A freshly adopted report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe strongly criticizes Russia, highlighting limitations on free speech, political meddling in the judiciary, and multiple violations of human rights.
The report was the first produced by the Strasbourg-based body to address Russia's obligations and commitments to the Council of Europe since 2005. It recommended that monitoring of the country must continue until the problems are resolved.
The report was passed with an overwhelming majority on October 2. However, it was already causing friction ahead of the vote. Last week, Russian Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin announced he was cancelling a scheduled October 1 address to the Strasbourg plenary session.
During the Parliamentary Assembly debate, one of the report's two co-rapporteurs, Romanian member Gyorgy Frunda, strongly criticized recent laws adopted by Moscow.
"The law on 'foreign agents,' the protest law, the law on the criminalization of defamation, and the federal law on protecting children from information harmful to their health and their development contradict the minimum standards of the rule of law and human rights," Frunda said.
He also noted that harassment of the opposition, the many refusals to authorize peaceful opposition demonstrations, and the heavy-handed tactics of the police against demonstrators "had a negative effect on the state of democracy in Russia."
Frunda referred to the harassment, beating, and assassination of human-rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists.
He told the assembly that the judiciary in Russia still remains subject to political pressure. Frunda mentioned the imprisonment of three members of the feminist performance-art group Pussy Riot for staging a performance mocking President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral.
"The conviction of the members of Pussy Riot is also disproportionate. Even if a church is not a place for artistic performance or political manifestation," Frunda said, "the conviction to two years in prison of the three young ladies with no previous conflict with criminal law is unacceptable, and therefore we demand their immediate release."
Open A Door To Change
Co-rapporteur Andreas Gross of Switzerland said that opposition demonstrations held in Russia earlier this year could open a door to healthy political changes.
"The message of this report is to the authorities that they should take these [opposition] movements as an opportunity to realize the reforms most Russians are in extreme need of," Gross said.
The three main political groups of the Council of Europe -- the center-right EPP, the center-left SOC, and the liberal ALDE -- backed the report.
Two others -- the left-wing UEL and the right-wing EDG -- expressed their displeasure with the recommendation accompanying the resolution, which was subsequently defeated in a vote that required a two-thirds majority.
It was recommended that the resolution be considered at a higher political level by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
Ivan Melnikov, a Russian delegation member in the chamber, also criticized that move.
"Once again," Melnikov said, "we see double standards in Europe's approaches, as well as the predictable and preprogrammed positions of some countries currently ruled by political forces that pursue policies that are openly hostile to Russia."
He argued that such a move would increase tensions between Moscow and the Council of Europe.