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CREECA Lecture: “How Russia Joined the Council of Europe: The Role of Values, Politics, and Law” with Jeff Kahn

December 8, 2022 @ 4:00 pm - 5:15 pm

How Russia Joined the Council of Europe: The Role of Values, Politics, and Law

Jeffrey Kahn
Presented at the Center for Russia, East Europe & Central Asia
University of Wisconsin-Madison, December 8, 2022

The story of Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe now has a beginning, a middle, and an end. What can we learn about the values of this international organization from Russia’s participation in it? Was Russia’s membership “worth it”? Any attempted answer must produce more questions: from which perspective – Russia’s, the Council’s, other Member States’ – should the effects of Russian membership be evaluated? How did the Council of Europe change Russia (if Russia was, indeed, changed) and how did Russia change the Council of Europe? This paper examines the beginning of this story to identify the details in Russia’s drive for membership that may have planted seeds for its later expulsion.

Russia’s route to membership began before the collapse of the Soviet Union. As its final act, the USSR Congress of Peoples’ Deputies passed a declaration of human rights. Although this rhetorical document created no enforceable legal rights, it signaled increasing interest in law traceable to Mikhail Gorbachev’s new thinking. In an historic speech in Strasbourg in July 1989, Gorbachev expressed his hope in a “common European home” and the Soviet Union soon received special guest status at the Parliamentary Assembly. Russia formally applied for membership in May 1992, less than six months after the hammer and sickle was replaced by the new tricolor of the Russian Federation flying above the Kremlin. The conditions of membership were a pluralist parliamentary democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. Despite the conclusion that Russia did not meet these legal requirements, Russia’s request was granted; it became the 39th member state in February 1996. The rationale was simply stated in one of the core documents: “Integration is better than isolation; cooperation is better than confrontation.”

To assess the truth content of that statement, this paper examines the legal and political history found in the primary source documents of this period.

About the Speaker: Jeffrey Kahn is the University Distinguished Professor of Law at Southern Methodist University.


December 8, 2022
4:00 pm - 5:15 pm
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