EU missing the target with Russia

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The suspension of Russia’s voting rights and representation in the leading bodies of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) as a reaction to Crimea’s annexation marked a definite schism between Kremlin and the West, when in response the head of delegation Alexei Pushkov demonstrated scepticism about Russia remaining a member.

PACE’s decision in Strasbourg did not push the Russians to change their minds, neither has it brought détente to mounting tensions on the ground as the Russian flag continues to fly over the south-east – Donetsk, Lugank, Kharkiv and Odessa, industrial cities that are up in arms – this is a bad omen for the integrity of Ukraine. While the EU flag in Kiev signified a wishful vector for integration, the Russian flag in the south-east is not a ‘wannabe’ claim, but an identity indicator: ‘we want to be with the EU’ versus ‘we are Russians’. Not an easy dilemma to resolve.

It is even more complicated to explain to the coal-miners the European logic of ‘good’ revolutionaries at Kiev’s Maidan Square and ‘bad’ ones in Donbass (Donetsk). Political inconsistency has led the activists of the self proclaimed Donbass Republic to consider themselves as victims of double standards. The longer Europe wrestles with Russia and neglects the grim economic realities of Ukraine, the more the people of South-East will want to keep the key of their future in their own hands. The European opposition to an idea of Ukraine as a federal state does not attract sympathy there either. If Germany, the largest European state, is federal, why is Ukraine not allowed to choose the same path? It will take more than the PACE resolution to explain to the coal miners in Donbass why Europe denies them the very rights it flaunts.

The PACE decision to alienate Russia might have consequences beyond Ukraine – for decades Russian membership also meant obligations in the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights, a last resort for many victims of abuse by the Russian judiciary system. By preventing Russia’s participation in the Council of Europe, the EU offers up an opportunity for the Kremlin to remove its title as top human rights violator, with an overwhelming 129 lawsuits in 2013.

So the biggest loser of the PACE move might be Russian civil society – they would be deprived of an effective instrument of influence on the Kremlin in their struggle against Putin’s authoritarian rule. Aiming at Putin and blinded by their passion to promote democratic values, Europeans are hitting their faithful Russian allies hardest.

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