Ending a long wait that began with the invasion of Chechnya in December 1994, the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe voted as expected yesterday to admit Russia. The 164-35 vote easily exceeded the required two-thirds majority, yet followed fierce criticism of Russia’s human rights record and its military actions in Chechnya. The vote came on the heels of intense lobbying campaigns by Western governments and by the Kremlin. Russian president Boris Yeltsin himself warned the day before the vote that failure to admit Russia would strengthen secessionist forces in Chechnya and weaken Russian democrats. Only hours before the ballot, Yeltsin pledged Moscow’s continued adherence to economic and political reform.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry hailed the vote as a major step forward for Russia and for Europe "because a united Europe is impossible without Russia." However, displeasure with Russia’s human rights record and Moscow’s recent actions in the Caucasus led the parliamentary assembly to create a committee to monitor the situation in Chechnya. As a new member of the Council, Russia will be obligated to ratify within a year conventions that guarantee human rights and the protection of minorities, as well as outlaw torture. The assembly passed several amendments tightening Russia’s obligations for admission, but Russian Duma deputy Vladimir Lukin downplayed the amendments as non-obligatory recommendations. In a typically bizarre speech before the vote, Russian ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky proclaimed that Russian military actions in Chechnya were Europe’s salvation and that as president he would encourage Chechen "gangs" to infiltrate Europe. (3)
…While Foreign Ministry Lambastes European Parliament.