Poland agrees to restore Russia to full rights in the Council of Europe

Poland was not among the few countries which voted against lifting the suspension on Russia’s membership of the Council of Europe. Only the UK, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Georgia were against lifting the suspension that was enforced after the occupation of Crimea.

Poland, along with Germany, argues that keeping Russia in the Council of Europe enables individual Russians to bring cases before the European Court of Human Rights. But it is also a useful diplomatic channel for dialogue with Russia which Poland is trying to use to tackle issues such as the dispute over bringing home the wreckage of the plane that crashed with the Polish President on Board in 2010 in Smolensk, Russia, killing all 96 people on board.

Slight thaw in relations

The Polish and Russian Foreign Affairs met in Helsinki recently. Polish prosecutors have been allowed to visit the crash site in Smolensk. Russia is interested in talking about Poland continuing to maintain the graves of fallen Red Army soldiers in WWII. There is even talk about Russian high-level participation in certain WWII event commemorations in Poland in the coming months. However, there is no sign yet of any chance of bringing back visa-free travel between Kaliningrad and neighbouring Polish regions.

The result of the European elections may have given the Russians some food for thought. Since the ruling party looks likely to get a second term in Poland, an enhanced US military presence is almost agreed and Germany is looking to work with the Three Seas initiative any chance of isolating Poland is now for the birds. Russian diplomacy understands “realpolitik” better than most.

The current Ukrainian government clearly is displeased by the Council of Europe’s decision. Its Foreign Minister boycotted a CoE meeting at the news that Russia was to continue to be a member of the body. However, Poland is more concerned to establish good relations with the new Ukrainian President rather than with the outgoing government and the new Ukrainian head of state is interested in opening up channels of communication with Russia itself.