In the aftermath of World War II, having narrowly escaped irreversible obliteration, Western powers focused a considerable amount of their efforts on creating international platforms for dialogue. To a regular person, possessing common sense, it seems the horrors of the first half of the 20th century should have been enough to forever destroy our appetite for any kind of confrontation. Grievances are ever present in our relationships with each other – but today most of us have adequate representation in various international bodies, where we can speak out against perceived injustices. In theory, an objective and impartial group of representatives should be able to resolve the squabbles. In practice, they do anything but.
The most recent illustration of our mind-boggling shortsightedness is Resolution 1988 adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on April 9, 2014. Addressing recent developments in Ukraine, the resolution was debated after the Assembly’s Monitoring Committee visited the country between the dates of 2/17 and 2/21 as well as 3/21 and 3/26 and issued an in-depth report presenting its findings on the national minorities human rights situation and the overall functioning of democratic institutions.
The evening of April 9 I spent several hours observing live the speeches made during the session. Had the resulting Resolution not affected my country, I don’t think I would have been able to sit through what can only be called a hate parade.
Georgian representatives bubbled in their indignation, oozing delight at finally being able to voice all the insults they’ve been holding back. Exposing their pettiness, their deep-seated inferiority complex, they appealed for sympathy (!) over the loss of 20% of their territory to Russia in 2008. I couldn’t help thinking that it was somewhat akin to a convicted murderer seeking public sympathy claiming his sentence was too harsh. Identically indignant were, naturally, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, the British, the French and even the Canadian observer. Comparisons between Russia and Nazi Germany were being dished out left and right, and overall ‘Parliamentarians’ were foaming around their mouths, enraged, rabid, and inadequate in their attempts to stab Russia. Head of Russian delegation, Alexey Pushkov, was the only one who spoke out against the rhetoric pointing out that it wasn’t a bazaar and the speeches weren’t fit for the status of people presenting them.
But what of the Resolution itself? I would like to argue that it is misleading, not entirely truthful, and highly politicized. Irrespective of the circumstances, which surround the crisis, the Resolution aims to condemn Russia while justifying the change of power in Kiev.
The Assembly strongly condemns the use of snipers and live ammunition against protesters by the Ukrainian authorities at that time. … All fatalities and all human rights abuses… need to be fully investigated. … It is important that these investigations are impartial and free from political motivation or any desire for retribution. They should take place transparently. The advisory committee proposed by the Council of Europe could play an important role in helping the authorities to ensure that these conditions are met.
The first notable incoherence is that this paragraph calls for an impartial investigation after it states that authorities in charge at the time of the shoot out committed the violence. The results of internal investigation, conducted by post-coup Ukrainian authorities, and publicized at a press conference on 4/3, are anything but indisputable. After all, these are the very same authorities that claim Oleksandr Muzychko committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart. Twice. On 3/30 Russian officials announced that they are in possession of evidence pointing towards the opposition paramilitary group Right Sector’s involvement in sniper shooting. Coincidentally, Estonian FM Urmas Paet voiced a similar suspicion in his infamous conversation with EU’s Catherine Ashton. Russia, understandably, is not impartial herself, therefore the statement should be taken with a grain of salt, but nothing stood in the way of investigators requesting to examine such evidence. Neither the international community, nor Ukrainian authorities reached out. Even Human Rights Watch acknowledges that it is virtually impossible at this point to confirm beyond the shadow of a doubt who was behind the attack. A German TV crew went on to publish a rebuttal of official version of events as voiced by Ukrainian officials. And finally, the majority of regular Ukrainians are positive there was no investigation whatsoever and the officials randomly chose people they could assign blame to. The Assembly, however, has no qualms about cementing the highly controversial investigation results in its resolution. Even if we allow that the second part of the paragraph refers to additional violations of human rights, as of yet uninvestigated – it would be logical to conclude that PACE encourages transparent evaluation of anything but the sniper shooting. The people arrested in connection with that can rot in jail regardless of the fact that the investigation that put them there was neither impartial nor transparent. PACE, as it turns out, does not concern itself with everybody’s fate equally.
The Verkhovna Rada… managed the change of power and implementation of the main provisions of the 21 February 2014 agreement… The Assembly therefore fully recognizes the legitimacy of the new authorities in Kyiv and the legality of their decisions.
