Russian Duma Speaker to Boycott PACE

The speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, refused to speak before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) because of “Russophobes” waiting to pan Russia’s political system.

“The closer we got to the opening of the PACE session, the more we felt that my strategic proposals were unlikely to receive a fair hearing from the assembly, from a host of leaders and Russo-phobic delegations,” Naryshkin told journalists in Moscow on Thursday.

Naryshkin, who was to lead the Russian delegation to the PACE session, had planned to discuss major issues in the development of parliamentarianism in Europe in his speech next Monday.

“[But] there is more interest in other things. I believe it is possible I could address the session when the circumstances are appropriate,” Naryshkin said.

The entire Russian squad of 36 parliamentarians may opt to snub the PACE session, State Duma deputy Robert Shlegel said on his Twitter on Thursday, echoing earlier unofficial reports.

But the claim was rejected later the same day by his senior colleague, Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Duma’s international affairs committee, who will be replacing Naryshkin as the delegation’s head.

Naryshkin’s demarche was due to a new resolution on Russia that is in the works at PACE, Pushkov said.

The assembly is scheduled to examine on Tuesday a new report on Russia’s honoring of its PACE commitments – the first such study since 2005 – and to pass a resolution on it.

The draft resolution, prepared by rapporteurs Andreas Gross and Gyorgy Frunda, proposes to tighten monitoring over how Russia is working to meet its commitments to the Council of Europe.

The monitoring job may be handled over from PACE to the Council of the European Union, the upper house of EU’s legislature, comprised of national ministers of the 27 member states.

The increase of monitoring level would be unprecedented, Pushkov told journalists.

While noting some positive developments, the draft resolution contains extensive criticism of Russia’s judiciary, legislative and electoral systems.

Alleged shortcomings include the harsh sentences handed down to the all-female punk collective Pussy Riot, the slow pace of reform of the judicial system and police crackdowns on peaceful street rallies.

The document also calls for Russia to back on its recognition of breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, pull out its military contingent from the self-proclaimed republic of Transdnestr and abolish death penalty, currently under a moratorium.

Many of the proposals are “unacceptable,” said Pushkov, a former host of a conservative political TV show.

The Kremlin-controlled Russian legislature has passed in recent months a number of bills that the opposition claims were aimed at tightening political screws, instilling censorship and curbing public protest, resurgent after parliamentary elections in December.

Several protest leaders had their houses searched, and Gennady Gudkov, a legislator who actively supported the protests, was stripped of parliamentary immunity this month over allegations of illegally running a business, a move he said was politically motivated.

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