Russian invasion troops in Ukraine. Photo: Twitter / Kamil Galeev

Why Russia had to be expelled from the Council of Europe

The Council of Europe must not harbour a dictatorship that is invading a neighbouring state, committing massive war-crimes, while suppressing the human rights of its own citizens to hide its aggressive war from its public.

ESI newsletter: Expelling Oceania – The Council of Europe and Russian aggression (9 March 2022)

ESI newsletter: Suspend Russia! The Council of Europe and the new cold war (23 February 2022)

The member states of the Council of Europe must move to expel Russia from their organisation. The Council of Europe must not harbour a dictatorship that is invading a neighbouring state, committing massive war-crimes, while suppressing the human rights of its own citizens to hide its aggressive war from its public. And yet, as this historic vote approaches some member states are reportedly still uncertain how to vote.

It would be a devastating signal to suggest to the current Russian leadership that the developments of the past two weeks leave European democracies uncertain about whether Russia has foregone its place in their club. This would certainly be understood as a hint that some in Europe are looking forward to a moment soon when current tensions might be patched up, as they always were in recent years.

This time the reaction must be different.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is increasingly indistinguishable from George Orwell’s Oceania: a place of torture and repression, in permanent war with other powers to legitimize itself, ruled by a Party that employs a Thought Police to prosecute independent thinking, all in the name of its dictatorial leader. Could Oceania remain a member of the Council of Europe and the latter retain its credibility?

Some fear that Russia’s expulsion from the Council of Europe would strip Russians of the protection of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

In fact, already today citizens challenging the regime are not getting any protection. It would be absurd to assume that under current conditions the abysmal implementation record of ECtHR judgements would be anything but worse. The continued detention of Alexey Navalny is clear evidence of this.

Expulsion of the Russian state must mean more, not less, focus on Russian human rights defenders. There have been dissidents in Russia before it joined the Council of Europe.

Some fear that Russia’s expulsion would mark a definitive rupture. This is wrong. The day Russia becomes a democracy again it should be welcomed back with open arms. This is what happened to Greece after the fall of its military junta.

Today, this is a distant vision. Today, Russia must be expelled for there to be a credible Council of Europe at all, to which a different Russia might one day return.