On February 25th, 2022, the Russian Federation was suspended from the Council of Europe (CoE), not even 24 hours after launching a full-scale invasion against its neighbor, Ukraine. However, Russia was not kicked out of the Council, only its rights of representation were suspended by a nearly unanimous vote in which only Russia and Armenia voted in against while the representatives of Serbia and Azerbaijan did not attend.
Following the vote, the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, Luigi Di Maio, the President of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, Tiny Kox, and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejinovi Buri, made the following statement:
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the Russian Federation’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, an unjustified military attack of one member State of the Council of Europe against another member State. We reiterate our unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.
On 25 February 2022, following an exchange of views with the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Ministers decided to suspend the Russian Federation from the Council of Europe in accordance with Article 8 of the Statute and reaffirmed the principles to which we are unanimously committed, in particular respect for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. The Committee also called on the Russian Federation to immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations in Ukraine.”
The CoE stressed to the international community that this suspension was not permanent and that diplomatic avenues would still be open to Russia.
However, Russia has not heeded the calls for peace from their European community partners, instead, on March 10th, 2022, the Russian Federation announced they will no longer participate in the Council of Europe. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement, published by the state-owned TASS news agency on Thursday which accused NATO and EU countries of “undermining” the European body.
“Russia does not intend to put up with these subversive actions carried out by the collective West in line with the imposition of a ‘rules-based order’ to replace international law trampled by the United States and its satellites,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“Russia will not participate in the transformation by NATO and the EU obediently following them of the oldest European organisation into another platform for incantations about Western superiority and narcissism. Let them enjoy communicating with each other, without Russia.”
So Russia Is Out. Why Does That Matter? What Is The CoE?
The Council of Europe is an international organization founded in the wake of World War II to uphold human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Europe. Founded in 1949, it now has 46 member states, with a population of approximately 675 million, and operates with an annual budget of approximately 500 million euros
The organization is distinct from the European Union (EU), although it is sometimes confused with it, partly because the EU has adopted the original European flag, created for the Council of Europe in 1955, as well as the European anthem. The Council of Europe is an official United Nations Observer. Being an international organization, the Council of Europe cannot make laws, but it does have the ability to push for the enforcement of select international agreements reached by member states on various topics. The best-known body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights, which functions on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Now that Russia has left the Council, it will not have to answer to the Convention on Human Rights, a relationship that has become untenable in the following days, especially in the wake of the Mariupol Maternity Hospital strike which, so far, has left at least 3 civilians dead, much to the outcry of the International Community. Several commentators have purported that Russia made this move in order to prevent an embarrassing ejection from the CoE by another nearly unanimous vote. Meanwhile, Dmitry Medvedev, the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia, stated that the country’s departure from the human rights body would allow Russia to reintroduce the death penalty.
However, a much more concerning pivot of Russia to a deeper alliance with China has some U.S. leaders worried, especially the leader of America’s Nuclear Forces, U.S. Strategic Command’s chief, Adm. Chas Richard.
“I’m very concerned about what opportunistic aggression looks like. I’m worried about what cooperative aggression looks like,” Richard told the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding that his command’s job includes deterring them both.
Alluding to Russia and China’s growing arsenals and to Russia’s recent nuclear saber rattling, Richard said the U.S. must further reexamine the “capability, capacity and posture” of America’s strategic forces. He suggested all of these would have to be reassessed continuously.
While China has called for an immediate cession of hostilities, they stopped short of denouncing President Putin and his decision to initiate the invasion. As economic pressures and sanctions mount on Russia, it is important to watch for signs of China throwing them an economic lifeline in the form of increased trade to circumvent international sanctions.