The gradual normalization of Russia’s abhorrent behavior continues. This week, the Council of Europe, which calls itself “the continent’s leading human rights organization,” voted overwhelmingly to restore Russia’s right to vote.
This decision is a mistake. Russia was deprived of the right to vote in 2014 after the violent and illegal annexation of Crimea. Since then, the circumstances have only worsened. The Kremlin has strengthened its control in Crimea, and last autumn Moscow also illegally detained 24 Ukrainian sailors, who are still imprisoned in Russia.
Crimea is not the only territory captured by Moscow. In 2008, when media attention was focused on the Olympic Games in Beijing, Putin invaded Georgia, capturing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, one-fifth of the country’s territory. In addition, Russia is still fighting in Lugansk and Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. Since Russia continues to illegally occupy these territories, the sanctions imposed on it as a punishment for this must also be applied. Instead, the Europeans completely went on about Russia when it threatened to leave the Council of Europe. Unfortunately, the representatives of Western Europe voted overwhelmingly to accept this measure, which was passed with a margin of 118 votes against 62. Most of the opposition came from the countries of the former Soviet bloc, which better understand what we are talking about.
As senior members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of us house of representatives, we believe that Ukraine and Georgia should not be forgotten. Therefore, we have developed a Bill on non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea (H. R. 596), a bipartisan measure that was adopted by the Chamber in March and aimed at preventing the United States from recognizing Russian sovereignty over Crimea. This policy is similar to the long-standing refusal of the United States to recognize the Soviet Union’s seizure of the Baltic States.
That is why, together with our colleague, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, we also put forward an Act in support of Georgia (H. R. 598). This law, unanimously adopted by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of representatives in may, will strengthen our support for Georgia’s security, expand cooperation in the field of cybersecurity and punish those who commit human rights violations in the territory of Georgia currently occupied by Russia.
Russia’s occupation of Crimea, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia is not the only reason to exclude it from participation in the Council of Europe, which “was created to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe.” The Kremlin is making systematic efforts to undermine each of these principles at home and abroad.
Putin not only suppresses democracy and imprisons political opponents in Russia, but also seeks to undermine free and fair elections throughout Europe and the United States. The poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, as well as widespread attacks on press freedom in Russia, are frightening and deadly reminders of Putin’s contempt for human rights. This behavior must not be forgotten or justified.
The Council of Europe’s decision to restore Russia’s rights is the first time it has lifted major sanctions against Russia after Moscow’s violent and illegal seizure of Crimea. This decision to yield to Russian pressure undermines confidence in all attempts to confront the Kremlin — and gives confidence to Russia, which is now in no danger.
Europe is a key region for promoting our common principles of freedom and democracy around the world. The Council of Europe must be prepared to confront Russia’s direct attacks on democracy, human rights and the forcible seizure of European territory.
Steve Chabot, Congressman, member of the Republican party
Gerry Connolly, Congressman, member of the Republican party