Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the 129th Session of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Helsinki, May 17, 2019
Mr Secretary General,
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Council of Europe was established 70 years ago to forever preclude the possibility of war through strengthening the unity of European nations.
Unfortunately, the unifying agenda created by the founders has not been fully implemented. Also in 1949, NATO was created to become a symbol of demarcation lines and tensions on the continent.
A new chance to build a pan-European home arose after the Cold War ended. However, those guided by the divide-and-rule principle have made every effort to preserve the dividing lines in Europe, and they continue to deepen them now. They are trying to replace international law with the notorious “rule-based order” for the sake of their own interests. As a result, our consensus-based organisation is losing its authority.
This approach was also manifested in the introduction of sanctions against the Russian deputies in PACE, imposed in violation of the CoE Charter. As a result, since 2014, more than half of the ECHR judges and the Commissioner for Human Rights have been elected without our participation. Ahead is the election of the Secretary General. It is obvious that the Russian delegation’s non-participation will have far-reaching consequences.
The system-wide crisis has affected the work of the main body of the CoE – the Committee of Ministers. Documents produced without consensus are multiplying. The truly equal intergovernmental cooperation at the Council of Europe is no longer perceived as a value. The organisation is at a crossroads now: either it will strengthen as a mechanism for promoting unity, or degrade under the pressure from those who seek to adapt the Council of Europe to serve their narrow-group interests.
We support all those who advocate the cessation of senseless confrontation, for the integrity of the Council of Europe. For that, we need to return to this organisation’s original principles, the equality of all the participating states being the central one.
We are confident that Europe should understand that without Russia, it is hardly possible to ensure genuine European security in every dimension. I still hope that the Europeans will find the courage to show independence in the aspects that are key for their continent’s future.
We have no intention of leaving the Council of Europe, as the rumours being spread are saying. We are not going back on any of our commitments, including financial ones.
We appreciate the positive contribution that the CoE has made and continues to make to the development of Russian national law, the judicial system reform, the penitentiary system, and the resolution of many other humanitarian issues.
We are interested in continuing our work in the Council of Europe on the basis of international law, and the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, which should be interpreted and applied in their inseparable correlation.
The most urgent task now is to reintroduce the culture of consensus to the Council of Europe. We regret that, due to the unconstructive position of a number of delegations, the main documents of this session have failed to receive consensus support. However, it is obvious that the resolution on the rights and obligations, opposed by only a few member states, opens the way out of the current crisis in our organisation on the solid foundation of its Charter, which, I must emphasise, has to be observed not only by the member states, but also by its statutory bodies. Now the ball is in the PACE’s court.
The unity of Europe is especially important in the face of new challenges such as drug trafficking, uncontrolled migration, modern slavery, and the risks of harmful use of artificial intelligence. The old problems have not gone anywhere either. Seven decades after the Great Victory, there are forces in Europe that are still striving to glorify Nazism and its accomplices. Waffen-SS veterans are honoured in Latvia. After the coup d’etat in Ukraine, national-radicals are rampant under the banners of Nazi accomplices, and they get away with bloody crimes. It is regrettable that many zealots of European values now try not to remember how dozens of civilians were burnt alive in Odessa on May 2, 2014. But the Council of Europe and our Committee were then determined to complete the investigation into that crime and to ensure that the perpetrators were punished. Let's not forget about our own decisions.
Attacks on the freedom of the media, on the language, educational, and religious rights of national minorities continue in many countries. In Kiev, the outgoing authorities are frantically signing laws leading to the prohibition of other languages, except Ukrainian, in all spheres of life. The shameful phenomenon of statelessness persists. More cases of anti-Semitism have been recorded. It’s time to face the global problem of persecution of Christians (why are we ashamed of it?), and the task of fighting Islamophobia. All this requires the intervention of European human rights agencies, first of all the Council of Europe.
Colleagues, now is the very moment when we must overcome our differences and ensure the restoration of the true unity of this organisation.
I would like to thank the Finnish presidency for the important efforts made on this track and, in general, for the major work done. We wish success and continuity to France as it takes over the presidency.
I certainly join in the words of gratitude addressed to Thorbjorn Jagland for his significant and highly valuable contribution to finding a way out of the current crisis and, in general, for his ten-year service in this post.