PACE session: the powers of the Russian delegation contested
At the PACE winter session, deputies will debate on the arrest of Alexei Navalny and protests in Russia
On January 25, on the first day of the winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, the credentials of the Russian delegation to PACE were challenged «on substantial grounds». This was done by 38 members of the Assembly from five national delegations at the initiative of deputies from Ukraine (according to the rules of the Assembly, in the case of such a proposal supported by at least 30 PACE members from five or more national delegations, it must be considered).
At the PACE session, which will last a week and is held in a mixed mode (some deputies are present in person in the conference room, others speak via video link), the head of the Ukrainian delegation Maria Mezentseva noted that the Russian authorities continue to violate the political and civil rights of Russians, and also conduct «the campaign of persecution of the opposition leader».
«On behalf of our colleagues, we dispute the rights of the Russian delegation on substantial grounds», – Mezentseva stated, adding that these grounds – Russia’s violation of the basic principles of the Council of Europe.
One of the members of the Ukrainian delegation, deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine from the party «European solidarity» Alexey Goncharenko, who also personally spoke in Strasbourg for challenging the powers of the Russian delegation, later said on Facebook that «now the question will go to the Monitoring Committee (PACE – ed.) – a report will be prepared there, and to the procedural committee to prepare an opinion», after which the report and opinion will be submitted to the Assembly for a final decision.
As decided by the Assembly, the issue of the powers of the Russian delegation will be considered by it on the morning of Thursday, January 28.
The day before, on Wednesday, the Assembly will also hold a debate on «Arrest and detention of Alexei Navalny in January 2021».
In an interview with the Russian service «Voices of America» Alexey Goncharenko said that during the debate on Navalny’s arrest, the balance of forces in the PACE conference room will not be in favor of Russia – even «pro-Russian lobbyists» now, according to the Ukrainian parliamentarian, it becomes harder to defend the position of the Russian delegation.
«The head of the Russian delegation, Pyotr Tolstoy, tried to postpone the debate on Navalny, but I opposed, and the Assembly supported the Ukrainian position with 104 votes. This is a positive signal. On the other hand, there is also a negative side to the Navalny debate. There are two types of debate – «on current affairs» and «urgent», the difference is that according to the second procedure, a report is prepared, and according to the first – not. Regarding Navalny, unfortunately, it will follow the first procedure: there will be discussion, but there will be no decision at the end, and this is an indicator that Russia is desperately fighting», – noted by Alexey Goncharenko.
Alexei Navalny was detained on January 17 upon his arrival in Moscow from Berlin, where he was undergoing treatment and rehabilitation after poisoning. «Newbie». Later he was arrested for 30 days at the request of the Federal Penitentiary Service. The oppositionist is accused of violating the obligation of a conditionally convicted person under the so-called «the Yves Rocher case», which Navalny himself and his supporters call politically motivated. Navalny can be replaced with a suspended sentence of three and a half years for real imprisonment.
EU Opinion May Affect PACE Debate
According to PACE observers, the debates in the Assembly about Alexei Navalny and violations of the rights of the opposition in Russia may be influenced by the recent decisions of the EU Parliament, reflected in the resolution it adopted. – in particular, the requirement to impose new sanctions against Moscow. All EU countries are also members of the Council of Europe and are represented in PACE.
Meanwhile, the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, will visit Moscow on February 4-5, where he is expected to discuss with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the relations between the European Union and Russia in the light of recent events, including the dispersal of mass street rallies in support of Navalny..
Borrell said on Monday that the EU is monitoring the situation with Navalny, but «no specific plan» no new sanctions against Russia.
Earlier, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that among the topics of the meeting of the EU foreign ministers on January 25, there would be a question about the fate of Alexei Navalny. In a programme «Political issues» on France Inter on Sunday, Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the sanctions «against a number of high officials» in Russia «must be made real».
Reaction of the Russian delegation to PACE
The PACE members from Russia strongly opposed both the discussion of the situation with Alexei Navalny and the vote to challenge the powers of the delegation itself. Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Russian State Duma’s international affairs committee, first issued a statement on Monday with a direct threat: «If the credentials of the Russian delegation are not fully confirmed, the delegation will leave Strasbourg and will not participate in the PACE sessions.».
Later, however, the press service of the Duma committee replaced this statement with other words on behalf of Slutsky: «We hope that the attempt by the Ukrainian delegation to challenge Russia’s credentials in PACE will suffer the same fate as in January 2020. The Assembly is now much more constructively inclined to cooperate with the Russian delegation.».
In the end, Slutsky posted a video message on the Telegram network, in the sense of the exact opposite of his own initial statement: «No matter how sophisticated our strategic friends may be, they will not be able to achieve Russia’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe through Navalny’s case or in any other way. Russia has returned to the Council of Europe, and no matter how much the opposite, it will not work to achieve our withdrawal from the most widely covered organization in Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly, PACE.».
About Navalny in Ukraine: «You will have to apologize for aggression»
On the air of the TV channel «Ukraine 24» Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba noted on Monday that Ukrainians «should not also be fascinated by Alexei Navalny from the point of view of the interests of Ukraine».
«He will also have to apologize for Russian aggression if it happens that Navalny, in some future, as a result of democratic elections, will lead Russia or take some political place in the system. But the enemy of my enemy – my friend. Therefore, if Navalny – enemy of Putin, then we support Navalny», – said the minister.
This point of view is shared by the political strategist Dmitry Bachevsky, who said in an interview with the correspondent of the Russian Service «Voices of America», that when discussing the issue of Alexei Navalny’s position regarding the occupied territories, Ukraine should «support any forces in Russia working to dismantle the Putin regime».
«Only in this case we will have a chance to return Crimea and Donbass, if not by political means, then by military means, at the moment of the fall of the Russian Federation to the lowest point of the political crisis. Conversely, any strong central government in the Kremlin will always pose a threat to our sovereignty and independence – as well as to the people of Russia themselves.», – says Dmitry Bachevsky.
At the same time, the expert shares the opinion of a number of other analysts that Navalny «he has a rather cool attitude towards Ukraine and Georgia, and towards other countries that have suffered from Russian aggression».
«He will never return Crimea to us. But he can create conditions in Russia where we can return Crimea ourselves, without asking anyone. And in this case, we should not be interested in the personalities themselves, but in their role in weakening the central government in Russia, shifting its attention from the foreign policy to the domestic front.», – emphasizes Dmitry Bachevsky.