The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has said that the Kremlin should initiate a cease-fire in Ukraine because Russia has “blatantly violated international law,” even though Russian President Vladimir Putin has now “burnt so many bridges” he is now “very dangerous.”
Dutchman Tiny Kox, who was elected to lead PACE in January, said Moscow’s invasion triggered sanctions that “for the first time…really do hurt” the Russian elite but that “more important…at this stage [is] that Russia loses its friends.”
Rebuilding international trust with Moscow will take “years and years” of hard work, Kox told RFE/RL’s Georgian Service in an extended interview, and he can’t envisage it happening under Putin’s leadership.
“I don’t see it. I don’t see that because he has burnt so many bridges already,” Kox said. “For him, there’s no way out, but that also makes him very dangerous.”
Russia formally quit the Council of Europe — which has promoted human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Europe since 1949 — in March ahead of its imminent expulsion after Putin launched the all-out invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Kox warned of Russia’s corrosive, piecemeal approach to international institutions like the Council of Europe and cited Moscow’s actions in Georgia, where its troops are supporting separatist leaders in breakaway regions, as a “prime example” of its disdain for international law.
“There’s no way out for Russia, even if Russia withdraws from Ukraine, whether it is capable of that,” Kox said. “We have seen that when Russia enters, it doesn’t leave.”
Kox contrasted the Ukraine war with the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, saying Russia capitalized on a “mistake” by then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Saakashvili, he said, “gave Russia an argument” when he sent in troops after vowing not to use violence to rein in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Moreover, Kox said, the international community didn’t respond to Moscow’s actions in Georgia by saying, “Russia has to be excluded from everything.”
Regarding Ukraine, Kox said that the Russian side must initiate a cease-fire. “It should be the Kremlin,” he said, “because the authorities from the Russian Federation blatantly violated international law, so they should step back.”
He cited the difficulty of predicting Russian actions, in part because of the dynamics between the Kremlin and the country’s political and economic elite.
“We have a problem that in such a big country, we have such small circles of interest,” Kox said. “I’m not a believer of the idea that there is only one man who decides everything in Russia. It’s clear that the president decides a lot and people are very much afraid of him, but there are more people with interests in Russia. And Russia is not a democracy, not a rule-of-law country; it’s a country where the rule of power is very important, [and] the rule of money.”
He suggested that the severity of unprecedented financial and other international sanctions could affect decision-making in Moscow and eventually bring about “a moment that changes things.”
“I think, for the first time ever, we are talking about sanctions that really do hurt,” Kox said.
Years of lesser sanctions didn’t appear to dent the fortunes of oligarchs, and revenues from Russian gas helped such Russians build “that filthy rich kingdom.”
“The sanctions, they are far more powerful now, but we could do far more still,” he said.
However, Putin and Russia’s oligarchs “are committed to each other,” he added. “They could stay committed to each other for months or years,” Kox said. “So more important at this stage is that Russia loses its friends. If Venezuela, Nicaragua, Eritrea, and the great man in North Korea are the company you keep, and the other big powers abstain from voting but do not say, ‘We support the Russian president,’ that must be disappointing for [Putin].”
International reprisals to curb Russian gas supplies have proven prickly, with many EU members heavily reliant on them and caught off guard despite years of warnings.
“It’s a problem to decide whether to keep that gas supply open and stop Russia getting our euros, or to cut it off and freeze this winter,” Kox said. “The answer is yes, sometimes you should freeze. Just compare that suffering with the suffering of the Ukrainian people now.”
Russia had been a member of the Council of Europe since joining in 1996 after the breakup of the Soviet Union, although for years it clashed with the council or ignored its findings.
Kox defended the council’s record and its actions with respect to Russia.
“This is an intergovernmental organization; the decisions are taken by governments,” he said.
Russia and its representatives, he said, “used and misused” their pariah status to cut off funding and ignore Council of Europe decisions, likening it to a customer at a buffet table.
“The Council of Europe is not a cafeteria,” Kox said. “You should question more why did we bring Russia in 26 years ago? They were for 26 years a full-fledged member of the Council of Europe.”
He also stressed that “there is never a country that is isolated forever.”
“There will be a moment [for rapprochement],” Kox said. “But it’s not like you can say, ‘Let’s wait a year or two.'”
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.