Mikhail Margelov, a prominent Russian politician not known for diplomatic stability or friendliness towards Estonia, may become the new president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the continent’s primary monitor of democracy and human rights. (The Strasbourg-based Council is not to be mistaken for the European Parliament.)
In April 2007, during the relocation of a Soviet-era statue in Tallinn, Margelov called for severing diplomatic ties with Estonia – a position he reversed two days later saying relations would eventually have to be restored because of Estonia’s NATO and European Union membership. Since November 2001 senator Margelov has been the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Council of Federation, Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation (upper house), a position usually bestowed with sober forethought.
Margelov didn’t back down from other reprisals, urging a boycott in Russia of imports from Estonia and an imposition of economic sanctions. For a politician who has been a major player in the shaping of Moscow’s foreign policy, these reactions betray the typical shoot-from-the-hip stance the Kremlin affects towards countries it formally occupied, who have succeeded in spite of Russian antagonism.
One might rightfully ask why Margelov, a Kremlin-friendly politician, a leading member of the party of power, United Russia, who has ostensibly approved the suppression of opposition politicians and independent media, whose political agenda reflects a morbid animosity for former Soviet-occupied countries, can, for the next three years, lead the inter-parliamentary body mandated with investigating human-rights violations and shortcomings in democratic progress. United Russia seems determined to steer the country towards a one party state.
Retiring PACE president, René van der Linden, sharply critical of Estonia’s “treatment” of their Russian minority, has been making arrangements for this bizarre eventuality. Ironically, the British Tories are partially to blame.
PACE’s rules have set the stage for Margelov’s takeover. Political caucuses rotate in holding PACE’s presidency at three-year intervals. The 2005-2007 van der Linden presidency was on behalf of the European People’s Party, an alliance of mainly Christian-Democratic parties.
Margelov has managed to become chairman of the European Democrat’s Group (EDG), a conservative grouping initiated by British Tories at PACE. The Tories with a few others invited the Russian delegation to join the EDG to increase their numerical clout relative to other caucuses. The Russians duly designated 27 members to join, thus becoming the dominant force in a caucus of 91. The Tories themselves only have 11 members.
Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation saw this development as the “political designs of some individuals, partly from sheer bureaucratic momentum, and partly from Russian heavy-handed tactics, abetted passively by some West Europeans in the Strasbourg assembly”. To some, it’s like inviting a con artist to lecture on morals and ethics because procedurally it’s the correct thing to do.
As a final insult to PACE’s raison d’être Margelov stated that Russia’s presidential administration and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have sanctioned his candidacy to PACE’s presidency. This admission demonstrates the absence of the separation of powers in Russia and by itself should disqualify his candidacy.
Putin loyalist to head Europe’s human rights and democracy watchdog