Council of Europe votes to restore Russian voting rights

Despite Ukraine's boycott of the Helsinki meeting to protest the move, all but six of the member countries approved the declaration to return Moscow's vote.

French Secretary of State for European Affairs Amelie de Montchalin, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjörn Jaglund and Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini at the council press conference on Friday. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

A meeting of the Council of Europe in Finland's capital city saw the group agreeing to allow Russia to start voting again in council proceedings.

Just six of the 47 states that are part of the council opposed the declaration, which stated that all members of the group should be able to participate on an equal basis.

Assembly vote still necessary

Russia’s voting rights were suspended after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which many states condemned as illegal. After this decision, Russia stopped paying its membership fees.

"This does not itself solve the question of Russia’s participation in the Parliamentary Assembly, because PACE needs to take its own decisions, but this is a positive development in the common response –process. It sends a clear political message about equal rights and obligations," Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said in a prepared statement.

Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, said at the meeting that Russia would pay back its debt in full, if Moscow's voting rights are restored at the assembly next month. Russia will then have to accredit a delegation to the Council of Europe, before it can start voting on motions.

Friday's decision safeguards Russian citizens' access to the European Court of Human Rights, when Russia's court system fails. More than 20 percent of all cases heard at the ECHR last year were pursued by Russian nationals.

Handing the baton to France

Ukraine’s foreign minister unexpectedly cancelled his attendance of the meeting in Finland on Friday, as he was expecting a positive vote for Russia.

Foreign Minister Soini concluded the meeting on Friday by handing the reins of the Council of Europe Presidency to France. He also wished the Council of Europe all the best on its 70th anniversary.