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Council of Europe Postpones Vote on Russia Return

FILE - Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, Oct. 11, 2017.

Council of Europe delegates voted Tuesday to delay action on a proposed rule change which could restore Russia's voting rights, stripped in 2014 after Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

During a plenary session of the rights body's parliamentary assembly, delegates sent the proposal back for further committee study by a vote of 99 to 79, with 16 abstentions.

Russia has denounced the council's decision.

Last year it suspended part of its 33 million euro ($38 million) annual contribution to the 47-member body, which promotes democracy and the rule of law across Europe.

The proposed rule change would have made it harder to sanction a country's delegates in case of "serious infringement of the Council of Europe's fundamental principles".

And even if such infringements were found, countries would nevertheless be able to propose judges for the European Court of Human Rights.

The measures were seen as a way of placating Moscow by allowing it to present a new council delegation in January.

But the vote is now postponed indefinitely and, after two years of nonpayment, Russia could be formally excluded from the council by its executive committee.

Proponents of keeping Russia inside the fold argue that it will make Moscow think twice before enacting measures that would curb democracy or human rights.

But critics say it would be ceding to "blackmail" and implicitly condone Russia's annexation of Crimea during the war with Ukraine.

"The debate is completely 'poisoned' by the Russia case, so putting off the problem is the right decision," German deputy Frank Schwabe said on Twitter after the vote.