The Council of Europe (CoE) has controversially agreed to restore Russia’s voting rights, five years after they were suspended over what most see as the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE, on Monday voted in favour of the move which has incensed Ukraine.
In a statement issued after the decision was announced, the Council of Europe said the assembly affirmed its members' rights “to vote, to speak and to be represented in the assembly and its bodies.” The assembly voted 118 in favour and 62 against, with 10 abstentions.
The Council of Europe, along with the European Court of Human Rights, is tasked with promoting human rights and the rule of law in its 47 European member states.
However, the head of Ukraine's delegation to the CoE, Volodymyr Ariev, said the decision sends a "very bad message" to Moscow and others.
"Do what you want, annex another country's territory, kill people there and you will still leave with everything," he said.
In 2014, Russia was stripped of its voting rights in the parliamentary assembly for two years because of the annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed some 13,000 people.
Moscow responded in 2016 by boycotting the assembly and has since 2017 refused to pay its annual contribution of €32.6 million, which represents a large part of the council’s budget.
Meanwhile, last week, European Council member states agreed to continue restrictive measures introduced in response to the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol until 23 June 2020.
"Do what you want, annex another country's territory, kill people there and you will still leave with everything" Volodymyr Ariev, head of Ukrainian delegation to the CoE
Since March 2014, the EU has progressively imposed restrictive measures against Russia in response to “this deliberate destabilisation of Ukraine” including the sanctions.
Those, including France and Germany, who voted to restore Russia’s full rights in the council, which is separate from the EU, argued that if Russia left the organisation — as it had threatened to do — it would deny Russian citizens the right to bring cases before the European Court of Human Rights, a part of the council. The largest proportion of cases brought to the European court originate in Russia.
France and Germany argued that it was better to promote dialogue, especially in the face of fundamental disagreements.
It was also argued that excluding Russia would harm organisations operating in the country that work to promote democracy and human rights.