The key provisions of said agreement were:
- restore 2004 Constitution within 48 hours; form national unity government within 10 days;
- commence constitutional reform to be finished in September 2014;
- pass new electoral laws, form new Central Election Commission (in accordance with OSCE and Venice Commission rules); hold presidential election after the new Constitution is adopted;
- investigate all acts of violence in joint effort of current authorities, the opposition and Council of Europe;
- disarm all illegal paramilitary groups within 72 hours;
Even during the best of times making a judgment on the functioning of Verkhovna Rada is a challenge at best. During post-revolutionary times it is a mission impossible. Therefore, I prefer to only cite references to events that were more or less evenly reported by all parties partial to the conflict. According to publically available record, the convocation of February 21, 2014 – the last day Yanukovich was de-facto still President – in Verkhovna Rada was made up of 6 groups:
- Party of Regions (177 seats)
- Bat’kivschina (90 seats)
- UDAR (42 seats)
- Svoboda (36 seats)
- Communist Party (32 seats) and
- 55 Non-Affiliated seats (with 8 seats being vacant)
As of April 11, 2014 the breakdown stands:
- Party of Regions (106)
- Bat’kivschina (88)
- UDAR (42)
- Svoboda (35)
- Communist Party (33)
- Economic Development (37)
- Sovereign European Ukraine (36)
- Non-Affiliated (71)
The 2004 Constitution was indeed restored by majority vote right away, but the make up of national unity government is a whole other matter. First off, the so-called ‘impeachment’ of Yanukovich was carried out by simple majority vote. Needless to say, the actual procedure written out in the Constitution requires a multitude of other steps, which were never performed – establishing an investigatory commission, seeking evidence to support the charges which justify the President’s impeachment, have the Constitutional Court of Ukraine as well as the Supreme Court of Ukraine review the case before putting it up for a vote. Entirely discredited in the eyes of the population, Parliamentarians from the Party of Regions began abandoning their party credentials en masse. With the chaos that ensued, it remains unclear whether they remain in the Rada having shifted allegiances, or their seats were filled with new appointees. Fresh Parliamentarians were literally recruited from the Maidan crowd, and, as though we traveled back in time, the new list of ministers was read out from the stage of Maidan so that the people gathered there at the time could ‘approve’ or ‘denounce’ a candidate by way of cheers and applause…
How an international organization, which is supposed to adhere to and promote the rule of law, can consider this a legal transfer of power is beyond me. This alone is reason enough for me personally to state that I, as a citizen of Russia, refuse PACE the right to represent me on the international arena from here on out. Because according to them, it is legal for a few thousand people to gather in Moscow and clap in front of a stage to replace a number of Duma Ministers. Myself, not a resident of Moscow, being forced later on to live with and abide by the laws passed thereafter by the ‘applause ministers’. Thank you, but no thank you.
Constitutional reform, being the second provision of 2/21 agreement, is rumored to have begun. As of yet, it is absolutely unclear who is working on the legislation – the Constitutional Court has been in shambles since 2/24, and there is absolutely no details being released by the interim Kyiv authorities on the progress.
The third provision calls for Presidential election to be held after the new Constitution is adopted. How it can be adopted before May 25th, especially with the current uprisings in the East of the country, also remains unclear.
Investigation of acts of violence was not conducted jointly with the Council of Europe, as evidenced above, therefore the fourth provision of the agreement has not been followed. And in regards to disarmament of illegal paramilitary groups, the Assembly itself acknowledges this has not been achieved:
In order to fully restore the rule of law, the Assembly calls for the immediate disarmament of all illegally armed persons and groups in Ukraine.
In light of all this, claiming that Rada managed the implementation of the agreement is a shameless cover up of lawlessness and abuse of Ukrainian Constitution. What’s even more horrifying is this statement, taken from page 9 of the in-depth report:
In our view, a careful assessment shows that the agreement has to a large extent been implemented, if not to the letter then at least to the spirit of the agreement.
To the spirit! Is Spirit now a category of International Law? I’m sorry, but what kind of surreal universe does the Assembly exist in? If we begin replacing the Letter of the law with the Spirit – God help us all… Who is going to be the judge of Spirits? Who is going to testify that my Spirit is more objective than your Spirit? Is this the ambiguity we collectively want to tumble towards?
But moving on…
The Assembly urges the Verkhovna Rada to use its unique unity at this moment to adopt, without further delay, the constitutional amendments necessary to establish a better balance of power between President and Legislature.
Unique Unity. I am at a loss. Which unity is the Assembly referring to? This one?
Or maybe this one?
