The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted early on Tuesday to restore Russia's voting rights, five years after suspending them following Russia's annexation of Crimea. The Estonian delegation, consisting of MPs Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform), Indrek Saar (SDE), and Raivo Tamm (Isamaa), all voted against.
The parliamentary assembly, made up of MPs of the 47 member states in the Council of Europe, backed the decision to give back Russia's voting rights despite sharp protest on the part of Ukraine, the Baltic states, Poland, and the United Kingdom.
President Kersti Kaljulaid called the decision "shameful," stressing that there haven't been any developments since 2014 that would justify such a step. "The reason for these sanctions was a blatant violation of international law by Russia. Not one of the reasons why Russia's voting rights were suspended in 2014 has changed," the president wrote.
The decision means that a Russian delegation will now be welcome to participate in the upcoming vote on Wednesday to choose a new secretary-general of the Council of Europe.
Opponents of the decision have warned that this is the first step towards watering down and eventually completely abolishing the sanctions in place against Russia for its involvement in the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
Of PACE's representatives, 118 voted in favor and 68 against. There were 10 abstentions. All three Estonian representatives voted against, media reported on Tuesday morning.
Lauri Mälksoo, professor of international law at the University of Tartu, commented after the vote that apparently "the West's charity for Russia still hasn't run out."
Leader of the Ukrainian delegation to PACE, Volodymyr Ariev, said after the vote that it sends Russia "A very bad message: do whatever you want, annex territories of other countries, kill people, and you still get to keep everything."
The Council of Europe suspended Russia's voting rights in 2014 following the illegal annexation of Crimea. Russia in turn refused to pay its membership contribution in the council in the amount of €33 million a year.
The council is Europe's largest human rights organization. The human rights perspective, then, was the main argument of those in favor of inviting Russia back. French secretary of state for European affairs, Amélie de Montchalin, was quoted as saying ahead of the vote that it would be "dangerous" to leave millions of Russian citizens "without access to institutions that defend their rights."
Due to the lacking impartiality and independence of Russian courts, the European Court of Human Rights has become an important place to turn to for help for plenty of Russians.
Editor: Dario Cavegn