PARIS, France – Russia on Tuesday quit the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights watchdog, pre – empting possible expulsion over its attack on neighbour Ukraine.
That made Russia only the second country to leave the pan – European group briefed with upholding human rights and the rule of law since its formation after World War Two.
Greece had done the same in 1969, also to avoid expulsion, after a group of army officers seized power in a military coup. It rejoined after restoring democracy five years later.
Russia’s withdrawal from the institution that devised the European Convention on Human Rights and helped eastern European nations to democratise their political systems after the collapse of Communism carries symbolic weight.
But the decision, announced hours before a vote on its expulsion in the Council of Europe’s assembly, also has concrete consequences.
The human rights convention will cease to apply to Russia and Russians will no longer be able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against their government.
Leonid Slutsky, head of the International Affairs Committee of Russia’s lower house of parliament, said the countries of NATO and the European Union had seen the Council as ‘a means of ideological support for their military – political and economic expansion to the east’.
‘But don’t be afraid’, he wrote on his Telegram channel. ‘All rights will be guaranteed in our country, necessarily and unconditionally’.
In a draft resolution also said that the impact of Russia withdrawing from Europe’s court of human rights will be mitigated by the fact that Russia, it said, failed to properly act on its judgments.
Pyotr Tolstoy, head of the Russian delegation at the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly, said on his Telegram channel that he had handed over a letter from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announcing Moscow’s decision.
‘We are glad; we do not want you here’, Polish lawmaker Miroslaw Nykiel said in response during the debate at the assembly.
The Council of Europe, which is separate from the European Union, confirmed it had received the letter. It has suspended Russia’s membership in Feb.25, the day after it invaded Ukraine.
Moscow last week said that the United States – led NATO alliance and EU countries were undermining the council and Russia would no longer participate.
The Kremlin said last month that Russia’s suspension was unfair but provided a good reason to ‘slam the door’ for good on the organisation, giving Moscow an opportunity to restore the death penalty for dangerous criminals.
Russia describes its invasion of Ukraine as a ‘special operation’ to demilitarise and ‘denazify’ Ukraine and prevent a genocide of Russian speakers. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice.