Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

The impotence and helplessness of Europe in the face of the Russian hybrid war

On January 25, during the opening of the winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Ukrainian delegation initiated an appeal against the credentials of the Russian delegation. Ukraine's position was supported by 38 members of the Assembly with 30 required. «On behalf of my colleagues, I challenge the credentials of the delegation of the Russian Federation on substantive grounds in connection with serious violations of the charter of the Council of Europe and Russia's failure to fulfill its obligations», the head of the Ukrainian delegation said. Despite the return of the Russian delegation in 2019 in order to restore the dialogue and the possibility of protecting Russian citizens in the European Court of Human Rights, the Russian Federation continues to disregard the PACE resolutions. Russia continues its armed aggression against Ukraine and the occupation of Ukrainian territories, while political repression and systematic violations of human rights are taking place in the country.

However, despite such flagrant human rights violations in Russia and occupied Crimea, PACE confirmed Russia's credentials notwithstanding Ukraine's appeal. This time only 36 deputies voted against the resolution. At the same time, all draft amendments which were submitted by MPs from Ukraine were rejected. 107 MPs supported the «forgiveness of the Russian Federation», and a record number for PACE, 24 parliamentarians, pressed the «abstain» button. Moreover, the attitude towards the Ukrainian proposals was especially indicative. Without exception, all amendments made on behalf of Ukrainian deputies, were failed. Even neutral ones, which repeated the previous resolutions of the Assembly on Crimea. And the only amendment that was considered in the resolution (also on Crimea) was the one that was carried out in a «roundabout way» and registered on behalf of the regulatory committee. Without Ukrainian signatures under it. PACE supported this initiative.[1]

It seems that in this situation, Russia tried to blackmail European colleagues and this tactic has worked.  Before the final decision on Russia`s return was made, the representative of the Russian Federation, Leonid Slutsky, said that if Russia's powers are not fully confirmed, then it will leave the PACE. Financial pressure also played a role, back in 2017 Russia stopped making membership fees, which is about 8% of the Council of Europe total budget. In its actions, Europe is guided by the conviction that diplomacy is inherently a continuous dialogue and it is better to have Russia in PACE and use the negotiating platform to change its position. However, the question arises – should Ukraine stay in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe? In an organization that allows a member state to grossly violate the statutory documents and the declared principles of the assembly, thereby completely discrediting itself.

Against the background of the return of the Russian Federation to PACE, opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested. The European Union has condemned Russian authorities’ actions, but has not resorted to the imposition of new sanctions, despite the existence of a sanctions mechanism in the EU that can be used for violation of human rights. The issue of poisoning was, in particular, one of the topics that EU High Representative Josep Borrell discussed with Sergei Lavrov during his recent visit to Moscow. As Borrell noted himself, the purpose of the meeting was to maintain contacts with Russia and collect information before the EU summit in late March, where the future EU policy towards Russia will be discussed.

Overall, it was a disastrous performance by Borrell, who acknowledged that the EU had not taken any step toward imposing new sanctions on Russia over the Navalny case. Borrell, a former foreign minister of Spain, then stood by silently and semi-smiling as Lavrov took the last word to slam the EU as «unreliable» and to say he hoped EU heads of state and government use a planned discussion about Russia at their March European Council summit to adopt a new path.[2] In addition, during the visit of the High Representative, Russian Foreign Ministry declared 3 diplomats from Sweden, Poland and Germany  «persona non grata» for «participating in demonstrations», which took place in St. Petersburg and Moscow on January 23. The visit of Borrell made it clear what is the real nature of the Kremlin's policy to those in the European Union who still believe in the possibility of peaceful coexistence with Putin's Russia and in a possibility of changing its behavior through dialogue.

The High Representative himself wrote an article where he outlined his impressions of the meeting with the Russian side and made a forecast regarding the future of relations with the Russian Federation. In particular, in his conclusion, Borrell notes: «My meeting with Minister Lavrov and the messages sent by Russian authorities during this visit confirmed that Europe and Russia are drifting apart. It seems that Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe and looking at democratic values as an existential threat». He also adds: «If we want a safer world for tomorrow, we have to act decidedly today and be ready to take some risks».[3] In addition, Borrell said he intends to propose the imposition of new sanctions against Russia. The foreign ministers of the EU member states will consider this issue on 22 February.

Shortly afterwards, on 13 February, following the publication of the EU High Representative, «The Economist» published an article entitled «The European Union must face up to the real Russia. Appeasement isn’t working», which Ukrainian diplomat Oleksii Makeiev described as «sobering». The article states what diplomats from Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States have been trying to convey to other European countries for many years. «European powers face a government that tries to murder its opponents, stokes proxy wars and hacks its neighbours. It is a country that deliberately chooses confrontation rather than partnership, and the EU—both its national capitals and its institutions—must recognize this. The real Russia is much closer to the way it is described by the EU’s eastern countries than to the benign image conjured up by western ones».[4]

It is significant that the Russian Federation, acting the way it did during Josep Borrell's visit, became the initiator of the revitalization of the discussion within the European Union regarding a change in the approach to the formation of a common policy towards Russia. After all, until now and still, the Russian Federation manages to maintain partner relations with the EU, and at the same time to ignore controversial issues, in particular, the occupation of Ukrainian territories. «The Russian amnesty in PACE» is a bright and very illustrative example. Taking into consideration the aggressive policy of the Russian Federation, the continuing occupation of Ukrainian territories and its reluctance to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, violations of human rights and political persecution, as well as numerous violations of international law, the leaders of European states finally have to open their eyes and change their approach to relations with the Russian Federation. At least, the Russian Federation is doing everything possible for this. Keeping Russia in the PACE will not change the behavior of the aggressor state; this can only be achieved through decisive actions and increased pressure from the European Union and individual member states, primarily France and Germany.