Head of Russia’s PACE Delegation: “Any Country in the Council of Europe Can Become a Whipping Boy”

As long as there are double standards in the Council of Europe, risks remain for any PACE member state. This was stated by the head of the delegation of the Russian Federation and Vice Speaker of the State Duma Pyotr Tolstoy in an interview to Izvestiya. Summing up the results of the session that came to an end in Strasbourg, which for the first time in the last five years took place with the full participation of our delegation, he stressed: the task of the Russians in the Assembly is to put an end to the campaign of lies and slander against Moscow.

Pyotr Olegovich, how do you evaluate the results of the first session? Just how constructive was it, and and how different was it from the sessions before we returned to the Assembly?

“The autumn session of PACE differed from the summer one first of all because the Russian delegation took full part in it: we spoke at a debate, worked in committees, voted, argued, and communicated with colleagues. The summer session resembled more a battlefield, where the return of the Russian delegation was the main and most topical issue on the agenda for the whole Assembly. But we have no passed this stage, and we returned to full work. Whether or not it was the correct decision — time will tell.”

The president of France Emmanuel Macron said that return of Russia will make PACE stronger, however at the same time he spoke about the “invasion” of Ukraine by the Russian Federation and assumed that one of the possible consequences of this would be a withdrawal from the Council of Europe. What can such a double position be caused by? To what extent is France sincere in its relations with us?

“There is no sincerity. We speak about diplomacy, about international relations, where everything is calculated. Macron was moderately diplomatic. Everyone understands, on the one hand, that without Russia it is impossible to speak about the future of Europe in the long term. And the recognition of this fact by Macron from the tribune of PACE is unpleasant news for Ukraine, Georgia, and the countries of the Baltics, which carried out demarches at this session.

On the other hand, so far the Europeans can’t openly recognise their mistakes — to say that for five years in a row they were misled, that the anti-Russian sanctions didn’t achieve absolutely any effect, and that Crimea is Russia (I think that over the past five years many had the time to read the history of the Peninsula). But many already clearly understand this. And someone openly speaks about it.”

France has developed an initiative according to which a CoE member state can be expelled from the organisation if there are political prisoners in the country or its legislation does not comply with the charter of the Council. Does Moscow have fears that this will be used against us? And do we even need a mechanism of sanctions against countries that violate the norms of the Council of Europe?

“The initiative presented by the French side is a mechanism of trilateral response to violations of the principles of the Council of Europe. But it isn’t said what principles there is talk about. There are no criteria. But the most important thing in this process is the rush in which it is developed. It is not some formality: if adopted, this mechanism can become a tool for the punishment of objectionable countries. Therefore, we believe that it should undergo the broadest discussion and fully comply with the spirit of the Council of Europe.

In fact, this initiative regarding political prisoners or the compliance of national legislation could just as well turn against Ukraine, concerning the situation with political arrests and politically motivated criminal cases that we know firsthand about. Their language legislation alone and their attitude to national minorities alone are worth a lot. There is another question: concerning what country will the ‘Attack!” command be given.

As for our amendments to the initiative, we will submit them by the end of October and we will discuss them in detail as we work on the document.”

And nevertheless are there risks in front of the full work of our delegation?

“While everything in the Council of Europe has been arranged as it is, there are risks for the full work of any of the delegations of the participating countries, which at some point in time can be appointed a ‘whipping boy’. No one is immune from this, as long as there is a selective approach and double standards in assessing certain events.”

A number of countries at this session created the “Baltic+” group, which stated its goal is to confront “Russian aggression”. How legally does this comply with the rules of the Assembly? How can the Russian delegation respond to this, is it necessary to create a retaliatory group?

“Let them create what they want, these people need to put their unrealised aggression somewhere. Legally it is an anti-Russian interest circle. Concerning your question of creating a similar group in response, we will definitely not do anything like that. We don’t participate in the Council of Europe to fight with someone. Our task now is to put an end to the campaign of lies and slander against our country.”

The session adopted a resolution on the contribution of the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) to a more inclusive society. The document called on eight European countries, including Russia, to join the community. Representatives of our delegation stated that Russia is not ready for this. Could you explain why?

“We have a number of questions to this organisation. For example, the criteria for the distribution of financial flows are not quite clear and, in my opinion, are not comparable to the stated strategic goals, in particular, ensuring social equality in Europe. In addition, among the full members of CEB there is Kosovo, although, according to resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council, Kosovo is an autonomous region as a part of Serbia.”

PACE’s Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee made the decision to send a speaker on the case of the murder of Boris Nemtsov to Russia. At the same time, it was stated that the Russian Federation had not responded to requests about this case. Does this advice correspond to reality? Does the Russian delegation have a position on this issue today?

“Speakers, of course, can be sent to Russia in relation to the most different issues and in any quantity. Not so long ago, for example, our country was visited by the rapporteur of PACE on human rights in the North Caucasus Frank Schwab. He held a number of meetings in Moscow, went to Grozny. He was told and shown everything, no one placed any obstacles in front of his work.

The same concerns also other speakers. It seemed to me that everything has been clear for a long time, but we can give separate explanations: the case is closed, the trial took place, the guilty persons are punished, and they serve their deserved sentence. The results of the investigation and the pronounced sentence may please some and not please others, but this is an internal affair of Russia, and interference in the work of our judicial system is inadmissible.”

Was the question of a PACE Vice Speaker from the Russian Federation discussed during the session? Will our delegation introduce new candidates for this post?

“The issue of choosing a PACE Vice Speaker will be raised at the January session, such is the regulation. It is too early to say if Russia will present its candidate and who it will be.”

The citizen of Russia and head of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation, Vladimir Kara-Murza, invited to the session of PACE, in an interview with “Golos Ameriki” urged the Council of Europe to expand the sanctions against Russians. What assessment of his words can you give? Could a US citizen, for example, suggest such a thing in relation to his country?

“Judge not, and let us not judge. But we have big questions about this and such Foundations, as well as their activities and sources of funding. And if we correctly understand the goals pursued by them, then the statements of Mr. Kara-Murza and those like him among representatives of the enlightened liberal public quite fit into the framework of the tasks that are carried out by them.

Of course, the representative of any country, including the US – somewhere in New York’s Central Park – can make such statements. But I strongly doubt that the tribune of the largest international organisation could be given to them. A question of goal-setting: the collective West is now ready to use information from any, even dubious sources, as long as it’s against Russia. But this will change, and the wind of these changes is already very noticeable.”

The head of the Ukrainian delegation in PACE Elizabeta Yasko on the eve of the session said that Ukraine needs dialogue with Russia. At the same time she didn’t go to Strasbourg. Did your Ukrainian colleagues come to you with proposals for negotiations? Is it possible to resume dialogue with Kiev on the parliamentary line?

“I will tell you more: the resumption of dialogue with Kiev isn’t just possible, it is inevitable. We are fraternal peoples with centuries-old common history, complex personal ties, and common roots. The fact that today Ukraine was turned into a battering ram against Russia and a puppet in the very dirty game of others— it will pass, it is temporary. The accumulated problems can’t be solved without direct dialogue.”

Can legislative initiatives to counter foreign interference appear in the State Duma in the near future?

“Decisions can be made only on the basis of the facts. Work on collecting and summarising all facts is now being carried out by colleagues, and we will look for a solution based on its results. Russia won’t allow anybody to interfere with our internal affairs.”

Nataliya Bashlykova

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