"Nobody Will Blame Ukraine If Post-War Elections Are Not Perfect." Interview with PACE President

Tuesday, 16 May 2023 — , European Pravda, from Reykjavik
Credit: European Pravda

Tiny Kox is a Dutch politician who has been leading the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for the second year in a row.

He was considered one of the most pro-Russian MPs until 2021 but after Russia's full-scale invasion, he completely changed his rhetoric. He essentially leads the actions of the Parliamentary Assembly in holding Russia accountable for its actions. Moreover, he has Ukrainians on his team. His current position is helping Ukraine.

We spoke before the ongoing Council of Europe summit in Reykjavik. We discussed not only the punishment of Putin, the tribunal, and the mechanism of compensation for the damages caused by Russia's military aggression. Another important topic was the post-war elections in Ukraine.

"To hold elections when many Ukrainians fled the country is doable"

- Mr. President, thank you for agreeing to meet us here, in Reykjavik. First of all, let me ask you a question about the future. The Council of Europe is to prepare mechanisms to fix all damages caused by Russia. You will approve it and what's next?

- What's next? I think that is on the 7th agenda, how to protect, promote and defend democracy not only in Ukraine but in the 46 Member States of the Council of Europe. The challenges are big.

Democracy in Ukraine is under pressure because your neighbour is invading your country and trying to destroy your country and democracy. But also in other Member States, we see a backsliding of democracy.

It is absolutely needed that we do not take democracy for granted. We have to maintain it day by day by allowing our voters to participate in democracy, especially allowing the youth, taking care that politicians are to be held accountable.

So that is the future for Ukraine and for the other 45 Member States.

- Let's focus on Ukraine's future. Ukraine is facing not only unsuitable aggression but also huge challenges in terms of democracy. Do you expect Ukraine to hold free and fair elections?

- Yes, and it has to hold free and fair elections because of one obligation under the statute and under our conventions. You will do so, of course.

There are problems because as long as you have martial law, your Constitution does not allow you to have elections. So you have to find a solution. That is not up to us to say how to do it. But Ukraine has to organise free and fair elections.

- But let's imagine the war ends up with Ukraine's victory. How can we organise elections in a destroyed or partly destroyed country when a lot of people have fled to Ukraine? Do you see it as possible?

- It will be an enormous challenge.

But look to another country. Türkiye has been confronted with a devastating earthquake. Nevertheless, it was able to hold elections. Whether they are free and fair, it's up to those who have observed these elections to come up with their judgment. But the elections were held! What you say about many millions, especially women and children who had to leave your country. To give them fair participation in elections will be an enormous challenge. I cannot make the message easier for Ukraine than it is.

To win the war, to overcome this invasion is already an enormous thing. To restore, strengthen and rebuild Ukrainian society along the lines of democracy, rule of law and human rights is a challenge for years and years to come. But you have to accept the challenge because

if you don't do it, then the question comes from the table. What did we defend in this war of aggression that Russia has called against us?

So yes, it is doable. Yes, it will be enormously difficult. Ukraine has shown that it's able to deal with the most difficult issues.

- I understand that it is up to Ukraine to determine the rules for conducting elections. Let me ask you a bit more specific question. As you said correctly, many Ukrainian women have fled and it would be difficult for them to return now to Ukraine. Some people discussed that maybe we can vote via the Internet. Do you think such ideas that are being discussed are possible? And are they useful? Is it better to stick to ordinary elections that are proven to be resistant?

- As I said, this is up to Ukraine, Ukrainian authorities, and Ukrainian political parties to decide. But again, referring to the Turkish elections, in many European countries, Turkish citizens were allowed to vote. The same goes, I think, for a country like Moldova.

So voting outside the country is doable. It needs a lot of organisation but there you could use the best practices of the Council of Europe.

- What about the Internet?

- It's much disputed but in the end, it will be your authorities and your politicians who have to decide. In this way, we can make the elections as free and as fair as possible.

Internet voting is a possibility, of course.

Nobody will blame Ukraine if everything is not perfect. Everybody will blame Ukraine if you do not organise the elections because democracy is more than elections. Without elections, democracy cannot function.

This is a tremendous job for your country. But I think it's doable.

