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Russia leaves the Council of Europe

March 15, 2022

Russia says it has begun the procedure to formally leave the Council of Europe. The Foreign Ministry made the announcement following a historic wave of sanctions after Russia invaded Ukraine.

General view of the plenary room of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg, France
The move pre-empts Russia's expulsion from the human rights bodyImage: Dominique Boutin/Sputnik/picture alliance

Russia announced Tuesday that it formally left the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog.

Russia's departure from the body potentially preempts the country's expulsion following its invasion of Ukraine.

The head of the delegation at the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, Pyotr Tolstoy, handed a letter from Russia's long-serving foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, to the Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric of the Council of Europe, Russian state-run Tass reported.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also posted a statement on its Telegram channel announcing that it was "launching the procedure to exit the Council of Europe."

"We part with such a Council of Europe without regret," the ministry said.

What is the Council of Europe?

The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 and its mission is to uphold human rights and the rule of law as part of the postwar order. It is its own separate institution distinct from the EU.

The Council of Europe is responsible for drawing up the European Convention on Human Rights which established the European Court of Human Rights.

In 1996, the Russian Federation joined the Council of Europe following the break-up of the Soviet Union a few years prior.

On February 25, the Council of Europe suspended Russia's membership following its invasion of Ukraine. 

What have Russia and Ukraine said about Russia's departure?

Last week Russia responded to the Council of Europe suspending its membership by blaming the EU and NATO for undermining the Council of Europe. Russia said it would no longer participate in the body.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmygal had urged the Council of Europe to expel Russia on Monday. Shmygal argued those responsible for "this unprovoked and unjustified aggression cannot stay in the single European family where human life is the highest value."

Leonid Slutsky, the head of the International Affairs Committee of Russia's Duma, the lower house of its rubber stamp parliament, said on his Telegram channel, "But don't be afraid, all rights will be guaranteed in our country, necessarily and unconditionally."

Slutsky also accused NATO and the EU of utilizing the Council of Europe as "a means of ideological support for their military-political and economic expansion to the east."

The Azerbaijan Connection

The Kremlin argued the suspension was unjust. However, it gave Moscow an occasion by which it could revive capital punishment and a chance to withdraw from the Human Rights Commission.

Russia denies it has invaded Ukraine, instead referring to Putin's war as a "special military operation." 

ar/aw (AFP, Reuters)