Nearly everything was predictable at the latest PACE session. Everything except confusion. It was felt not only in the speeches of adequate participants in the debates on Ukraine but virtually in everything. Strasbourg’s usual calm betrayed anxiety and unmistakable perplexity over what to do next – with the war, with Ukraine and Russia and with the entire world
“They are trying to think of something, but they don’t know, they simply don’t know what to do,” a diplomat with many years of experience in the Council of Europe told me as he pensively sipped cappuccino which a barmaid had brought him by mistake.
“You see, the world has not seen a situation of this kind. South Ossetia and Abkhazia are still formally considered parts of Georgia. Nagorno-Karabakh is an object of contention between two neighbouring states. Transnistria is marked as part of Moldova on all maps of the world. But Crimea is simply an annexed and appropriated land. No mechanisms are envisaged for leading international organizations to address such problems!” my acquaintance said in an effort to justify his colleagues in the Council of Europe.
Indeed, let the Council of Europe address exclusively human rights and democratic standards. Let us take a look at other, more powerful structures – the OSCE and the United Nations. The OSCE cannot take radical action against Russia, because a supranational political decision can be adopted there exclusively by consensus, and Russia will itself block it. A similar situation is with the United Nations where Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council. That leaves us NATO, which is in no hurry to enter open confrontation with Moscow. There are also hypothetical anti-Kremlin coalitions – that is, if there was political will to form them. What remains then? Thinking, seeking fundamentally new decisions and inventing a new kind of diplomacy for information (or perhaps post-democratic?) society. The Council of Europe could become a laboratory for these kinds of ideas. It could if it were not weighed down by significant Russian influence, which is felt even when members of the Russian delegation are not in attendance.
As many as 60 delegates expressed a desire to participate in the discussion of the Ukrainian crisis at this autumn session. About half of them are either active proponents of “dialogue with Russia” or politicians who sometimes agree to act as temporary Moscow’s allies. “I believe that this is a mistake and deeply regret that the Russian delegation is not with us in the session hall,” Mike Hancock expectedly said. He came into the limelight when a scandal erupted over his aide Katia Zatuliveter whom the British special services accused of espionage in favour of Russia. In every session, Hancock acts as an advocate of the Kremlin. This time around, he again tried to convince the audience that “we shouldn’t accuse Putin of everything” and that “we need to acknowledge the presence of Russian interests in Ukraine”.
Proposals to “hear Russia”, “understand Russia” and “take Russia into account” came from Andrej Hunko of Germany, a representative of the Unified European Left Group, and British socialist Donald Anderson, a member of the European Democrat Group, which includes representatives of the Party of Regions and United Russia, as well as from Edward Leigh, German socialist Ute Finckh-Krämer and others. There were many more who spoke in the same vein: Ukraine should not be promised NATO membership; it should not work directly with the EU, because what Putin wants is a desire of – not God but some invincible substance, more powerful than anything else.
Grigor Petrenko of Moldova went as far as saying that “Sieg Heil!” salutes can be heard in Kyiv and that the “Nazi government in Kyiv” is destroying communists and placing bans on the use of Russian. No-one objected to him, and no-one prevented him from organizing a press conference where he sent out similar messages. No surprise there – pluralism is pluralism, even if someone is exploiting freedom of expression as freedom of deception.
“Indeed, it is a pity that no-one from the Ukrainian delegation thought of gathering a press conference”, a member of the PACE press service said nearly in tears. “We at the level of ordinary administrators cannot prevent any delegate from calling a press conference. But Ukraine must not only deny untruthful accusations. Ukraine needs to have its own active communication strategy. And not only that strategy.”
A carefree autumn sun scattered its rays outside the window. Tidy Strasbourg went about its tidy provincial life. Meanwhile, the delegates who took part in the debates inside the walls of the European Parliament flatly refused to believe that on that very day the world had changed forever. The integrity of state borders had been de facto placed outside international law. The UN Security Council, meanwhile, was turning into a bolt hole for a predator country, effectively upholding the right of the aggressor to take over territory belonging to a neighboring state with impunity and to kill that country's people on a daily basis. The new rules taking shape through the actions of the Russian dictator turn what once seemed a secure system based on international rule of law into a cruel no-holds-barred game of might makes right. Once these new rules come into full force, the comfort of Western life could easily disappear forever. Meanwhile, those who enjoy this comfort today do not seem to be in the least willing to come forward to protect it for the future.
The United States is committed to working with its Allies and partners to keep pressure on Russia to live up to its commitments and to begin the process of peacefully restoring Ukraine's full sovereignty over Donbas