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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yes, Russia Fits Council Of Europe

The timing of Russia's admission into the Council of Europe was appalling. It does seem offensive that such a decision should come just days after the military's brutal performance in the Pervomaiskoye hostage crisis. But it was the right decision nonetheless.


Russia is hardly the first country to be admitted to the Council of Europe when its human rights record fell far below the standards that the organization is supposed to embody. Indeed, the whole affair says more about the function of the council than it does about Russia.


Both in the council and in Moscow, the issue of whether or not to admit Russia as the a 39th member has been interpreted not as a judgement on this country's human rights progress, but as an affirmation of the historic project to end Russia's isolation and integrate it into Europe.


For if Russia had at this point been excluded even from the distant waiting hall of Europe -- for that is what the council effectively is -- hopes for, if you will, "socializing" Russia that arose with the end of the Cold War would have been seriously damaged.


As the Austrian socialist Peter Scheider put it after Thursday's decision, which went 5-to-1 in favor of Moscow's admission: "To vote for membership of Russia is to vote for hope in Europe."


Some of this has also been expressed in the vocabulary of human rights. From now on, it was suggested, even if the observance of individual rights in Russia remains below any acceptable level, at least Russian citizens will have recourse to the European Court on Human Rights.


This is true. Russia's membership does offer the council and Russian citizens some small degree of leverage over Moscow and its justice system. That has value, despite the fact that the court's decisions are not legally binding. But it was not the reasoning behind Thursday's vote.


This was an issue of geopolitics, a minimal step that Europe had to take to keep alive the chance to bring Russia into that state of mutual dependence with the rest of the world that is required to assure stability on the continent.


As Vladimir Zhirinovsky said Friday, the council's vote could help President Boris Yeltsin politically. But in truth, it is just as likely to help Gennady Zyuganov, who tried to show that he is already a "socialized" communist by supporting Russia's membership.


It was left to Zhirinovsky to display the ugly, isolationist Russia that the rest of the world so fears. It is this fear that drove the members of the council to put human rights issues aside and invite their massive, unpredictable neighbor to join the European club.