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Resumption of PACE work (hybrid winter session) and Russia's withdrawal from the Treaty on

On January 25-28, 2021, the PACE will be holding its winter session. The meetings will be held in a hybrid format – members of delegations will be able to participate in meetings either remotely or in person, in Strasbourg.

The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is in fact the core of the Council of Europe's founding. Today, many participating countries have united to defend the Convention's provisions and main goals, as well to condemn military aggression, including following the temporary occupation of Ukrainian, Georgian, and Moldovan territories by Russia.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, created to protect democracy and human rights, has several times in recent years violated its basic principles, turning a blind eye to breaches of fundamental norms of international law and the norms of the Council of Europe's Charter, as well as to failures to observe values of a democratic society on human rights protection. This climaxed in the return of the Russian delegation to PACE in the summer of 2019. The Russian delegates were reinstated despite their country having occupied parts of Ukrainian, Georgian, and Moldovan territories, despite their systemic violations of human rights in these areas, and the country's outward unwillingness to fix problems they had created. Russia's failure to comply with multiple PACE resolutions didn't prevent the return of their delegation to the assembly hall either. Also, in early 2020, head of the Russian delegation Pyotr Tolstoi was elected one of the 20 vice-speakers. Meanwhile, Tolstoi previously hosted a number of Russian propaganda TV shows, such as Vremya, Politika, Vremya Pokazhet, and Tolstoi. Voskresenye. Also, from 2009 to 2016, he was part of the top management at Channel One, one of Russia's main propaganda platforms. It shouldn't be forgotten that to ensure reinstatement of their delegation in PACE and have Tolstoi elected to a senior post, Russia had to pay its massive membership dues to the organization, including paying off debts for all previous years – worth a staggering EUR 33 million per year.

At the 2020 winter session, Russian delegates thought that after massive dues had been paid to the organization, all decisions would be made in their favor. The very next day, however, after the Russian delegation was reinstated, the PACE passed a resolution directly pointing to a number of violations by Russia, recognizing Russia a party to the Minsk agreements and to the ongoing military conflict in eastern Ukraine's Donbas.

The Council of Europe must recall its fundamental goals, principles, and values, and show support for them in order for the PACE resolutions to have any real weight. That's for the violations and those guilty do not go unpunished. All member states are personally responsible for ensuring the protection of human rights and freedoms, including in the territories temporarily occupied by Russia. However, in the wake of the latest developments in Russia, not all member states, unfortunately, seem to realize their responsibility. Vladimir Putin put Russian legislation above international law, which has already had a direct impact on the implementation of international obligations, including PACE decisions. Also, Russian citizens, seizing opportunities under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, often turn to the European Court of Human Rights to ensure the most effective and objective protection of their rights, since Russian courts remain outrageously biased. This once again proves that Russia is not interested in protecting human rights – even those of their own citizens.

After the opposition's Alexei Navalny was arrested in Russia, which is a Council of Europe member state, PACE deputies from different countries will challenge the powers of the Russian delegation as repercussion.

In mid-January, Russian authorities spoke of their intention to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which allows the parties to the agreement to fly over other participating actors' territory in order to build up trust. Earlier, in November 2020, violations of this major agreement by Russia pushed the US to quit the Treaty. Consequently, Russia, which had long sought to evade responsibility laid down in the deal and pursued acts of provocation compromising the agreement, literally immediately announced its own withdrawal from the Treaty.

In recent years, Russia has increasingly, and more seriously, violated major international treaties related to arms control. At first, it was an unjustified withdrawal from the Treaty on Conventional Arms in Europe in 2015, which marked Russia's continued hybrid aggression in Europe. This was followed by the INF Treaty, perhaps the most important international deal of the late 1980s, which was terminated over Russia's gross violations related to the development of weapons the Treaty bans. The current START Treaty (valid until February 5, 2021) has every chance of repeating the fate of the INF Treaty if the Russians defy setting up an effective mechanism for monitoring and verifying nuclear arsenals. They just can't allow such mechanism to be introduced because this will make it practically impossible to conceal their secret projects, which will herald international liability. In the wake of such moves by the Kremlin, the viability was put into question of the Open Skies Treaty and the Vienna Document. It didn't take long before Moscow announced its withdrawal from Open Skies in January 2021.

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