One of the Council of Europe’s goals is to create a united European space, and Russia is definitely a key participant in this work. PACE has reached a turning point in its history, and everything will now depend on which direction it takes. It can grow into a pan-European organization, in which case its influence will grow, or it can decline into a mere branch of the EU.
Head of the State Duma International Affairs Committee Alexei Pushkov held a briefing at RIA Novosti’s International Multimedia Press Center. Pushkov discussed Russia’s work in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), its relations with the EU, and the situation in Ukraine.
Russia’s policy in PACE
During the PACE winter session, Pushkov was elected chairperson of the European Democrat Group (EDG), replacing Robert Walter (UK). The EDG is a centre-right political party within PACE. It consists of over 80 representatives from the UK, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Norway, Iceland and Russia.
Pushkov said his appointment would strengthen Russia’s influence on issues on the organization’s agenda. “The heads of PACE’s five political groups, as well as the PACE President and Secretary General (head of the Secretariat) are members of the PACE Political Affairs and Democracy Committee, which is the main consultative agency in charge of PACE’s key political decisions,” Pushkov said.
The winter session focused on Ukraine. The deputies heard a report on the functioning of democratic institutions in Ukraine, which highlighted the EU’s predominant approach. According to Pushkov, “PACE deputies from the EU countries did their best to ensure that the organization’s documents and resolutions were based on the EU platform, which is unacceptable to Russia.” On the whole, the draft resolution is concerned with the sphere of the organization’s activity such as human rights, the priority of law, and democratic principles. However, Paragraph 4 of the Draft Resolution, which mentions the unacceptability of Russian economic pressure on Ukraine, has no relation to democracy or human rights.
Pushkov has described the draft resolution on Ukraine as biased. “The Draft Resolution doesn’t even mention far right-wing forces in Ukraine, as if they don’t exist, although Western newspapers, more precisely The Guardian and some Polish and US newspapers, write about the racist, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi aspects of the Euromaidan protests,” Pushkov said.
“PACE has reached a turning point in its history, and everything will now depend on which direction it takes. It can grow into a pan-European organization, in which case its influence will grow, or it can decline into a mere branch of the EU,” the Russian representative said. “If it adopts such documents [as the draft resolution on Ukraine], and if EU member countries enforce these documents on PACE simply because they are in the majority, the organization will be headed for a split.”
Pushkov also spoke about the principles that should underlie PACE’s operation and international cooperation within its framework. He highlighted the need to stop using double standards. “There must be an equal approach to all the Council of Europe member countries,” he said. Russia has been accused of using unnecessary force against protesters, but police in Europe have been known to clamp down on protesters with even greater force. However, such actions are justified there by the need to “restore public order.”
The Russian politician harshly criticized any discrimination against non-EU countries. “If PACE is used as an instrument for promoting the geopolitical interests of the EU and the West in general, it will become useless,” he said. “There are many people at PACE who share this view.”
Pushkov pointed out that Russia’s past two years of work in PACE were quite productive. “We prevented the adoption of several resolutions that were spearheaded against Russia,” he said. “The visit by Sergei Naryshkin in October 2012, the first ever visit [to PACE] by a State Duma speaker, was very successful.” Pushkov believes that taken together, this should have a positive effect on PACE’s operation, which has been burdened by many factors of late. “PACE is a politicized and ideology-driven organization that doesn’t budge an inch on some issues because we stand up against a united front of EU representatives,” he said.
Russia is one of the five largest taxpayers who together provide 20% of PACE’s funding. But this is not, and cannot be, the main factor of its influence. “We can say that one of the Council of Europe’s goals is to create a united European space, and Russia is definitely a key participant in this work,” Pushkov said. He mentioned the importance of common foreign policy achievements, such as Russia’s initiative on Syria. “For two years prior to that, Russia was indiscriminately criticized for supporting a dictatorial regime in Damascus. But now it turns out that Russia was right on a number of issues,” he said.
The Russian politician believes that it was the Russian media which created the image of PACE as an organization that “only criticizes and denounces Russia,” which is not so. “We shouldn’t see PACE as an organization where Russia is up against everyone else,” he said. “There are issues that bring all Europeans together and that are very important for the international community as a whole.” One such issue is the protection of Internet users, especially after the world learned about the global online surveillance and the tapping of emails and phone calls.
Russia and Ukraine: bilateral relations and soft power
Pushkov said that Russian diplomacy is working on Ukrainian issues no less efficiently than Western diplomacy. Until the EU makes a decision to assist Ukraine financially, Russia will remain the only party to take this practical approach. “We offered [Ukraine] financial assistance at a time when it was heading for default,” the Russian politician said, adding that the first $3 billion had been transferred in exchange for government securities. “We have pointed out, and Putin also spoke about this [at the EU-Russia summit] in Brussels, that our financial assistance is burdened by certain agreements, and that we will maintain associated relations between our countries’ businesses and industries,” Pushkov said. However, future relations between Russia and Ukraine and, consequently, the second tranche will depend on political stability in Ukraine.
“Russia’s foreign policy approach to this situation is that we will continue to provide financial assistance to Ukraine as long as it has a competent and stable government,” he said.
Speaking about bilateral relations and the situation in Ukraine, Pushkov said that the use of soft power is no longer enough. “Until recently, we used soft power in the post-Soviet space by way of residual economic impact, primarily economic ties, through the elites that were focused on Russia, and the Russian language and culture,” he said. Western countries can use a powerful network of NGOs for this purpose, whereas Russia can only work through interstate relations, which is no longer enough.
“The soft power approach is on the decline,” Pushkov said. “The nature of those with influence is changing, and many members of the new ruling and financial classes in the post-Soviet countries have studied abroad and speak English better than Russian. We should understand that the residual factors underlying our soft power policy will not remain effective forever.”
The Russian politician believes that Russia should upgrade its soft power approach, something that can only be done by hard work under a special program.