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Council Of Europe Ministers Agree Way For Russia To Rejoin

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Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin stayed away, writing on Facebook that ending sanctions will start the process of "normalizing" everything Russia has done.

Ministers from the Council Of Europe (CoE) have adopted a joint declaration that would allow Russia to return to the continent's main human rights body, following a dispute related to Moscow's 2014 takeover of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Foreign ministers from the council's 47 member states on May 17 voted overwhelmingly to support a compromise pushed through by France and Germany as they met in Helsinki, Finland.

"All member states should be entitled to participate on an equal basis" in the organization, the joint declaration said, adding that its members "would welcome that delegations of all member states be able to take part" in the council's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in June.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin canceled his attendance of the Helsinki meeting at the last minute, expecting the positive vote for Russia.

Moscow welcomed the joint declaration and said it had no desire to leave the CoE.

Ending sanctions will start the process of "normalizing" everything Russia has done, Klimkin wrote in a Facebook post.

Russia's delegation to the CoE has faced sanctions over the annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

One of the measures included stripping the Russian representatives of their voting rights, which in turn prompted them to boycott CoE plenary sessions while Moscow halted its financial contributions.

Russia could be suspended from the body next month for not paying its membership fees.

In Helsinki, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the ministers' declaration "points the way toward the settlement of the current crisis."

"Now the ball is in the court of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe," he said, adding: "We are not refusing to fulfill a single obligation, including financial ones."

However, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius tweeted that Russia was continuing its "aggression" against Ukraine and that European values meant very little if they were not defended.

"It was the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014," Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said. "And that cannot be forgotten."

The Helsinki summit marked the 70th anniversary of the CoE, which was founded in 1949 by Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden as a watchdog of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

The Strasbourg-based body includes the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights

With reporting by Deutsche Welle, AFP, AP, and dpa
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