Russia Expelled From Human Rights Council, but Says It Was Leaving Anyway

The Council of Europe decided to expel Russia from membership, though Russia said it would have left the human rights organization anyway.

The council's parliamentary assembly unanimously adopted an opinion Wednesday suggesting Russia should be kicked out of the council, then the Russian government announced its withdrawal on the same day, according to a statement from the council. The Council of Europe was formed in 1949 in the wake of World War II with the goal of protecting human rights. Russia had been a member since 1996.

The move is another in a wave of measures and sanctions European governments have taken against Russia since it began its invasion of Ukraine three weeks ago. Russia's removal from the council is a further condemnation of its war, which has caused thousands of deaths and injuries on both sides.

Video circulating on social media shows Russia's flag being lowered at the Council of Europe's building in Strasbourg, France.

In the opinion the council issued when announcing Russia's expulsion, it said Russia's conduct in Ukraine "shows disregard for the very essence of the Council of Europe," which its statute says is the idea that "the pursuit of peace based upon justice and international cooperation is vital for the preservation of human society and civilization."

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a Wednesday interview with Russian broadcaster RBK that Russia had already planned to leave because the European Union and NATO countries in the group were "abusing their majority in the council, eventually transforming it into a tool for anti-Russian policy," the Associated Press reported.

Ukraine is also a member of the council. In a tweet, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's minister of foreign affairs, said he welcomes the council's decision.

"No place for Russia in European bodies as it wages a barbaric war of aggression against Ukraine and commits multiple war crimes," he wrote.

In its opinion, the council said it "deplores" that Russia has "persisted in its aggression, escalating the violence in Ukraine and making threats should other States interfere," despite calls for the attacks to stop.

When speaking to the United States' Congress earlier Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the conflict the "worst war since World War II," showing a video of Russian bombs hitting residential buildings and victims being buried in mass grave sites.

The council's opinion also criticized Russia's censorship on its own people and "harsh repression of peaceful protests." The protester crackdown in Russia has been strong, with authorities arresting anti-war protesters who were holding blank posters.

Overall, the council called on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine, comply with international humanitarian measures, release all kidnapped local government officials, ensure the safety of the nuclear facilities it took and more.

"The Assembly is deeply concerned at the situation of Ukrainians who have been forced to flee their country for fear of their lives, in the biggest refugee exodus seen in Europe since the Second World War," the council's opinion added. "The Assembly applauds the generosity and solidarity shown by neighboring countries, who continue to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of them women and children."

Update 03/16/22 11:40 p.m. ET: This story was updated to add more background information.

Russia Expelled from Council of Europe
Russia has been expelled from the Council of Europe. Above, Strasbourg Mayor Jeanne Barseghian, left; Ukraine's Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe Borys Tarasyuk, center; and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola (right) attend a demonstration supporting the Ukrainian people and against Russia's military operation in Ukraine, in Strasbourg, France, on March 9. Photo by Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images