Two days ago, the Council of Europe voted to ignore its own warnings about Russian aggression and human rights violations. Putin invaded Georgia and Ukraine, illegally annexed Crimea, and has spent 20 years destroying democracy in Russia. The CoE, including French and German support, has rewarded Putin by lifting sanctions on Russia. This move exposes the institution as hopelessly corrupt. Worse than useless, it has become a willing conduit for helping Putin spread his corrupting influence across Europe.
According to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) website: “THE CONDITIONS FOR MEMBERSHIP ARE PLURALISTIC DEMOCRACY, THE RULE OF LAW AND RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS.” None of those things have existed in Putin’s Russia for well over a decade. As with Russia’s membership in the G-7, it was still in the CoE as a legacy of the Yeltsin years, our brief taste of democracy before it was strangled by Putin’s mafia. Putin’s demolition of civil society in Russia and his invasion of Ukraine ended the charade. Russia was finally ejected from the G-7 and suspended by the CoE. Now PACE has welcomed Putin back, despite Russia still claiming Crimea and maintaining a huge invasion force in Eastern Ukraine (and occupying parts of Georgia).
Most pathetically, supporters of this betrayal of the CoE’s mission have tried to paint is as being made on behalf of Russian civil society, instead of a crushing blow against it. This is absurd and misguided at best, and an attempt to hide their pro-Putin corruption at worst. The only real way to help what is left of Russian civil society is to do whatever possible to end Putin’s dictatorship. This move instead empowers him in Russia, validates his foreign aggression, and legitimizes his dictatorship.
The excuse that a handful of persecuted Russians can use the CoE and the Court of Human Rights to sue Putin for a few dollars is like putting a bandage on stage four cancer. Why does the PACE leadership think Putin wants to be back in the CoE when he is against everything it supposedly stands for? Because he knows the legitimacy and ability to spread corruption in European institutions is worth far more than paying a little blood money to his victims or their survivors. European officials invoking Russian civil society to cover up their corruption and lack of principles adds insult to injury. Speaking for Russian civil society forced to live in exile, anyone making such claims can go to Hell. Other friends and colleagues have been murdered by the Putin regime PACE is so eager to embrace and are unable to speak out on the matter.
In my eyes, this is a worse betrayal than Munich 1938 for several reasons. The foe here isn’t a mighty Nazi war machine, threatening to inflame the continent. PACE is kneeling before Gazprom and Rosneft (Chairman, former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder). Neville Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier were very wrong, but they were desperate and had no idea what was going to happen. But Putin is a known quantity with a long track record. Two decades of destroying human rights and democracy in Russia, invading Russia’s neighbors, assassination on foreign soil, propaganda and hacking attacks on elections across Europe and the globe, shooting down the MH17 airliner over Ukraine—this is the behavior PACE just endorsed.
Rewarding a dictator’s aggression encourages more of it, it always has and always will. Engagement has backfired badly, with no liberalization or influence on Putin while opening lines for Russian money and energy blackmail to spread corruption and Putin’s oligarchs to infiltrate the circles of power. Engagement funds Putin’s oppression and legitimizes his power, making him even harder to challenge. (Similarly, see China, where engagement has done nothing to liberalize the dictatorship, which has become harsher and more centralized under Xi Jinping.)
Some European representatives see favoring Putin as a form of tactical anti-Americanism and pushback against Trump, which is as stupid as it sounds. This isn’t the Cold War, where you can easily pick a side. Putin is Trump’s greatest ally, and he actively supports the fascists in Germany and France as well as leftists and extremists on all sides of the political spectrum. Putin isn’t an ideologue; he wants chaos and extremism.
Others, like Macron, have been relatively honest about openly craving Russian money and investment and to hell with human rights and standing up to Putin. This is the “green light for greenbacks” model that has turned European politics into a playground for Putin’s oligarchs. Europe’s values are now written in rubles, not in the declaration of human rights. Europe is for sale and Putin is buying.
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