Russia said it would pull out of the Council of Europe after pressure mounted for Moscow to be expelled from the pan-European rights body over its invasion of Ukraine.
Essentially jumping before it was pushed from the Strasbourg-based body, the Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had given notification of its departure to Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric.
The decision draws the curtain on Russia’s quarter-century membership of the Council of Europe (CoE) and also opens the way for Moscow to reimpose the death penalty if the authorities decide.
The so-called “Ruxit” from the council means Russia will no longer be a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, and its citizens will no longer be able to file applications to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
It is only the second time in the history of the CoE that a member state has announced it has quit the body after Greece walked out temporarily in the late 1960s.
‘Aggression against Ukraine’
The move by Moscow comes as the CoE is preparing to formally expel Russia. On Tuesday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE voted to expel Russia after an emergency session in Strasbourg. The body’s ministerial committee is to hold a special meeting on Wednesday to prepare for the suspension.
“As leaders of the Council of Europe we expressed on several occasions our firm condemnation of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine,” Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio, President of the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly Tiny Kox, and Buric said in a statement.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on Monday demanded Russia be immediately expelled, saying it had no right to remain a member after sending troops into the pro-Western country.
The Russian foreign ministry posted a statement on “launching the procedure to exit the Council of Europe” on its Telegram account, adding it had “no regret” about leaving. Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996.
The ministry said its exit would “not affect the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens” and “the implementation of already adopted resolutions of the European Court of Human Rights will continue, if they do not contradict Russia’s Constitution”.
EU and NATO member states within the Council of Europe had turned the organisation into an “instrument for anti-Russian policies”, it added.
Russia’s exit will mark a major change for the ECHR, which acts as a court of final instance when all domestic avenues are exhausted.
Cases brought by Russian citizens have piled up at the ECHR, accounting for 24 percent of the current cases, such as those concerning dissident prisoner Alexey Navalny.
‘A good opportunity’
No member state has ever been expelled from the Council of Europe, which was created in 1949 and has 47 member states including Russia.
Moscow’s move has one precedent – when it was under military rule Greece walked out of the body in 1969 to avoid being expelled. Athens then rejoined in 1974 after the fall of the military.
Not using the death penalty is a precondition of CoE membership, and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy national security council chief, had evoked bringing back capital punishment if Russia left the body.
Medvedev had described Russia’s suspension as “a good opportunity to restore a number of important measures to prevent especially serious crimes – such as the death penalty … which is actively used in the US and China”.
Russia has observed a moratorium on the death penalty since 1996 though it has never formally abolished the practice.
A Russian exit will also deprive the CoE of nearly seven percent of its annual budget, or about €500m ($545m). But Buric has said she received “reassuring” signals from several member states, including France and Germany, ready to guarantee the financial sustainability of the organisation.