In a major review of its long established links to the European institutions, Russia has signalled that it intends to cut the $37 million annual fee it pays for membership of the Council of Europe.
The ostensible reason for this decision is that since Crimea’s reunification with Russia, Russia’s participation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (“PACE”) has been suspended.
Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Russian parliament’s Committee for International Relations, put it this way
Today, our CE fee is not divided, we pay for our participation in the Cabinet of Ministers, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and PACE. But if we don’t return to the latter body in the nearest future, it makes no sense for us to pay for it.
Whilst Russia’s three year long suspension from PACE is reason enough for Russia to cut its fee, the reality is that the Russians have been getting increasingly disillusioned with the Council of Europe and its various institutions for some time.
Long before Russia was suspended from PACE this body, with its entrenched anti-Russian majority, had been in the habit of passing anti-Russian resolutions on a regular – even serial – basis.
Meanwhile in recent years the European Court of Human Rights has delivered a succession of Judgments against Russia which the Russians consider politicised and unfair and about which they have made known that they are very unhappy (see here and here). Recently the Russians have taken steps to distance themselves from the European Court of Human Rights, and to reduce its ability to meddle in their affairs.
Beyond this there is the factor that as Russia increasingly reorients towards China and Eurasia it is debatable whether membership of the Council of Europe any longer serves Russia’s interests.
Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996 when Boris Yeltsin was President and when pro-Western policies in Russia were in the ascendant. Some Russians at that time were even talking about Russia one day joining Western institutions such as NATO and the EU.
All that now seems an age ago, and no one any longer believes it will ever happen.
In light of this Russia’s membership of the Council of Europe looks increasingly like a relic of the failed policies of an unhappy past.
Given that Russia was suspended from PACE three years ago, and given Russia’s growing disillusion with the Council of Europe, the wonder is that it has taken the Russians so long to consider cutting their membership fee.
Perhaps the even greater wonder is that Russia bothers to keep its Council of Europe membership at all.