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Ukrainian FM skips Helsinki Council of Europe meeting over Russian sanctions

Ukraine's foreign minister abruptly cancelled a trip to Finland, apparently to protest a planned lifting of Russian sanctions.

Ukrainan ulkoministeri Pavlo Klimkin
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, says the Council of Europe is undermining the Minsk Protocol. Image: Nicolas Bouvy / EPA

The Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pavlo Klimkin, has cancelled his participation in a Council of Europe (CoE) conference on Friday in Helsinki, according to the Ukrainian media outlet European Pravda.

The meeting marks the end of Finland's six-month presidency of the CoE's highest decision-making body, its Committee of Ministers.

According to the site, Klimkin's move is in protest against plans to lift sanctions on Russia's full participation in CoE activities.

"The minister has cancelled his visit to Helsinki. This is the first time in years that Ukraine will not be represented at the ministerial level," Ukraine's Permanent Representative to the CoE, Dmytro Kuleba told the site.

The CoE Committee of Ministers recently decided to back a draft resolution allowing Moscow to re-join the organisation's Parliamentary Assembly through an extraordinary procedure. According to the site, "the decision is expected to be approved without any modification or discussion at the session in Helsinki on May 17".

On Wednesday Klimkin criticised the move, saying it would undermine the 2014 and 2105 Minsk Agreements aimed at ending fighting in eastern Ukraine, which has so far been unsuccessful.

Finnish ministry: Russia's non-payment a "challenge"

The CoE voted to exclude Russia from its Parliamentary Assembly after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014. In retaliation, Russia has refused to pay its membership dues, which has been a blow to the organisation's budget.

The ministerial session will be held at Helsinki's Finlandia Hall on Friday. At the meeting, Finland will hand over the Presidency to France. More than 30 ministers from member states are expected to attend the meeting, to be chaired by outgoing Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini in what may be one of his final acts as a government official.

According to the Finnish Foreign Ministry, the agenda will include "the political, economic and institutional challenges" facing the CoE, adding that "the situation is challenging because of the question of Russia’s continued non-payment of its budget contributions and its right of participation in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly".

Not to be confused with the EU's European Council, the 47-member CoE describes itself as "the continent's leading human rights organisation". It has 19 non-EU members including Russia and Turkey.

Finland's presidency of the EU begins on 1 July, just over a month after its CoE term ends.

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