2. Oct. 2009

Moscow Times

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Moscow Scores a Small Victory in Strasbourg

By Nikolaus von Twickel

Moscow scored a second small victory in Europe on Thursday when the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly threw out a motion to suspend Russian lawmakers from its ranks. Deputies confirmed the Russian delegation’s credentials with an 88 to 35 vote, the assembly said on its web site. The failed challenge was submitted by 72 deputies who had accused Moscow of noncompliance in the peace process following last year’s war with Georgia.

The decision came a day after a European Union report found that Georgia, not Russia, had triggered the war. The report was met with considerable relief by the Russian government, even though the report’s authors also accused Moscow of numerous rights violations.

Thursday’s resolution by the Strasbourg-based assembly found that Russia had largely failed to comply in the peace process after the war, yet it stressed that confirming the Russian delegation’s credentials would enable Moscow «to engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue … on the consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia.» The head of the Russian delegation, State Duma Deputy Konstantin Kosachyov, welcomed the failure of the motion, which he lambasted as an attempt by Georgia to «turn the assembly into another battlefield.» The motion’s signatories include deputies from more than 20 of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states but none from Georgia.

But Andreas Gross, a Swiss Social Democrat deputy who is rapporteur of the assembly’s monitoring committee, said the initiative had clearly originated in Georgia. «Back in May, I personally saw a Georgian deputy collecting signatures for the motion,» he told The Moscow Times. The signatories’ makeup could also fuel suspicion of anti-Russian sentiment from some Eastern European states, as 16 of them are Polish deputies and eight are Lithuanian.

Georgian officials had no immediate comment on the vote. The Russian delegation did not attend Thursday’s debate, and Kosachyov told reporters that if the motion were adopted, his 18-member delegation would leave the session altogether, Interfax reported. It was not the first time that Moscow has been challenged in the assembly. A similar attempt, motivated by the five-day war with Georgia, failed last fall. In April 2000, the Russian delegation was deprived of its vote for several months because of the war in Chechnya.

Gross said he was not surprised that the latest motion had failed because its execution and its content had been foolish. «We debated Russia’s credentials for the third time now, and it is unwise always to ask [for] the same decisions from the same colleagues. Today’s result shows this,» he said. He added that it was impossible to solve Georgia’s and Europe’s problems without Russia. «I believe it is totally wrong to snub Russia, thus cutting off any chance for the dialogue which is needed so much,» he said.

Gross’ position echoed that of Thorbjorn Jagland, president of the Norwegian parliament who was elected as the Council of Europe’s new secretary-general Tuesday. In an interview published in Thursday’s Kommersant, Jagland said it was better to include people than to exclude them. «Once we start excluding each other, we lose some important problem-solving instruments,» he said.

However, the assembly did vote against Moscow earlier this week, when it passed a resolution Tuesday that demands that Russia allows EU monitors into Georgia’s breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The resolution, passed by a vote of 80 to 36, identified similar deficits as Thursday’s motion, saying that unlike Georgia, «Russia has not complied with most of the key demands placed upon it.» Asked why Tuesday’s resolution passed while Thursday’s did not, Gross said the other side had argued much better Thursday.

European frustration at the Kremlin was also expressed by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who said Thursday during a visit to Moscow that the government has not completely fulfilled the terms of the French-brokered cease-fire. Kouchner accused Moscow of seizing Georgian territory in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. «The Russians occupied territories that are not theirs and continue to do so,» he said on Ekho Moskvy radio. «One should not adjust borders … through war.» Moscow recognized the separatist regions as independent states last summer and has stationed thousands of troops there.

Founded 60 years ago, the Council of Europe is the continent’s oldest international organization, focusing on regional integration and human rights. Russia has been a full member since 1996. It is also the parent organization of the European Court of Human Rights, which has recently become a favorite resort for Russians frustrated by the courts at home.

Frazer Cameron, director of the EU-Russia Center, a Brussels-based think tank, said that despite complaints of noncompliance, decisions of the Strasbourg-based court were being taken seriously in Moscow, serving as a point of reference for domestic courts. He added that while the Council of Europe was important for Russia because it gives it full membership rights, something unthinkable in the EU, there was a problem of perception among the political elite. «Some in the Duma and the Kremlin think it is an anti-Russian organization, which just is not true,» he said.

Mark Entin, director of the European Studies Institute at the Moscow International Relations Institute, said Thursday’s vote reaffirmed the council’s importance as a place for Russia’s dialogue with Europe. «They decided for cooperation instead of confrontation and nobody today needs confrontation,» he said.

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