Council of Europe (CoE)
Russia’s Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe Ivan Soltanovsky’s interview with the TASS news agency, December 19, 2019
Question: What do you think of the results of the outgoing year, which was marked by Russian delegation’s return to PACE?
Ivan Soltanovsky: The Council of Europe has managed to largely overcome an extremely acute political – and ultimately institutional – crisis by strictly following its Charter. Most member states displayed a commitment to preserving Europe’s unity. It was to a considerable degree caused by our readiness to resolutely uphold our national interests and legitimate rights. The majority of the delegations finally came to realise that the continent’s problems cannot be resolved without interaction and dialogue with Russia.
The Russian delegation is willing to actively participate in PACE based on the principle of equality. We are committed to constructive depoliticised cooperation for building a common legal and humanitarian space from Vladivostok to Lisbon. We expect a reciprocal willingness from the Organisation’s other member states and its Secretariat. It is logical for this willingness to be manifest in everyday routine work rather than under crisis conditions that threaten the very existence of the Council of Europe.
Another positive result of the year is the fact that the Council of Europe began to address the discrimination of Russian-speakers in Ukraine and the Baltic states. This is how we view the recent opinion by the Venice Commission on the Ukrainian law on the state language. At present, the Venice Commission is also reviewing the Latvian law on education. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic also took note of the unacceptable condition of Russian speakers in the Baltic states.
Question: How could The Council of Europe facilitate the settlement of the Ukrainian conflict?
Ivan Soltanovsky: The Council of Europe should recall its monitoring obligations regarding Ukraine and pay more attention to human rights in that country with a priority focus on the rights of Russian speakers as well as ethnic minorities and the situation regarding Russian journalists. This work will definitely have a positive effect both on the situation in Ukraine and at the European international organisations. The Venice Commission opinion will not suffice here; the Council of Europe leadership has to send a strong message to Kiev that massive human rights violations we are all witnessing in Ukraine are unacceptable. The Council of Europe should stop feeling sorry for Kiev and paying advances for Kiev’s claims on its European integration.
Question: In the autumn, the new Ukrainian delegation refused to take part in PACE sessions and instead announced the establishment of the Baltic Plus group with a number of countries which our MPs regard as anti-Russian. What do you expect from the new association in the coming year and do you think it matches the organisation’s spirit?
Ivan Soltanovsky: We expect, quite obviously, more anti-Russia demarches during the PACE January session from this marginal association devoid of any legal basis, which has announced opposition to our country as its ideological foundation. There are no reasons so far to believe that its members will give up speculations on the topic of the “Russian threat”, which has become the linchpin of their foreign policy.
Such an association does not correspond to the PACE spirit, which under the CoE Charter should operate to ensure greater unity among its member states. In a similar way, we can imagine a parliamentary party in a national parliament with Russophobia as the only item on its programme. Today, even Ukraine and the Baltics have not gone that far.
Question: What do you think of the Council of Europe’s efforts to work out a mechanism to ensure its member states’ compliance with the Charter commitments?
Ivan Soltanovsky: In our view, this mechanism must be in full compliance with the Charter of the organisation and have enough restraints against politicised application.
Question: In early October, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin invited the CoE Secretary General and parliament speakers of the Council of Europe countries to Moscow to attend celebrations of the 75th anniversary of Victory in WWII. Has anybody confirmed their attendance yet?
Ivan Soltanovsky: The issue is currently being considered by the Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric. As to the speakers, they will send their replies via Russian embassies in their countries.
I think the 75th anniversary of Victory is a good occasion for the Council of Europe member states and the organisation’s Secretariat to ponder the following: re-writing history and distorting it do not entail just some abstract consequences; they lead to quite real tragedies. Glorifying thugs and Nazi accomplices as national heroes was a factor that led to the Odessa tragedy and the civil war in Donbass. The results of glorifying Nazi accomplices in the Baltics were the split of society, real human rights abuses and ruined lives, which we can see from the examples of persecution of Klaipeda city council member Vyacheslav Titov in Lithuania and human rights activist Alexander Gaponenko in Latvia.
The Council of Europe should carefully monitor the member states’ commitment to the rulings of the Nuremberg Trials.
Question: France held the Presidency of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers for the past six months, and it was during its presidency that Russia returned to PACE. Now up until May 2020, Georgia will hold the Presidency. Will anything change for Russia in this connection?
Ivan Soltanovsky: Georgia’s Presidency of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers involves а responsible and honorary task of actively working on the implementation of the goal expressed in the Charter of the Council of Europe – to facilitate the rapprochement among its member states.
We are willing to constructively interact with any nation holding the Presidency of the CoE Committee of Ministers which is dedicated to the goal of strengthening cooperation among all the member states of the Council of Europe. We expect a similar commitment from Georgia’s Presidency.
Question: What are Russia’s priorities at the Council of Europe next year? What will be most important for us?
Ivan Soltanovsky: We will continue efforts to ensure human rights for the Russian speakers in Ukraine and the Baltic states, pointing out that the Council of Europe is duty bound to conduct thorough monitoring of the human rights violations and to use its political clout for amending the situation.
Countering violations with regard to Russian journalists in other CoE countries is another priority. We will urge the respective CoE agencies to work more effectively with member states to ensure true equality for all journalists regardless of their nationality or media outlet.
Naturally, we will also focus on the situation at PACE. Attempts to discriminate against Russian MPs under any pretexts are unacceptable. Our plans also include combatting the falsification of history, which some countries use to justify the current human rights abuses.
Our country can also share its experience with other Council of Europe nations in a wide range of areas, from fighting terrorism to regulating migration processes. We are set to promote this experience at the CoE platform.
Question: New Year is just around the corner. What would you like to wish your colleagues at the Russian diplomatic corps in the New Year?
Ivan Soltanovsky: To keep working for the just cause, no matter how hard it gets, to keep Olympian calm and to stay in Spartan health.