Foreign ministers from the Council of Europe, the continent’s chief human rights watchdog, reached an agreement on Friday that opens the way for Russia to return to the organization, meaning that Russia will likely take part in a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in June, when key new appointments will be made. However, the final decision about participating in the council’s parliamentary assembly’s June session will be made by lawmakers, according to a diplomatic source.
Following Crimea’s 2014 reunification with Russia, the country’s delegation to PACE was stripped of its key rights, including the right to vote, over the situation in Ukraine and Crimea’s reunification with Russia. In response, Russia suspended its participation in PACE’s activities and the payment of its contribution to the Council of Europe. In late June 2017, Russia said it was suspending part of its 33 million euro ($38 million) annual contribution to the 47-member body over its non-participation in PACE.
“We are not seeking to quit the Council of Europe,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a ministerial session of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, dismissing attempts to spread rumors, as reported by state-run agency TASS.
“We are not reneging on any of our commitments, including financial ones,” Lavrov told the 129th ministerial session on Friday.
Russia has indicated it will resume payment of its membership dues as a result. It stopped payment nearly two years ago after its voting rights in the council were suspended over its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
The Russian spat has prompted questions about the future and durability of the 70-year-old Council of Europe, the guardian of the European Convention on Human Rights and the creator of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It also left a 90 million euro hole in the council’s budget since Russia accounts for around 7 percent of contributions.
France and Germany have been keen to keep Russia inside the council, arguing that if it is outside it is harder for any human rights abuses to be flagged and pursued by the court.
In October 2018, the Council of Europe warned Russia of suspending membership from the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, starting from June 2019 due to non-payment of monetary contributions. Lavrov said in response that Moscow would quit the Council of Europe if opposing member states called for expelling Russia.