The recent decision by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – PACE – to return the Russian delegation to full parliamentary assembly activities sparked an extremely negative reaction from the majority of Ukraine’s pro-Western population and its political circles – both of which have held sway over the direction of the country since the Euromaidan Revolution of 2014.
Pro-European Ukrainian politicians are very critical about the return of the Russian delegation to the PACE, though they understand the financial, institutional, and political reasons for the decision. This reaction can be easily understood when seen through the lens of the last five years, which saw Ukraine’s pro-Western and anti-Russian position coalesce around a new foreign and, to a greater extent, domestic policies that have come to characterise Ukraine’s post-Maidan re-orientation towards allying itself with Europe and NATO.
This consolidation helped to promote European values among Ukraine’s citizens, build support for government reforms that helped highlight the economic situation and living standards of most of the Ukrainian population. The exclusion of the Russian delegation from PACE, which was done for many political reasons but primarily for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, was a perfect example of joint political support of Kyiv from the major EU countries and their institutions. European support became an ideal that united many Ukrainians, which justified all the temporary difficulties and losses and provided the nation with the expectations of a bright future.
This ultimate goal suffered a severe blow when PACE made their decision. Some Ukrainians may put too much weight behind the decision, but the move was a vivid demonstration by Europe’s leading politicians that they will first take into consideration their own priorities while implementing both a pragmatic approach and protectionist measures, even in regards to Russian, when it comes to domestic interests.
Despite the fact that the majority of Ukrainian politicians remain pro-European, infinite levels of patience and understanding cannot be expected from the rest of the population as they are the ones who are growingly increasingly exhausted by the many costly pro-EU reforms that are going on in the country. Undoubtedly, now that the PACE decision has become a reality and is clearly being perceived both in Ukraine and in the West as a clear Russian diplomatic victory over the EU, this will add to further speculation in Kyiv that the Kremlin’s influence inside the European institutions is not only a fact but is in fact on the rise across the whole of the bloc.
The likely fallout from this will be a certain hesitation from Ukraine when it comes to deepening its ties with Brussels. It will take time for Ukraine to rethink and reevaluate its stance towards joint political or security efforts with the EU when it comes to general foreign policy.
Moreover, this may force Ukrainians to come to the realisation that PACE made its decision based on the fact that, despite Kyiv’s inability to fully comprehend the possibility, that the Russian Federation is, at this particular juncture, more valuable than Ukraine because of its global status and its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as well as one of the guarantors of most key international agreements.
That false premise is held by many in the world because they view Russia as a guarantor of international law. This couldn’t be further from the truth after the Kremlin launched its war against Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea. Russia clearly recognises its place on the global stage and has demonstrated that it has every intention of flaunting this status by violating many of the international accords that Moscow, itself, signed – including the UN Law of the Sea convention.
According to a decision by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) Russia must immediately release the three Ukrainian military vessels that were captured in international waters last November off of the Kerch Strait, as well as the 24 sailors that the Russian Navy took prisoner. These actions by Russia’s border authorities were formally acknowledged as a gross violation of international law when it comes to sea traffic in international waters.
Nevertheless, Moscow continues to thumb its nose at the international community while also indulging in a massive disinformation campaign aimed at trying to persuade the world community that the ITLOS verdicts do not apply to Russia – the same argument used when Russia was trying to explain its decision to postpone the release of 30 Dutch sailors and the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise in 2013.
In 2015, Russia’s Constitutional Court rules in favour of the supremacy of Russian domestic law over international legislation. Since then, Russia has carried naval force exercises in the Mediterranean, Baltic, North, and Philippine seas – all of which are meant to show Russia expanded naval capacities that have preceded destabilising political moves that have already been seen in Georgia and Ukraine, Syria and Venezuela.
Under these circumstances, the full and unconventional return of Russia to PACE marks another political victory for Moscow and will prompt its further expansion. It means that no compromise over Crimea and the Kerch Strait will be possible for Ukraine unless it gains the real unwavering support from the EU that the bloc has been promoting for over five years.
Ukraine needs support from Europe if it ever hopes to help guarantee the international status of the Kerch Strait and reestablishing its 12-mile territorial zone according to the provisions of Verbal Note #663, which was presented to UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali on 11 November 1992. Simultaneously, Ukraine will be able to establish its 24-mile maritime zone and exclusive economic zone, which provides open sea status for the area beyond Ukraine’s territorial waters in the Black Sea and the Kerch Strait – all of which will be used for unlimited international navigation.