The Council of Europe risks losing importance and authority after it restored Russia's voting right, Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius has said on Friday.
“If the Council of Europe also starts imagining in the future that including all countries is a higher value than the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, something this organization was established to protect in the first place, it can really become an institutional problem in the long-run and undermine this organization's authority and importance,” Linkevičius told BNS.
Lithuania was among a few countries from almost 50 members of the Council of Europe to vote against Russia's rehabilitation.
Moscow had its voting right suspended after it annexed Crimea and got involved in the war in eastern Ukraine.
The Lithuanian foreign minister says the decision to restore voting rights “doesn't reflect the situation very correctly” as neither Russia's actions, nor its rhetoric have changed.
“So we can conclude that the move is really untimely. We, of course, respect the majority decision but, obviously, it was not made by a consensus, which is normal for this organization,” Linkevičius said.
Some of Russia's high-ranking officials earlier threatened that their country would withdraw from the Council of Europe completely. Such a move would mean that the country's ordinary citizens would have lost the possibility to defend their rights at the European Court of Human Rights.
The Friday vote was the first important vote by any European institution softening restrictions and sanctions that were put in place following Russia's annexation of Crimea.
Linkevičius has called on Europe not to return to business as usual with Russia, but believes that the Council of Europe's decision might be a step in that direction.
“We can remember many cases when our initial reaction was principled and then we cooled very soon,” the minister said.
EU sanctions are also in place on Russia over its role in the Ukrainian conflict.