Council of Europe votes to maintain Russia's membership

Human rights body had stripped Moscow of its voting rights over 2014 Crimea annexation

Russia will remain in the Council of Europe after ministers at the human rights organisation moved to end a bitter dispute following the annexation of Crimea.

Meeting in Helsinki, ministers of the 47-nation body voted overwhelmingly in favour of a declaration that said “all member states should be entitled to participate on an equal basis” in the council’s committee of ministers and parliamentary assembly.

Ukraine reacted angrily to the decision, which ends five years of wrangling since Russia was stripped of its voting rights in 2014 over the seizure of Crimea. “This is not diplomacy, this is a surrender,” Ukraine’s envoy to the Council of Europe, Dmytro Kuleba, told the AFP.

He tweeted to say that five other countries opposed the decision and insisted “the struggle” would continue in the assembly.

The parliamentary assembly (Pace), a gathering of MPs from 47 countries due to meet in June, still has to approve a procedural change that would allow Russian members to resume voting.

France and Germany had pressed to reinstate Russia as a voting member of the Council of Europe, which marks its 70th anniversary this month. “It is not in our interests” to keep Russia out, the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said.

The Strasbourg organisation is best known for the European court of human rights, which has become the last resort for ordinary Russians unable to find justice in the notoriously politicised domestic judicial system.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told his counterparts on Friday that his country had “no intention of leaving the Council of Europe” and would not be “going back on any of our commitments, including financial ones”.

Russia’s return to Pace also spells an end to the financial crisis that hit the Council of Europe after Moscow ceased its membership dues, leaving a €53m (£46m) funding black hole in 2018.


Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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