These people, who are unable to respect each other’s right to speak, should adopt constitutional amendments? Amendments, which later on are going to direct the lives of over 40 million people? What are the chances they can agree on legislation that is equally respectful of various regions in Ukraine? Slim at best. Zero, if we are realistic. There is, however, a way to ensure unity. Mr. Paet mentioned it in his conversation with Ms. Ashton. When the leak was publicized, the attention of most observers focused on speculations about snipers’ identity. Most media outlets missed this crucial part of the conversation:
Paet: “There is enormous pressure against the members of Parliament, that there are uninvited visitors during the night…
Paet: “…to party members. Well, journalists, some journalists who were with me they saw that during the day that one member of Parliament was just beaten in front of the Parliament building by these guys with the guns on the streets.”
Unity, without a doubt, can be achieved at the point of a gun. Member of Parliament will be compelled to cast his or her vote depending on whose finger is on the trigger. Ms. Ashton’s “Yeah” isn’t that of surprise, but that of acknowledgement. She knows this is how unity in Ukraine is currently done. And yet she doesn’t appear even the least bit uneasy pledging support to the interim authorities. Neither do PACE Parliamentarians.
The Assembly recognizes that, as a result of the recent political developments, including the disarray of the Party of Regions, several groups of people in Ukraine fear that they are not, or not well, represented in the Verkhovna Rada.
Regardless of this fact, the Assembly encourages the government, which does not represent all regions of the country, to proceed with amending the Constitution.
The Assembly strongly objects to any notion of a federalization of Ukraine and any outside pressures to pursue federalization in future, as this would substantially weaken the unity and stability of the country.
I have always assumed that it is up to the people living in Ukraine to decide what sort of structure their country should adopt. Turns out I was wrong. PACE, as we have found out, is the body that dictates Ukraine’s make up. Regular Ukrainians asking for federalization you say? No matter. PACE forbids all talk of federalization. So enough circus, Ukrainians, go home and let PACE Parliamentarians pick and choose responsibilities of your leaders, write the laws on your behalf dictating what happens with your taxes, whether or not you choose your own mayors and governors, what holidays you celebrate and what language you speak. This is what genuine democracy looks like, didn’t you know?
The report of the Advisory Committee… following its visit to Ukraine on 21-26 March 2014, points out that persons belonging to the Crimean Tatar Turks are exposed to particular risk in Crimea. There is a growing fear and uncertainty among Crimean Tatars.
Making a judgment on the risks faced by Crimean Tatars requires that you have an opportunity to travel to Crimea. The Advisory Committee instead spoke with Tatar representatives in Odessa and Kyiv (as evidenced in Appendix 2 of the in-depth report). It is not clarified whether those representatives previously resided in Crimea and thus speak from personal experience, how recent that experience was, or whether they voiced something they overheard. The claim has no factual backing, but the steps already taken by the Russian Federation point to positive tendencies, which Crimean Tatars could never hope for under Ukrainian legislation – Crimean Tatar language has recently become one of 3 official languages on the peninsula, and the ethnic minority is very likely to qualify for rehabilitation under the Law on the Rehabilitation of the Peoples that Suffered from Political Reprisals. Compare this with Verkhovna Rada once again refusing to grant Crimean Tatars the status of indigenous population of Ukraine.
I agree there is reason for concern. Only the Assembly misplaces theirs.
There was no ultra-right wing takeover of the central government in Kyiv, nor was there any imminent threat to the rights of the ethnic Russian minority in the country.
One of the brawl videos embedded above shows two Svoboda members pushing the mic away from the speaker and wrestling him off the stage. Incidentally, the MP was voicing his concern over the rise of nationalists in Verkhovna Rada and questioning whose interests they defend. Another video, also widely publicized, shows a right-wing Svoboda party member beat up the head of a TV station to force him to resign. In spite of the attention the latter video has drawn, the PM in question continues to return to Verkhovna Rada and partakes in most of the beatings that take place there. But no. There was no right-wing take over, as far as Euro-Parliamentarians can see. Right Sector, I bet, wouldn’t be too pleased with Europeans diminishing their revolutionary input, so to speak. After all, this is what they believe:
Ukraine’s February revolution, said Mr. Koval (the head of the Rivne branch of Right Sector), would never have happened without Right Sector and other militant groups.
Recent developments in Ukraine, and I am mainly referring to uprisings in Donetsk region and the interim government’s willingness to use the Army against protesters, may just produce evidence of that threat to ethnic Russian minority, compelling enough even for the Assembly to acknowledge. I am simply going to list for you a handful of links. See for yourself and then answer me this: if you were an ethnic Russian in Ukraine, how concerned would you be about your rights?
- High schoolers: “One language! One nation! One fatherland! This is Ukraine! Hang Russians on the branch! Who doesn’t jump is Russian!”
