Europe: Deny the Vote to Putin’s Outlaw Regime

Earlier this month, the leaders of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)—the oldest and largest pan-European organization that brings together national lawmakers from across the continent—visited Moscow for talks with State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin. The principal topic of discussion was the restoration of voting rights for Russian delegates, which were suspended in April following the annexation of Crimea.

The talks brought good news for the Kremlin. According to Andreas Gross, a Swiss lawmaker and the Assembly’s rapporteur on Russia, most leaders of the European parliamentary body want to see “a full restoration of the rights of the Russian delegation” at the PACE’s upcoming session in January. The next round of negotiations will be held in December in Vienna.

If this agreement takes shape, it will represent one of the biggest acts of hypocrisy in the history of the Council of Europe.

The truth is that the April decision to strip the Russian delegates of their voting rights in Strasbourg came a decade too late—and that the first argument for their disenfranchisement should not have been the annexation of Crimea, but the simple fact that they are not the legitimate representatives of the Russian people. The latter point was ascertained and publicly stated by the Parliamentary Assembly itself on three different occasions.

In December 2003, European (including PACE) observers concluded that “the State Duma elections failed to meet many OSCE and Council of Europe commitments for democratic elections,” noting in particular that “the extensive use of the state apparatus and media favoritism to the benefit of United Russia did create an unfair environment on a countrywide basis for other parties and candidates contesting these elections, [which] undermines the fundamental principle that parties and candidates should be able to compete with each other on the basis of equal treatment.”

In December 2007, PACE monitors stated that the Duma elections “took place in an atmosphere which seriously limited political competition and with frequent abuse of administrative resources, media coverage strongly in favor of the ruling party, and an election code whose cumulative effect hindered political pluralism. There was not a level political playing field in Russia.”

In December 2011, the Assembly’s mission concluded that the elections—which brought unprecedented public reaction in Russia as tens of thousands of people went to the streets to protest election fraud—“were marked by the convergence of the state and the governing party,” and that “the contest was… slanted in favor of the ruling party as evidenced by the lack of independence of the election administration, the partiality of most media, and the undue interference of state authorities at different levels. This all did not provide the necessary conditions for fair electoral competition.”

Yet every time—following the 2003, 2007, and 2011 Duma elections—the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe confirmed Russian delegates as full members. It is difficult to comprehend how the same organization can assess the elections as unfair and undemocratic, but accept their “winners” as legitimate representatives of the country.

Russia is the largest European nation and rightfully belongs to the Council of Europe. Its membership allows Russian citizens to seek justice—denied to them by the Kremlin-controlled judiciary at home—at the European Court of Human Rights. And there will come a day (I expect sooner than what Vladimir Putin would like) when the duly elected members of the Russian parliament will take their seats at the Palace of Europe in Strasbourg. But until that day comes, there should be no concessions to the Kremlin-appointed impostors—who represent no one but themselves.

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