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BRUSSELS -- In a decision opposed by most former Soviet-bloc countries, the parliament of the Council of Europe voted Tuesday to end Russia's suspension, which began with the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Those voting to restore Russia's full rights in the council, which is separate from the European Union, argued that if Russia left the organization -- as it had threatened to do -- it would deny Russian citizens the right to take cases before the European Court of Human Rights, a part of the council.

Opponents argued that Europe was giving in to the illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia's support for separatist warfare in eastern Ukraine -- and just as important, starting a process of normalizing relations with Moscow.

The vote was 118-62, with 10 abstentions. Russia had said it would quit the council altogether if it was not reinstated in time for a vote for a new secretary-general, scheduled for today.

The head of Ukraine's delegation, Volodymyr Ariev, said the decision sent a "very bad message" to Moscow and others.

"Do what you want, annex another country's territory, kill people there, and you will still leave with everything," he said.

The Ukrainian delegation then walked out in protest.

The new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, expressed his disappointment in a statement.

"It's a pity that our European partners didn't hear us and acted differently," he said on his Facebook page, referring to France and Germany, which had orchestrated the compromise.

Edgars Rinkevics, the Latvian foreign minister, called the vote "regrettable and disappointing" in a Twitter post. Latvia opposed the move, he said, "because it undermines respect for key values: democracy, rule of law and human rights."

The head of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, Leonid Slutsky, said that the assembly "made a huge step toward defending the rights of national delegations." Russia's delegation will not tolerate "any more sanctions, no matter how insignificant," he said.

Created in 1949 and based in Strasbourg, France, the Council of Europe is dedicated to upholding democracy, human rights and the rule of law in its 47 member states, which include all 28 members of the European Union, and encompasses a population of more than 800 million. The European Court of Human Rights, part of the council, is charged with enforcing the 1953 European Convention on Human Rights, which all members are pledged to uphold.

The organization is made up of the foreign ministers of all member states and a parliamentary assembly of member legislators. They voted to lift Russia's suspension after the foreign ministers agreed to do so in May, in a deal worked out by Germany and France.

Heiko Maas, the German foreign minister, said the compromise would ensure "millions of Russians the protection of the European Court of Human Rights." France and Germany had argued that it was better to promote dialogue, especially in the face of fundamental disagreements.

Those who favored the reinstatement argued that excluding Russia would harm organizations operating in the country that work to promote democracy and human rights.

"The immediate impact of Russia's departure from the council would be felt most not by the Kremlin, but rather by the Russian people," the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, a human-rights group, said in a statement in December. "Russia's departure from the council would deny Russian citizens protection and justice provided by the court -- worsening human rights in the country."

The largest proportion of cases brought to the European court originate in Russia. Other major sources of cases are Romania, Turkey and Ukraine.

In 2014, Russia was stripped of its voting rights in the parliamentary assembly for two years because of the annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed some 13,000 people.

Russia responded in 2016 by boycotting the assembly, and has since 2017 refused to pay its annual contribution of about $37.1 million, a large chunk of the council's budget, and was scheduled to be expelled this year for nonpayment. Russia's reinstatement means it will resume its contribution.

A Section on 06/26/2019

Print Headline: Rights council lets Russia back in fold

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