It is now a month since the outbreak of war in Ukraine. A month since one man’s perverse view of history and misguided nationalism began to cause the greatest amount of suffering and biggest humanitarian crisis that Europe has seen for almost 80 years. A month of reinforcing the time-honoured fact that there is nothing more dangerous in this world than a dictator who believes his own propaganda.
European Movement Oxford Region is fortunate in that its immediate past, and current, Chairmen both have detailed experience of Russia and its people. They have written articles for us that give their own personal perspective. We begin here with the views of Emeritus Chairman, David Blackman, on the exclusion of Russia from the Council of Europe.
On Wednesday 16 March the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, of which the U.K. is still a member, decided to exclude the Russian Federation from the Council of Europe, with immediate effect.
This was an immediate response to an extraordinary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council on 14-15 March, which voted unanimously the Opinion that “the Russian Federation has committed grave violations of the Council of Europe Statute and, therefore, can no longer be a member State of this organisation”.
The Assembly had heard an impassioned video speech by the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Denys Smyhal, calling for this exclusion; and strong support for this from the Secretary General of the Council, Marija Pejćinović Burić.
Eleven British members of the Assembly, MPs and peers, took part in the debate.
The President of the Assembly, Tiny Kox, has welcomed the decision, saying, “It is sad that we have to expel a country after 26 years of membership. But it was necessary, and I am glad we dared to do so. The PACE remains on the side of the victims of this unprovoked war of aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, and all our thoughts are now with the Ukrainian people.”
He welcomed the effective co-operation with the Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General, which made a rapid decision possible; he regretted only one unfortunate result: that Russian citizens would now lose the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights. During its membership of the Council Russia had maintained a moratorium on the death penalty, but it withdrew from the Council on 10 March, and former President Medvedev said that this was a suitable opportunity to reverse its position on the death penalty.
We have also had a moving event, chaired by Anna Bird, CEO of the European Movement UK, examining our country’s response to the refugee crisis. We heard from human rights organisations in the Ukraine, and from the CEOs of Refugee Action, Settled, and Care4Calais. We heard of the challenges faced by refugees seeking shelter in the UK, and by the NGOs working to help them; and concern about the impact on local government.
We must be ready to respond positively in the near future!
David was Head of the Research Division for Central and Eastern Europe within the European Parliament from 1990 to 1997