Council of Europe restored voting rights for Russia – is it a good thing?
On Tuesday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) restored voting rights for Russia, suspended since its 2014 annexation of Crimea. The Assembly voted by 118 in favour and 62 against. Opposing were mainly Post-Soviet members, threatened by Russian policy, together with Poland and the UK. Russia threatened to leave the organisation if its voting rights were not restored.
The opponents of the ruling argue, that the Council of Europe (CoE) is justifying Russia’s aggressive behaviour due to which its voting rights were suspended. Nonetheless, the question remains, whether CoE membership should be used in these situations. The majority of MPs, joined by human rights organisations, argue, that the human rights of ordinary Russians would suffer the most by Russia’s withdrawal. One of its most important institutions is the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and most of its cases are from Russia.
Latvia’s Foreign Minister mentioned, that the ruling undermines the respect for key values of CoE: democracy, rule of law and human rights. But Azerbaijan or Turkey, which are not exactly beacons of these values, remain full-fledged members. The value authority of PACE is also undermined by corruption scandals of its MPs.
Russia suspended its annual contributions to the organisation until the restoration of its voting rights, which has resulted in financial strain. This has also motivated looking for a compromise.
The CoE is a unique forum which connects almost all European nations, providing an opportunity for diplomatic discussion between Russia and the West. It does not focus on defence or security, quite the opposite, it uses membership to pressure governments to improve human rights and democracy.
The suspension of Russia’s voting rights in PACE was not a good move. It punished ordinary Russians for the behaviour of Kremlin. But the restoration of its voting rights without resolving the question of Crimea further undermines the authority of an already weak organisation.
After 25 years, the AKP is losing Istanbul!
On Sunday, June 23, the repeated mayoral election was held in Istanbul, as a result of the pressure from the AK Parti and president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the Turkish Supreme Electoral Council to annul results of the polls originally held in March 2019. The winner of the first round, the opposition candidate of Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi – CHP Ekrem İmamoğlu, repeated his victory and won the election by an even bigger margin (0.16% vs 9.22%).
The aggressive campaign and a pressure to repeat the election thus proved to be one of Erdoğan’s biggest political mistakes, as they united the opposition, displeased a part of the AKP voters, and also showed the government’s vulnerability as the opposition took control of the largest cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. In addition, Imamoğlu came out of the election as a possible leading figure of the whole Turkish opposition and, in the long run, even as a potential presidential candidate for the 2023 presidential election.
Imamoğlu will not have it easy as a mayor of Istanbul as it is unclear how the AKP will respond to the defeat. Erdoğan will most likely try to make him as politically irrelevant as possible through the adoption of new laws limiting the powers of mayors. Moreover, Imamoğlu could be brought to the court due to the allegations made by the governer of the Ordu province who claims that Imamoğlu insulted him. However, it is unlikely that this case would lead to his dismissal from the office.
At the moment, the victory of Imamoğlu is presented as a victory of democracy by journalists and politicians, quite surprisingly, from both political camps. President Erdoğan accepted the will of the people, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu talked about a democratic signal to the world, pro-governmental DAILY SABAH journalists urge critics of Erdoğan to apologize for their statements about Turkey being a dictatorship.
The next election awaits Turkey in four years, and the government, opposition, and the highly-polarized society is facing a challenge of how to address both domestic and foreign policy issues, including the deteriorating economy. The question is, however, what will the Turkish regime choose to do: reverse the current course or, on the contrary, increase the repression against the opposition and continue in the nationalist and anti-Western rhetorics.
Is the European future of Albania and North Macedonia threatened?
Most of the newer member states keep a positive attitude towards the Balkan enlargement but Western Europe views it more skeptically. There is common rhetoric among France, the Netherlands, Denmark, or Germany that holds that the EU is currently under solid pressure from its own internal crises and taking on new members would make the situation even worse. The reluctance of the Western states could be perceived in two basic lines. Firstly, there is an official narrative that asserts that there is still a lot to do in the field of organized crime, deeply rooted corruption, and inefficient jurisdiction in the Balkans. Moreover, voiced primarily from the Élysée Palace, the EU needs to conclude its own integration projects (such as the Eurozone, Schengen, or PESCO) and focus on the accelerating of mechanisms in decision-making. Only after it could widen its member base. The second, less articulated motive for skepticism could be found in the rise of anti-immigration sentiment among voters in Western Europe. It is commonly believed that the workers coming from the Central and Eastern Europe contribute to wage dumping. Many fear that the arrival of the Balkan workers could exacerbate this problem even more.
Recently, the uncompromising stance of the Western countries has been criticized by the EC and other 13 member states, emphasising the need for keeping the sight on enlargement policy from a more strategic perspective. The enlargement supporters stress that the indifference of the EU could undermine its credibility abroad, expose pro-EU governments in the Balkans to harsh criticism from euro-skeptic opposition, and, most notably, open the Balkans to its geopolitical rivals (Russia, China, Turkey, or the Gulf states).
Trump’s ‘Gulf of Tonkin incident’ with Iran?
Tehran threatens to violate the Nuclear Deal’s limits on uranium enrichment as tensions between Iran and the U.S. continue. The crisis escalated on Thursday with an attack on two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, the most important oil shipping passage. The U.S. blamed Iran for the attack but has seen worldwide criticism of its claims.
The evidence presented by Washington does not stand much scrutiny for what would be considered an act of war. Trump’s administration also suffers lack of credibility home and abroad. Accusing a country of an act of war carries a challenge of overcoming scepticism, this challenge is double for an administration known for falsehoods. Last month, for example, U.S. State Secretary Pompeo blamed an attack in Kabul on Iran even though Taliban claimed responsibility. Experts on the region doubted such accusations. The current U.S. administration has also been distinctly hostile towards Iran, unilaterally withdrawing from the Nuclear Deal last year and introducing new sanctions. Even if the accusations were right, European leaders call for de-escalation and maximum restraint.
Senior EU diplomat negotiated with Iran on Sunday, affirming support for the Nuclear Deal while finding ways to trade with Iran, circumventing U.S. sanctions. Since the Nuclear Deal, more hawkish voices in Iran were overshadowed by the conservatives but U.S. attacks are giving the hawks more prominence again. If hawks on both sides take control there could be a serious danger of escalation. The U.S. are a key European ally, but an escalation with Iran would be against Europe’s interests. Ultimately, the crisis is also a test for U.S. credibility.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a bi-weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Matúš Jevčák.
Authors: Paťo Bandúr, Lukáš Dravecký, Ondřej Zacha
The text has not undergone language revision.