Kremlin-connected politician Mikhail Margelov’s bid for the presidency of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is beginning to run into trouble. It is not yet the done deal that Margelov’s supporters at and near the top of PACE’s leadership had hoped — and others feared — would go through unstoppably (see EDM, October 11).
Three factors account for the slowdown in the momentum behind Margelov’s candidacy. One is the hesitation and scruples felt by a growing number of PACE members about electing a representative of the Kremlin’s “managed democracy” to the presidency of Europe’s leading democracy-promoting institution. The doubters realize that such an election would accelerate the ongoing erosion of PACE’s credibility.
Another factor is information about outgoing PACE president Rene van der Linden’s involvement in business in Russia in 2006-2007. A dossier of Russian media reports — that were available all along — on that topic has now been compiled in Estonia and is circulating among members of the Strasbourg-based PACE. Van der Linden had previously disclaimed repeatedly any business activity in Russia. Faced with the Russian media reports, he no longer denies involvement but disclaims having earned profits from it. Van der Linden played a key role in the deal to put Margelov in PACE’s presidential chair for the next three-year term. Thus, van der Linden’s overall political judgment comes into sharp question at the end of his presidential term.
Baltic parliamentarians in the three capitals and in Strasbourg were taken aback when van der Linden suddenly began replaying Russia’s propaganda themes against their countries in August and September. The Estonian parliament’s European Affairs Commission chairman, Marko Mihkelson — until recently the head of Estonia’s delegation to PACE — made public the Russian media compilation, commenting that it is up to van der Linden himself to judge whether he finds himself in a conflict-of-interest situation (Baltic Times, October 17).
Yet another factor in the debate is Russia’s failure to fulfill a host of commitments it had made to the Council of Europe in 1996 as a pre-condition to Russian membership. Quite apart from the overall assault on democracy in Russia in recent years, the non-fulfillment of Russia’s commitments to PACE involves specific, clearly worded, incontrovertible obligations. PACE’s itemized list of those issues when Russia was admitted as a member (Opinion No. 193, January 1996), now circulating among members, helps flag Russia’s unfulfilled membership conditions and commitments.
Regarding Chechnya, Article 3 stipulates that Russia could be admitted to PACE membership “on the grounds that Russia [is] henceforth committed to finding a political solution and that alleged and documented human rights violations [are] being investigated.” Article 6 records “Assurances of continued progress were given to the Council of Europe by the President of the [Russian] Federation, the Prime Minister, the Duma’s President, and the Federation Council’s President” on those Chechen issues. And Article 7 concludes, “on the basis of these assurances, the [PACE] Assembly believes that Russia is clearly willing and will be able in the near future to fulfill the provisions for membership of the Council of Europe.”
However, Moscow proceeded almost immediately to breach its top-level assurances and commitments and remains in breach to date at both the executive and the parliamentary level, while its top representatives at PACE — Margelov and Konstantin Kosachev — are helping to cover up the situation.
Article 7 further requires, “Those found responsible for human rights violations will be brought to justice,” and “inhuman conditions in many pre-trial centers will be ameliorated without delay.” Furthermore, Russia shall institute “compensation programs which must be worked out’,” including for “persons formerly deported from the occupied Baltic states or the descendants of deportees.” These commitments also remain unfulfilled.
According to article 9 of PACE’s conditions, Russia shall work with the Council of Europe and the European Union for “strengthening [Russia’s] federal structure” as well as for “strengthening non-governmental organizations in the field of human rights and the establishment of a civil society.” Instead, the Kremlin has liquidated the prerequisites to a federal structure and began eviscerating civil society before authorizing Margelov to run for the PACE presidency.
Under Article 10, Russia is required “to settle international as well as internal disputes by peaceful means — an obligation incumbent on all member states of the Council of Europe — rejecting resolutely any forms of threats of force against its neighbors.” And, further, “to settle outstanding international border disputes according to the principles of international law.” However, various forms of intimidation and pressure against the Baltic states, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia have multiplied during the intervening years and are not abating.
According to the same article Russia was to ratify, within six months of the time of accession, the Russia-Moldova agreement of 1994 regarding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova within three years. Nevertheless, Russia “keeps its troops in Moldova to the present day” and denies any obligation to remove them. Further under this article, Russia was “to reduce, if not eliminate, incidents of ill-treatment and deaths in the armed forces outside military conflicts” — a flexible requirement, also not met.
As PACE’s members revisit this set of criteria and conditions for Russia’s membership, many must reflect that PACE’s mission in Europe would lose credibility if the assembly were to elevate the main violator country to the institution’s presidency.
(Baltic Times, October 17; PACE, “Opinion No. 193 on Russia’s Request for Membership of the Council of Europe”; see EDM, August 3, October 11)