Lawmakers at the Council of Europe agreed yesterday to allow Russian representatives back after a five-year absence, a move welcomed by the Kremlin but denounced by Ukraine whose delegates walked out.
Russian delegates had been stripped of their voting rights in the pan-European rights body in 2014 as retaliation for Moscow's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
Russia's absence from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), whose members are MPs drawn from parliaments of Council of Europe member states, had raised questions about its future membership of the rights body. The decision by lawmakers effectively represents the first crack in the international sanctions that were imposed on Moscow after the Crimean annexation.
One hundred and eighteen members of the Strasbourg-based PACE agreed that Russia could present a delegation, with 62 against. "This is a very positive event," Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "PACE cannot fully operate without Russia's participation," Peskov added, praising the "victory of common sense" in Strasbourg. But the decision was received with disgust by Ukraine, which insists there should be no international concessions to Moscow until it hands back Crimea and ends support for separatists in Ukraine's east. The move paves the way for Russia to participate in the election of a new secretary general of the Council of Europe today to replace Norway's Thorbjorn Jagland.