"Russia is not a democracy and has never been one"

- You said correctly, that nobody would blame Ukraine. That's understandable in terms of war. We see that nobody is criticising us. Do you see any irregularity? Maybe Honcharenko's case who is not allowed to participate in PACE meetings since the government does not let him leave the country. Do you know about that?

- Yes, but I do not consider that as a consequence of the war of aggression. Each parliament has to abide by its obligations in the Council of Europe. That means if you send your delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, they should be fully able to do their job.

It's not a cafeteria, where you allow Members once in a while to do something and at all moments you do not allow that. I am aware of the problems that our Member Honcharenko is facing now in Ukraine. I hope that it will be solved in a diligent way. I wrote a letter to the speaker of your Parliament.

If you send people to Strasbourg, they have to do their work, whether they are a member of the opposition, the coalition, independent, or related to the government.

I think that is a problem. Not a very big one. It should be solved by the Ukrainian authorities as soon as possible.

- When do you expect the Council of Europe and you personally to raise those irregularities? It's not the only one we have. Let's remember TV channels that are banned from digital broadcasting.

- Yes, and follow it closely as the President of the Assembly. Freedom of speech, and freedom of media, are very important. Of course, in conditions of war, things become different, but there are fundamental obligations. As your president said, we are not defending borders, we are defending values and citizens.

- When can we expect that this would be more vocal?

- I hope to go to Ukraine on short notice. I want to discuss it with the Parliament because, as you said, in a country under the attack of brutal aggression, it's not so easy to really do everything perfectly. There is something between perfect and not doing it really correctly. I think that the Council of Europe could assist your Parliament in improving behaviour even in times of war.

- Would you wait with indicating problems until the end of the war or you would press on Ukraine to fix something even now?

- My humble proposal would be to do what you can do now. Don't wait with doing that until tomorrow because tomorrow there will be other problems and more problems.

It is huge what we ask from Ukraine – defend yourself against a foreign invader who uses brutal aggression to destroy your state. At the same time, your president said that you are defending your society. We have to protect society as well.

- One day, when the war ends with a Ukrainian victory, the idea of Russia rejoining the Council of Europe will probably appear. How do you see a way to not allowed it to happen? So the country which does not want to adhere to European values will not end up there again?

- It is now made completely clear by its war of aggression that Russia is not a democracy. It's a totalitarian regime that threatens its neighbours, even invades its neighbours. When the war is over, we have to investigate how we will relate to Russia because Russia is there. It is the biggest country on Earth. It's the biggest European state with millions and millions of citizens who also deserve to be protected by the rules that the Council of Europe has.

There cannot be justice without accountability. So Russia first has to withdraw from Ukraine. Then it has to admit that it overstepped its obligations.

That means that it has to restore the damage done.

It also means that it has to show credibility for the future. Just stopping the war, and waiting for the next possibility to restart the war, is not a sustainable solution.

It is tremendously important that in Russia itself things are going to develop as well. This regime that has started this war of aggression is not a credible regime for the future. It is up, of course, to the citizens of Russia to make decisions on that. Only then, I see a chance that Russia returns to international law.

This is an enormous, difficult process. Let me recall that after the Second World War we had the Nuremberg trials. Europe managed in not too much time to develop a fascist country, such as Nazi Germany, into one of the leading democracies of Europe.

- Is a tribunal for Russia also possible? It is important for Ukraine to have accountability. Can we be sure that it would be a necessary step?

- I think this condition had all the statements of our Parliamentary Assembly. I think also tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, you will see in the statement of the Heads of State and Government that we need to restore justice and accountability.

There will be a reference in the statement of our Heads of State and Government to Zelenskyy's peace plan. Yes, justice has to be restored. It needs accountability. Therefore, it will be in the statement of that state and government that we need an ad hoc tribunal to deal with the crime of aggression. We need a compensation mechanism to restore the damage done. For that, we need a register. The good news is that tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, tens of European and other countries will adhere to this new partial agreement to install this register of damage that will be organised in the Netherlands, in The Hague.

That is a great step forward, no justice without accountability.


Interviewed by Sergiy Sydorenko,

Reykjavik, Iceland, Council of Europe Summit

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