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Europe's Top Rights Forum To Debate Russian-Georgian Conflict

PACE is split over Russia
PACE is split over Russia
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is meeting this week to decide whether to impose sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Georgia last month.

A showdown is likely to take place on October 2, when PACE will vote on whether to impose sanctions and if so, of what nature and for how long.

The debates leading up to the vote are likely to be heated, as PACE is one of the few venues where Russian and Georgian deputies meet face to face.

The pressure on Russia mostly emanates from Eastern European delegations -- including the Baltic states. Caught between the two camps, the heads of the two largest factions, the conservatives and socialists, mostly hailing from Western Europe, are trying to negotiate a compromise.

Russian Demands

Conversely, Russia and its backers are demanding punitive measures against Georgia.

Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of the Russian delegation, said over the weekend that Moscow could withdraw from PACE altogether if the body took action against its deputies.

The Council of Europe -- not to be confused with any EU institution -- is the preeminent rights forum in Europe, whose decisions are nonbinding but whose voice carries authority.

In 2000 it became the only international organization to impose punitive measures on Moscow for the war in Chechnya, depriving Russian deputies of their voting rights at a few PACE sittings.

This time, Russia appears determined to spare itself a similar humiliation.

The conundrum PACE is facing is essentially the same confronted by the EU and NATO -- how to tell Russia it must respect international rules without pushing it into isolation.

If PACE was hoping for guidance from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose observers were on the ground as the war broke out, its hopes have been dashed.

Speaking to the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on October 29, the OSCE chairman in office, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, said both Russia and Georgia "may have broken" the organization's rules.

Call For New 'Security Architecture'

Historically, the Council of Europe has been given to a strict interpretation of international rules. Russia was one of the last former Soviet republics to be admitted to the organization in 1996.

Moscow, for its part, does not appear overly worried about its fate at the hands of the Council of Europe. Throughout the conflict with Georgia, Russian authorities refused to receive the organization's current chairman, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 27, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a new "security architecture" for Europe. The call echoes comments made to the same effect by President Dmitry Medvedev in Germany on June 6.

Russian leaders have been critical of what they describe as the West's attempts to impose its values on the rest of the world, and argue that new pan-European institutions are needed to deal with practical political, security, and economic issues in a manner that would be free of current bloc alignments.

Crisis In Georgia

Crisis In Georgia
For RFE/RL's full coverage of the conflict that began in Georgia's breakway region of South Ossetia, click here.