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Employees of the Council of Europe remove the Russian flag from the Council of Europe building. Jean-Francois Badias/PA

Russia exits Council of Europe over Ukraine invasion

The flag of Russia was lowered and removed from its staff outside the Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg.

RUSSIA HAS CEASED to be a member of the Council of Europe after over a quarter of a century of membership in the pan-European rights body, the council said in a statement.

Moscow announced on Tuesday that it was quitting the council, ahead of the formal decision taken Wednesday by the body’s committee of ministers to expel Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

In a hugely symbolic moment, the flag of Russia was lowered and removed from its staff outside the Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg, eastern France, at around 2.30pm GMT.

The flags of the 46 remaining member states were kept flying.

The committee of ministers, the body’s main decision-making organ, decided “the Russian Federation ceases to be a member of the Council of Europe as from today, after 26 years of membership”.

The European Court of Human Rights, the council’s judicial arm, later said it was putting on hold all petitions against Moscow after the resolution to end its membership.

“The court has decided to suspend the examination of all applications against the Russian federation pending its consideration of the legal consequences of this resolution for the work of the court,” it said in a statement.

Of 70,000 cases pending before the court in the French city of Strasbourg, 24% had been filed by Russians, according to figures it released in January.

Just over 20% were filed by Turkish citizens, 16% by Ukrainians, and 8% by Romanians, they showed.

Russia joined the Council of Europe on 28 February 1996.

On Tuesday, the council’s Parliamentary Assembly had agreed that Moscow could no longer be a member of the body, hours after Russia announced it would pull out.

france-russia-ukraine-war-eu The pole which had the Russian flag is left empty outside the Council of Europe building. Jean-Francois Badias / PA Jean-Francois Badias / PA / PA

The Russian foreign ministry said it had “no regret” about leaving and claimed that EU and Nato member states had turned the organisation into an “instrument for anti-Russian policies”.

The so-called “Ruxit” from the Council of Europe means that Russia will no longer be a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, and its citizens will no longer be able to file applications to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The leaders of the Council of Europe, including Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric, said in a statement that Russian authorities were depriving “the Russian people of the benefit of the most advanced human rights protection system in the world”.

It is only the second time in the history of the council that a member state has announced its exit, after Greece walked out temporarily in the late 1960s.

Russia was suspended from all its rights of representation a day after tens of thousands of troops entered Ukraine on 24 February.

Not using the death penalty is a precondition of COE membership, and former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy national security council chief, had evoked bringing back capital punishment if Russia left the body.

© AFP 2022

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