- Right Sector (OUN) march in Kyiv: “Stab the Russian Scum!”
- Presidential candidate Lyashko kidnaps pro-Russian activist in Lugansk and ‘questions’ him.
- A gang of Ukrainian ‘patriots’ attacks a boy for wearing St. George’s ribbon.
So, how about it?
The so-called referendum that was organized in Crimea on 16 March 2014 was unconstitutional both under the Crimean and Ukrainian Constitutions.
This statement is, without a doubt, fact! Yes, the referendum in Crimea violated both Crimean and Ukrainian Constitution. But so did the military overthrow of a democratically elected President. Remember, Euro-Parliamentarians, consistency is key. If you accept the illegal impeachment of Yanukovich, rejecting an equally illegal referendum in Crimea is, at the very least, hypocritical. Europeans appealed to Venice Commission to evaluate whether the referendum in Crimea followed the letter of Ukrainian law. The Venice Commission investigated and confirmed it did not. Before the very first “polite people in green” appeared in Crimea, Russia formally submitted a similar request to the Venice Commission to evaluate whether the change of power in Kyiv followed the letter of Ukrainian law. That request was blocked…
Robert Shlegel, one of Russian delegates in PACE, prepared the following speech to deliver on April 10, when the Assembly was set to discuss Russia’s possible suspension of rights and expulsion. The speech was never made because Russian delegation decided to boycott the session in light of the inappropriate discussion that took place the previous day.
He wanted the speech to be heard, if only by very few who can still hear:
Distinguished Colleagues, Madame Chairman,
When studying history, we ask ourselves why one event or the other had to happen? How did one war or the other come about? Why couldn’t they stop, negotiate, settle the score without victims?
Today we have a unique opportunity to explore the chemistry of such a process in practice. Subjunctive mood cannot be applied to history, but the reality, which we inhabit, is a substance that’s rather more flexible.
We can observe how the most democratic organization of the modern world has gathered to decide how best to isolate one of its parts.
We see that the Assembly doesn’t want to hear any arguments. We see how pure lies are being treated as though they are truth just because it satisfies political ambitions of certain countries. How common sense is being sacrificed to a preconceived scenario.
Is the Assembly going to resolve any of its issues this way? Is the number of human rights violations going to decrease? Or perhaps this will promote freedom of speech? Maybe the situation in Ukraine will stabilize?
No. These actions will prompt escalation and sever the thin thread of dialogue that still connects us.
Yesterday, when we adopted probably the most deceitful Resolution in the history of the Assembly, this thread got overstrained. Today, as far as I can tell, it is going to rip. Do all of you, Distinguished Colleagues, genuinely understand what comes next? Are you ready to share in the responsibility for everything that might transpire in the future?
I am positive that you are not.
Just like you weren’t ready to share in the responsibility for Yugoslavia, or for your countries’ participation in Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Just like you aren’t ready to share in the burden of “Arab Spring”, which has become an utter nightmare with hundreds of thousands of victims and millions of refuges. Just like you are not prepared to demand with equal fervor an investigation into and punishment for those who organized the surveillance of millions of people all over the world, which is easily the most massive violation of human rights in newest history.
Or do you live by Orwell: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”?
You are speaking of imperial ambitions. But perhaps they are cherished by those, who endlessly move NATO to the East? Who surrounded Russia with military bases on all sides? Who destroys country after country, sowing chaos and destruction worldwide? Maybe those who, for the sake of their political and economic dominance, rudely interfere into sovereign affairs of other states and destroy the institutes, which took decades of challenges and compromises to create, cherish imperial ambitions?
There was a coup d’état in Ukraine. It was inspired from without, and unfolded in accordance with a scenario tried and tested in many countries. Behind these events are the very people who try to condemn Russia and pour more gasoline into the flames.
Everything that happens now is a cover operation, which aims to hide the shortsighted and sometimes simply stupid and criminal decisions of the US administration, as well as a number of members of Council of Europe.
You know, interestingly enough, all throughout this session, leaders of the British coalition have been blackmailing the Russian team – offering to soften the rhetoric against us if we withdraw from European Democrat Group. I don’t think these people genuinely concern themselves with the fate of Ukrainians.
Russia is a country born from within the fire of hardships. Throughout our history, it was overcoming those hardships that made us what we are today – multinational, multicultural, big and strong. And there are no challenges that Russia cannot overcome and become even stronger still.
I call on you to not give in to your emotions. Do not be lead. Do not give into the hysteria. I call for dialogue, so that we can really understand the situation. Because the price of the decision you are about to make may turn out to be higher than ever before.
Featured image borrowed from BBC.