Thorbjorn Jagland

Russia set to retain seat on Europe’s human rights watchdog 

Russia is expected to retain its seat on Europe’s human rights watchdog following efforts supported by France and Germany to stop Moscow being expelled or left in protest.

The 47-member states of the Council of Europe were expected on Friday to back an agreement ending Russia’s estrangement from the organization if Moscow resumed payment of its membership fees, based on diplomats with knowledge of the plans.

The long-running dispute has cast doubt over the upcoming days of the council, which oversees the European human rights convention and a court.

The spat begun when the members chose to suspend Russia’s voting rights in the council’s parliamentary assembly for 2 years in response to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Moscow has not sent parliamentary delegates since and, in 2017, stopped its 7 percent involvement to the council’s annual budget, paving the path for expulsion for non-payment.

Thorbjorn Jagland, the council’s secretary-general, warned last month that expulsion would draw a “new dividing line in Europe” and — along with Brexit — “really shake up” the continent. Attending an event in Helsinki on Thursday to mark the body’s 70th anniversary, Sauli Niinistö, president of Finland, which holds the council’s rotating presidency, said: “The Council of Europe is going through its biggest political, economic and institutional crisis.”

The Russian foreign ministry on Thursday explained the ministerial meeting on the proposed agreement like “crucial for the fate” of the council.

In a sign of the likely detente, the Russian foreign ministry heaped reward on the human rights body, lauding it as “one of the most authoritative and representative international organizations” in Europe. It even thanked the body for supporting develop its own judicial and penitentiary systems.

“The Council of Europe is a unique pan-European organization designed to ensure the unity of the continent’s humanitarian and legal space,” the ministry said. “Russia is interested in preserving and strengthening the Council of Europe as one of the most authoritative and representative international organizations of the European continent.”

The council is efficiently the only legal body still linking Russia with its European neighbors. Moscow has invested much of the past 2 years demanding to have its suspension rescinded.