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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rights Still Stickler as Russia Joins CE

STRASBOURG, France -- Russia will become the 39th member of the Council of Europe on Wednesday in a symbolic sign of the end of the Cold War, despite unease about Moscow's human rights record.

Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov will take part in the ceremony to mark Russia's accessiondto the council, set up in 1949 to promote democracy and human rights in West Europe against the then-communist East.

The red, white and blue Russian flag will be hoisted alongside others ranging from founding members such as France and Britain to Ukraine and Macedonia, the newest recruits. Russia will be the 15th former communist state to join.

Primakov will sign the European Convention of Human Rights, a convention to outlaw torture, a charter on local self-government and a convention to protect minorities in the ceremony at council headquarters in this city in eastern France.

The accession agreement also calls for Russia to abolish the death penalty within three years and, in theory, impose an immediate moratorium on executions. However, Primakov will not sign any undertaking to do so and some government officials have voiced opposition to such a move.

Russian membership, a sign of Western Europe's acceptance of Russia after the Cold War, could boost President Boris Yeltsin's bid for re-election in June -- he is trailing Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov in opinion polls -- but it could also rankle nationalists.

Russia's 1992 bid for membership was delayed last year and almost derailed by Moscow's military crackdown against the breakaway region of Chechnya.

After a heated debate on Moscow's human rights record, the council's parliamentary assembly voted 164-35 to admit Russia last month, deciding it was better to cooperate with Moscow than isolate it.

The assembly criticized shortcomings in Russia's legal system and said "apparent indiscriminate use of force" against Chechen hostage takers in January "cost the lives of many innocent people and violated international humanitarian law."

The continent's oldest and broadest political organization, the council has few teeth to sanction states which flout commitments.

It can in theory suspend membership as a final sanction -- a punishment imposed in the late 1960s when Greece was forced out after an army coup. Many existing members have dragged their feet on living up to promises of full respect for human rights.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the council's main job has been to act as a political anchor and human rights watchdog for Europe's post-communist democracies and help them with political and constitutional reform.

?Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov met British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind in Strasbourg for the first time Tuesday to discuss issues ranging from the European Union to NATO.

"We will be developing a personal relationship but there are also a lot of subjects of common interest," Rifkind told reporters before the dinner, at the home of the British representative at the Council.