Council of Europe pushes to break impasse on Russia's membership

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas meet his Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov in Helsinki on Friday to discuss Russia's membership of the Council of Europe (CoE). Representatives of 47 European countries are continuing their two-day summit in the Finnish capital.

The Russian delegation has faced sanctions at the CoE over the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. One of the measures included stripping Russia's representatives of their voting rights, which in turn prompted them to boycott CoE plenary sessions.

In 2017, Russia also stopped financing the European body, leaving it with a budget hole of some €33 million ($37 million). Russia could be suspended from the body next month for not paying its membership fees.

However, human rights activists worry that suspending or expelling Russia from the assembly, which is a non-EU organization to uphold human rights, could have a disastrous effect on civil society in Russia. The watchdog body is in charge of electing judges for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the largest percentage of ECHR cases comes from Russia. Others worry that revoking Russia's membership could eventually bring back capital punishment in the country.

Quid pro quo

Ahead of the Friday meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the session would have "a decisive significance for the fate of the Council of Europe."

Germany has signaled it would endorse lifting CoE sanctions, but also push through a new system for imposing sanctions for members who go against European values.

France, which is set to take over the CoE's rotating presidency from Finland, also said it would work on preserving the body's "cohesion." President Emmanuel Macron stressed the "importance of finding a solution that will enable Russia to remain in the Council of Europe, with all the resulting rights and obligations."

Russian CoE envoy Ivan Soltanovskiy also welcomed the German-backed resolution as a compromise which "opens the door a little bit for further work."

Read more: Russian lawmakers vote to keep up Council of Europe boycott

Ukraine warns of 'normalizing' Russia's actions

At the same time, Ukraine responded angrily to the reconciliatory signals between Russia and the two western countries. In protest, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin decided to send his deputy to Helsinki.

In a Facebook post, Klimkin also said that ending sanctions would start the process of "normalizing" everything Russia has done.

"And if some people in Europe respond to Kremlin blackmail and hide their hands in the sand, very soon there might be nothing left of the Council of Europe and ultimately of all European values," he said.

dj/rt (dpa, AFP, Interfax)

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