russia should not talk to each other,” said French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, during a press conference with his Russian counterpart.
However, the head of the French government stressed that this “music” did not correspond to anything real. Even if certain differences remain between France and Russia on international issues such as Ukraine or Syria, this has not not affected the continuity of exchanges.
Edouard Philippe recalled that the economic relations between the two countries remained important, despite the economic sanctions taken by the European Union against Russia. The French Prime Minister said French companies were the first foreign companies to look towards Russia.
A strong presence of French business leaders were present to greet the Russian leader: “Thirty very large [French] companies, which represent millions of dollars, are involved in our market and we appreciate this involvement,” said Dmitry Medvedev, adding that 500 French companies are present in the country.
France is “one of the largest foreign investors in Russia and that we appreciate,” he said.
“I am convinced that there are still opportunities to improve these exchanges, including involving the business community,” said Dmitry Medvedev. He mentioned the fields of energy, nuclear and aeronautics, among others, in which cooperation is already particularly developed.
“This is not the end of our cooperation,” said Medvedev, referring in particular to the Ukrainian dossier, on which he praised French initiatives.
“We are both aware of the very high sensitivity” of the Iranian file, noted Edouard Philippe. And the French Prime Minister also acknowledged more generally, the importance of the Franco-Russian dialogue in international diplomacy: “We have the responsibility to maintain a frank dialogue […] to maintain international peace and security.”