Voting in Strasbourg: the Georgians are licked but refuse to admit defeat.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted against deprivation of the Russian delegation of its voting rights. Unabashed, the Georgians promised to suggests sanctions against Russia again unless it complied with Parliamentary Assembly demands by January, 2010. Most parliamentarians meanwhile admitted that the war between Russia and Georgia last year raised a question of the very necessity of the Council of Europe.

Seventy-two parliamentarians signed the Georgian petition to strip the Russian delegation of its rights and powers. They emphasized that Russia had been systematically defying the requirements formulated by Parliamentary Assembly resolutions and refusing to cooperate with the Council of Europe in matters of monitoring. The resolutions referred to suggested a plan of dealing with consequences of the last year conflict. The draft resolution suggested for this session pointed out that a shooting war between two Council of Europe members was a gross violation of the organization’s charter. The document recognized that unlike Russia, Georgia had complied with most demands.

The Parliamentary Assembly Monitoring Committee and Rapporteur Andreas Gross (Switzerland) nevertheless recommended confirmation of the Russian delegation’s status despite the failure to meet the demands. To quote Gross, “It will offer the Russian authorities an opportunity to join a constructive dialogue and address all of the matters mentioned in Parliamentary Assembly resolutions dealing with consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia.”

Russia’s adversaries did their best to kill this thesis. “Our year-long dialogue with Russia has resulted in nothing worthwhile. The Russian delegation should be stripped of its voting rights,” Goran Lindblad of Sweden announced.

Moderate approach carried the day, though. “We discuss serious matters here (economic crisis, ecology, and so on) and matters such as these cannot be handled without non-democratic countries,” Bjorn Von Sidow of Sweden said. “We criticize Putin’s regime for the refusal to abide by Parliamentary Assembly resolutions. Being a pessimist, I believe that this regime will last years yet. All the same, I object to the suggested deprivation of the Russian delegation of its rights. We are supposed to be addressing problems here as opposed to dodging them.”

The Russian delegation took no part in the discourse. Six amendments to the resolution out of sixteen stipulated sanctions against Russia. The hardest of them all, Amendment No 13 suggested deprivation of the Russian delegation of its rights pending withdrawal of the Russian troops to pre-war positions, permission to EU and OSCE observers and foreign humanitarian organizations to visit Abkhazia and South Ossetia, reversal of the decision to recognize them as sovereign state, permission to ethnic Georgians to return to their homes in South Ossetia abandoned in 2008, and investigation of ethnic purges in South Ossetia. The Parliamentary Assembly turned down all these amendments. The resolution confirming status of the Russian delegation was adopted by 88 votes against 35.

“What we’ve witnessed here is failure of the Georgians’ efforts to transform the Parliamentary Assembly into another battlefield,” Konstantin Kosachev of the Russian delegation said. “It was not the Russian delegation that prevailed, it was common sense and responsible approach.” Kosachev made a special point that the parliamentarians who had voted against sanctions vastly outnumbered those who insisted on them.

Georgy Targamadze of the Georgian delegation attributed Russia’s triumph to what he called the “procedural war” the Russians had allegedly been involved in ever since the beginning of the session. By and large, the Georgians are convinced that at least 40% of the Parliamentary Assembly stand for sanctions against Russia.

“Stripping the Russian delegation of its rights and powers is not an aim in itself,” Targamadze explained. “So far as we perceive it, it all comes down to… promotion of fundamental values of the European Convention. We will bring up the matter of Russia’s compliance with the demands at other sessions. Unless parliamentarians display political will, trust in the Council of Europe will be seriously undermined. Trust in the meantime is the only weapon of this organization.”