What was surprising was not the return of Russia’s delegation to the hall of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or PACE, but the near double number of votes in favour. Among them, we find almost all the major European countries. Sooner or later, Russia would have been allowed back into the forum and not only because of money. This is what the organisation was created for – so that the problematic countries of the continent would participate, Mečys Laurinkus wrote in lrytas.lt
Even if the results of the intended for mostly empty discussions assembly are poor, it is still better than nothing. It is an opportunity for countries to express their position not only through sleep-inducing discussions but protest, loudly depart the hall and return once more.
Russia has sent V. Zhirinovsky as a delegate a number of times – let him shout, irritate the Baltic States, E. Zingeris. In recent years, Russia itself was irritated when due to Crimea it lost voting power and other parliamentary opportunities to explain its “correct” policies.
But as we could see, Russia did not remain confused for long. It turned out that it understands “Western thinking” better than the West does the Russian version. It declared it is departing the venerable organisation and that it would no longer pay its share. And it wasn’t mistaken.
In the continent of democratic states, the move was made from talks about values to specific questions of price, in other terms shares. And Russia was once more invited to became an equal member.
‘Signal’ from PACE?
But in my opinion, another aspect of this decision that angered both the Ukrainian delegation and its supporters is also important. It is currently fashionable when talking about foreign policy questions to use the word “signal.” You can have no doubt that through a clear majority (with Germany and France at the forefront), Kyiv is being sent a signal through a structure, which is not an EU institution, about a different potential Western policy toward Ukraine.
It is currently hard to say what this policy will be, but the new Ukrainian government has to be seriously concerned about the future. Primarily about reforms, if it wishes unambiguous Western support.
Five years have passed since the time of the famous Maidan. What are the results? P. Poroshenko visited factually all political stages in the West and spoke passionately on all of them, but lost the elections by a crushing margin. That’s more than a signal.
Only clear and firm reforms can still save Ukraine from increasing pessimism, which is also amplified by the PACE ruling, also from yielding to anarchy, the signs of which are on the rise in the country. The West will help, but they won’t save.
Unfortunately, having spoken clearly before the elections and won more than convincingly, President V. Zelensky now seems confused. Maybe it’s temporary, but let’s hope it doesn’t become a permanent condition. The Ukrainian parliamentary election results could be unexpected for him.
Moscow feels in control
Whatever else happens over Russia’s presence in PACE and perhaps one day regarding the fate of the Council of Europe itself, Moscow now feels in control. It managed to provoke an ambiguous attitude in Western Europe toward the values it proclaims. It is one thing to proclaim loudly and another – specific decisions based on benefits. Furthermore, Russia felt that the West is beginning to tire of the sanctions war.
I have been left convinced a number of times that at least in Lithuania, we do not give due credit to active Russian diplomatic activities around the world. All our attention is focused on the activities of Kremlin’s secret services even while this is not the most important part of the neighbouring country’s global operations.
Truth be told, upon the fall of the Soviet empire, for a long time, Western insights on Russia were very weak, superficial and looking down on Russia. Only recently has more substantial research emerged, often with the aid of Russian academics working in Western universities. This does not mean that if Russia is working on all fronts in foreign policy, military included, that we must come to terms with it and let events go their own way.
It is crucial to react to Moscow’s actions, but the core question is how? I cannot base it on academic research, but I believe that if the sanctions fail to achieve their intended goals over a certain time, their impact begins to wane. It is trivial to say that sanctions work both ways.
At some point, we will find public and accurate data on the scale of the sanctions war impacting the economies of countries in this area. And how will the public react? Germany has been reacting for a time now. Pushing Nord Stream 2 toward its completion is also an indirect expression of opinion regarding the sanctions.
Nord Stream 2 factor
And what of when the gas starts flowing? Russia will declare the opening of the pipeline a national celebration. Ukraine will express its discontent in writing and verbally. Lithuania will express regret on a lack of unity and will philosophise regarding the confusion of values. Same as now regarding the PACE ruling.
Nowadays, you can make your entire bed with declarations and regrets, but nothing will change over it. What to do then? It’s easy to ask.
Firstly, I believe, we must cease moralising. Lithuania’s incensement is of interest in Russia to only propaganda outlets, while Western governments will always act pragmatically. If they believe that Russia’s contribution to PACE is necessary, they will decide and advise their delegations to vote respectively.
It is probably no secret that this is namely why the Lithuanian candidate to the office of Secretary General of the Council of Europe lost from the get-go.
The only criterion for action is one’s own national interests. We speak little, rarely and very abstractly regarding them. Is it meaningful to back Ukraine? Let’s do it. By the way, there’s a game of thrones ongoing in Ukraine itself. V. Zelensky, who has yet to get warmed up in politics, already stands accused by the opposition of “losing” in PACE.
Who knows if Lithuania should involve itself in this. I agree with the Lithuanian PACE delegation member A. Butkevičius: no country will leave PACE. And whether the West betrays its values with certain decisions, let the analysts write.