By Ivan Danilov
Translated by Ollie Richardson and Angelina Siard
A potential break was outlined on the European front of the diplomatic fight for common sense. Thanks to the correct Russian strategy, influential European leaders ripened for correcting an old injustice that became the character of spoiled Russian-European relations and returned to the Russian delegation all rights within the structures of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The balance of forces in PACE looks as follows. On the one hand, in a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron supported the complete recovery of the rights of the Russian delegation in PACE.
On the other hand, representatives of Ukraine promised to give the last and decisive battle to the pro-Russian deputies of PACE already on June 3rd and hinted that the position of leaders of Germany and France doesn’t impress them. The show promises to be enchanting, but what’s much more important isn’t how diplomatic fights will take place in PACE, but how it was succeeded to achieve the increased flexibility of the once inflexible European position concerning Russia.
There are all grounds to believe that progress in the PACE issue is connected to the banal, but consecutive pressure put on the painful point of our European partners — i.e., on their wallet. The process of bringing the European position in compliance with common sense started after the speaker of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin in January of last year announced the freezing of contributions to PACE: “Until the right of national delegations to participate in the work of the Assembly has been documented in the regulations of PACE, it will be incorrect to say that we will transfer these funds”.
It is necessary to recognize that the European authorities originally did not believe that PACE will remain without Russian financing and consequently – also without a considerable part of its budget.
Then the prospect of liquidating the organization itself due to it being no longer needed appeared in full in front of the leadership of PACE: if there is no Russia in PACE, then why should a structure that was initially needed as a platform for dialog between of legislators of Europe and our country exist? It was possible to reorientate PACE, but this is long, complicated, and, by and large, useless since without Russian contributions the budget of the organization would hardly cope with rebranding and repositioning, which anyway would most likely be unsuccessful.
After a financial demarche of Russian parliamentarians, a quite amusing process began that visually showed that in Europe there are still politicians who sacredly believe that it is possible to deceive Russia easily and that for this purpose there is only a need to show the necessary persistence.
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland
again and again – officially and on the sidelines – demanded the payment of contributions from Russia and even made ultimatums. For example, during the summer session of PACE of last year that took place in Strasbourg, Jagland “presented Russia a bill” and demanded that contributions be paid: “June 13th (2018 – ed) is the deadline for the payment of contributions”.
A year passed.
The position of the speaker of the State Duma and deputy corps remained invariable. And Jagland and his colleagues realised that Russia indeed will not pay. And if Russia is removed from PACE, then for Russia, in principle, nothing will change – because as we remember, the Russian delegation already could not work in PACE.
By January of the current year the situation started to acquire a comic character, and panic notes start to creep up in the tone of the messages of functionaries of the Parliamentary Assembly. This same Jagland put the deputies of European delegations in front of a fact: it is necessary to adopt a cut-down budget and it is necessary to consider that the economical measures introduced because of Russia harm the organisation since employees and service staff will not tolerate frozen salaries for long.
The price of the question is about €60 million. And this price, when combined with the perspective of losing the “meaning of life of PACE”, forced European parliamentarians to look at the situation a little more soberly.
It is impossible to exclude that the final diplomatic blow that tore the European blueprint was the recent statement of Volodin, who raised the stakes in the most direct financial sense and designated the desirability of refunding contributions, including those that were already paid to PACE for the period when the Russian delegation was disfranchised.
Even if the leadership of the Council of Europe wanted to fulfil this demand, it would all the same be impossible, because there isn’t enough money in the budget of the organization, even for normal daily activity.
Possibly, at this moment, the ice finally cracked, and the question of the Russian delegation’s return to PACE reached the highest political level in Paris and Berlin, which indeed led to the fact that the official position of Merkel and Macron strongly disappointed Kiev.
“After the ministerial meeting of the Council of Europe in Helsinki, the ball is now in the court of PACE. It is precisely there that the final battles over whether the Russian Federation will be able to return to Assembly, without having fulfilled any of the demands of the resolutions of PACE adopted in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, will take place. Our opponents are geared towards finishing this affair at any cost. The Russians also understand that this is their chance,” said the permanent representative of Ukraine to the Council of Europe Dmitry Kuleba.
The Ukrainian deputies show a laudable will to win, but their problem is not the Russian delegation, but the position of European diplomacy recorded at a recent meeting of the Council of Europe. In the final statement of Foreign Ministers of the countries of the CoE a clear position that comes down to a thesis was documented: “All participants of the organisation should have equal opportunities to work in PACE, but contributions should also be paid”, which proves once again the importance of precisely the financial question.
Irrespective of how June’s battles in PACE will come to an end, it is possible already now to ascertain that Russia found a way to effectively interact with European partners. It is suitable even for those cases when, it seems, all bridges have already been burned, and the European politicians who set fire to the bridges affirm that Russia should “pay and repent”. The recipe that showed its efficiency on the example of food “anti-sanctions” and the conflict in the Council of Europe comes down to two ingredients: it is necessary to hit the Europeans in their wallet and to show demonstrative iron and inflexible patience.
The result will not be immediate, but it will be positive.