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Council of Europe leaders seek to hold Russia accountable

May 16, 2023

During a summit in Iceland, the Council of Europe will set up a way of logging damage in Ukraine caused by Russian forces so compensation claims can be lodged against Moscow.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meets with Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Berlin
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other European leaders are expected to hear from Ukraine's Zelenskyy via video linkImage: Markus Schreiber/AP Photo/picture alliance

Iceland is hosting a very rare summit of the Council of Europe (CoE) in Reykjavik on Tuesday.

The war in Ukraine tops the agenda of the gathering, the first of its kind in almost 20 years and only the fourth to be held in the CoE's seven-decade history.

Around 30 European heads of state and government, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, were due to attend the gathering. 

During the two-day meeting, leaders would focus on ways to hold Russia accountable for its war in Ukraine. The CoE kicked Russia out of the after it invaded Ukraine last year.

Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy was expected to address his counterparts via video link.

Register of damages to hold Russia accountable

According to a draft of the final declaration seen by the Reuters news agency, the leaders will approve a new Register of Damages, a mechanism to document the damage in Ukraine caused by the Russian forces so Moscow could be held liable for compensation to the victims later.

"The register is just one of a number of international initiatives set up to ensure accountability for the crimes inflicted in Ukraine," British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said ahead of the summit.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is also attending, said a special court could be set up in The Hague as "a first step, and a good step, towards Russian compensation."

"I will support the creation of a dedicated tribunal to bring Russia's crime of aggression to trial."

They are hoping that the United States, which has observer status at the summit, will also back the initiative.

Zelenskyy requests further air defense systems

Ukrainian Presisdent Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke at the Council meeting via video link and thanked European officials for their "sincere desire to help Ukraine."

Zelenskyy said that Ukraine was hit by 18 Russian missiles on Tuesday morning, including ballistic missiles which Moscow had "boasted about."

"All missiles were shut down, including [the] ballistic ones," he said, calling this a "historic" result.

Zelenskyy said that Ukraine was working to improve its air defense and urged allies to provide additional support.

"There is still much to be done," Zelenskyy said. "Ukraine's territory is big, and to make air defense results like last night's the rule we need additional air defense systems and missiles."

Zelenskyy said that "no air defense system will be perfect" without "fighter jets."

Ukraine's president said that Kyiv's 10-point "Peace Formula" was the "only realistic peace plan" proposed thus far.

"There will be no reliable peace without justice," he said, adding that there should be a "special tribunal" for Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

CoE examines Turkey's future

Turkey, which is in the middle of a presidential election, faces removal from the CoE as it failed to implement a 2019 court ruling to release jailed businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

The CoE's Committee of Ministers has launched infringement proceedings against Ankara that have so far stressed dialogue but could eventually see Turkey's removal or its membership suspended, experts say.

Icelandic organizers said leaders would also boost initiatives to address emerging threats to democracy, including from climate change and artificial intelligence.

The Council of Europe is an independent international organization, not part of the European Union, that promotes democracy, human rights and the rule of law in its member states.

It consists of the 27 European nations and others, including Britain, Turkey, the western Balkan Countries, Georgia and Armenia.

The CoE's democratic values are upheld by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, where citizens can take governments to court in case of human rights violations.

lo/wd (AFP, dpa, Reuters)