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PACE head Van der Linden (center) on May 29 with Russia's Sergei Lavrov (left) and Boris Gryzlov (epa) PRAGUE, May 29, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- As the new president of the Council of Europe, Russia today hosted a delegation from the body's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). The Russian Foreign Ministry has already indicated it will use its chairmanship to fight what it calls Western "double standards" regarding Russia and other former Soviet republics.

Russia has often complained that the decisions of the Council of Europe, and the affiliated European Court of Human Rights, are politicized.

Today was no exception. Speaking during a meeting of the PACE Standing Committee in Moscow, Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov reiterated those sentiments.

"As parliamentarians we should emphasize the need for the European Court [of Human Rights] to perform exclusively legal functions, as it does in most cases, without getting involved in politics," he said.

Russian 'Backsliding'

In the past, the council and the court have criticized Moscow for alleged rights violations in Chechnya, police abuse, and curtailing the freedoms of minorities and of the media.
"We will try to do everything to ensure that our cooperation develops further and we will use our chairmanship of the [PACE] Committee of Foreign Ministers to achieve that goal." -- Vladimir Putin


Russia's apparent backsliding on human rights has caused many observers to question the country's tenure as the head of the Council of Europe and presidency of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized nations.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also criticized the council, saying he saw a political subtext in the commitments required of Russia. However, speaking to journalists in Moscow today, he said Russia needed more time to fulfill those obligations.

"We are in the process of fulfilling the obligations that Russia assumed when it joined the Council of Europe," he said. "The issue is not about a lack of political will [on Russia's part], but only about time that we need to fulfill the remaining obligations, including the sixth protocol [to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, on the abolition of the death penalty], which [PACE President] Rene van der Linden talked about today."

'An Equal Partner'

Before meeting with President Vladimir Putin in a separate meeting today, Van der Linden said in a statement that Russia's chairmanship gives it the opportunity "to demonstrate that it is a full part of democratic Europe, as an equal partner."

And speaking at the meeting, Putin was more conciliatory than his junior officials, saying that Russia "will try to do everything to ensure that our cooperation develops further and we will use our chairmanship of the [PACE] Committee of Foreign Ministers to achieve that goal."

Russia's chairmanship of the Council of Europe marks the first time it has headed a major Europe-wide organization.

(with AP)
Universal Principles?

President Putin at a Kremlin meeting in April (epa)

PUTIN SPEAKS OUT: During a January press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there is a need for "universal principles" to settle "frozen" conflicts in the CIS. His comments came against the background of impending talks on the future status of Kosovo, which many predict will grant it a form of "conditional independence" from Serbia and Montenegro. As an ally of Serbia, Moscow has consistently opposed the idea of Kosovar independence. Putin's remarks suggest he may be shifting his position, but only if the principles applied to Kosovo are also applied to frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union. If Kosovo can be granted full independence, he asked, why should we deny the same to Abkhazia and South Ossetia? (more)


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