As we have gathered for this anniversary meeting to celebrate 70 years of this Council, I wish to extend our sincere gratitude to all those who have fought devotedly and uncompromisingly for human rights, the rule of law and social cohesion in Europe, for the principles enshrined in the Council of Europe’s Statute.
We pay particular tribute to those whose struggle has changed the Old Continent for good: to ordinary Europeans, the peoples of the Central and Eastern Europe, who attained independence and freedom, and made the evil empire fall. Who woke up the Council from hibernation in the late 80s.
It is ordinary people in the streets of Kyiv, Riga, Tallinn, Tbilisi, Vilnius and - before that - Gdansk, Prague and Bucharest, who won that freedom.
And not the USSR who let them become free, as Mr Gorbachev insisted in his Strasbourg speech in October 2009, on the occasion of the Council’s 60th Anniversary.
One year after the Kremlin’s aggression against Georgia, he lamented in Strasbourg that Russia was suspected of ill intentions, aggressive and imperial designs Time has shown – that’s exactly the case.
Today, we also honour those who - throughout the challenging 90s - extended their earnest assistance and support to newly free nations so that they fully benefit from the unique acquis of the Council of Europe. This helping hand greatly facilitated their integration into NATO and the European Union.
That same European Union that looks to the Council of Europe for human rights standards.
There are some who insist that we should accept a new reality in Europe. But we will never accept a reality where Russia is trampling upon each and every obligation and commitment, upon the rule of law as such.
The new reality lies in the need to find a way to restore the rules based order in Europe.
Regretfully, what we see today is the result of a steady process of renouncing the Council of Europe’s established standards for the sake of immediate political considerations.
Right in the middle of a brutal war in Chechnya, Russia was invited to join the Council of Europe.
Russia was quickly forgiven for tens of thousands dead – its own citizens – and whole cities and towns bombed to the ground.
Back then, Kremlin essentially received a carte blanche for its criminal policies as an attachment to the invitation to join the Council of Europe.
And today, why does it still come as a surprise that there is no proper reaction to 13 thousand killed and 1.5 million displaced Ukrainians?
And yet I call on Ukrainians, Georgians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians and other freedom-loving Europeans not to get disappointed with the current political trends in the Council of Europe.
Our Council is not about European politicians and politics. What may seem politically expedient today will be washed away from the shores of Europe tomorrow.
Nor is it necessarily about political declarations that we so often adopt on various occasions.
Or about gratifying rhetoric on values or apt quotations from founding fathers or philosophers of the past.
The Council of Europe is about values ingrained in the unique body of conventions and documents. Not the party manifestos. They are the spirit and letter, ratified by national parliaments, thus part of national legal systems.
Ordinary Europeans - Ukrainians, Georgians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians – are standing on a solid moral ground. After their struggle for freedom, independence and democracy nobody in Europe has a right to vainly moralize or lecture them.
Ukraine remains committed to the norms and standards that lie at the heart of the Council of Europe. And we expect the same from those who currently do not.
From now on, we will approach our participation in the Council of Europe in a pragmatic and no-nonsense manner. We will continue to do our job in addressing the challenges. And we will continue to disagree with the moves that have nothing to do with human rights protection, but only serve the political interests under the disguise of “human rights protection”.
We take note of the priorities of the incoming French Chairmanship, which embrace many important issues. We stand ready to support the efforts aimed at achieving real progress in promoting human rights standards.
In Strasbourg and in Helsinki Ukraine mindfully votes against the decision designed to waive all responsibilities and duties of the Russian Federation as a member of this Organization. Because we believe that this decision does not serve the goal of addressing the current crisis in the Council. On the contrary, it shakes the very foundations of the Council.
Since January 2016, when all sanctions against the Russian Federation at the PACE expired, Russia by its own choice until today has been refusing to return to the Assembly. All these years Russia has been financially blackmailing the Organization.
It appears to be an effective tactics, as some may interpret today’s decision in Moscow.
Yet, although the sanctions expired, nobody can remove legal standards and obligations and the decisions on Russia’s need to comply with the demands of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly.
Now the Deputies shall design a complementary mechanism “without prejudice to other existing procedures, including the activities of the Parliamentary Assembly and conventional control bodies”, as stated in 1994 Declaration on compliance with commitments.
Ukraine will insist that this is the only rightful way to implement the decision, as 1994 Declaration remains valid, as does the European Convention of Human Rights.
And like the European Convention it is among building blocks of democracy.
And democracy, as Secretary General said yesterday, “is not a rule of majority, but the rule of majority within certain rules”.
I hope that in 12 months when we meet at the next ministerial in Georgia we will be able to truly celebrate the triumph of democracy and values, laid in the foundations of the Council of Europe.