The 137th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly, the world’s oldest political organization uniting national parliaments of 173 sovereign states, is due to open in St. Petersburg on Saturday. Russian President Vladimir Putin is to attend the grand opening ceremony. The Tavrichesky Palace (Tauride Palace), the cradle of Russian parliamentarism, will be the main venue of the forum scheduled for October 14-18.
The Russian parliament will be represented by a group of senators and deputies headed by Federation Council Chairperson Valentina Matvienko and State Duma Chairperson Vyacheslav Volodin. Despite Russia’s complicated relationship with PACE, another interparliamentary group, 15 of its members representing 10 states, will come to St. Petersburg. Moreover, individuals from the Russian sanctions list developed as a reciprocal measure, were authorized to participate in the Assembly. “We tried to set the stage for effective work and honoured our obligations and commitments to grant admission to all parliamentarians without exception,” highlighted Valentina Matvienko. The agenda includes the meetings of the standing committees, including the one on peace and international security; on sustainable development, finance and trade; on democracy and human rights; on UN affairs; as well as the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments, the Forum of Women Parliamentarians, and the Forum of Young Parliamentarians.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union was founded back in 1889. It is the oldest and a most powerful and consequential international parliamentary organization, an informal UN parliamentary dimension. There are currently 173 IPU Members and 11 IPU Associate Members.
157 parliamentary delegations, 95 chairmen of parliaments from 87 states across the globe, all in all about 850 parliamentarians, including as many as 248 female deputies, will take part in the IPU Assembly in St. Petersburg.
Experts state that the upcoming session will be the most representative one in the IPU history on all counts. The Assembly is normally attended by 140 parliamentary delegations at best. It means that 20-30 delegations fail to turn up for domestic reasons, such as the troubled situation at home, some electoral campaign, or/and lack of funding, rather than defiantly or demonstratively.
As for the 137th Assembly, the invitation to attend was pointedly refused only in one case. It was the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine which called on the IPU members to refrain from going to St. Petersburg. Interestingly, the countries which previously backed Kiev by voting against St. Petersburg as a venue in October 2016 (Australia, New Zealand, Estonia, Canada, Sweden) are planning to participate in the Assembly, with some delegations headed by chairmen of parliaments.
It testifies to an ever-weightier influence of the Inter-Parliamentary Union as an international venue. Moreover, it brings to the fore the toothless anti-Russian sanctions and the irrelevance of the isolation policy. The failed demarche of the Ukrainian delegation, which literally imposed a vote against holding the assembly in St. Petersburg, reaffirmed the resistance of the IPU members to provocations, experts believe.
Anton Hashchenko, a political analyst, highlights that Russia has stepped up interparliamentary cooperation over the past year, both through bilateral meetings and the existing forums. He believes that there are some objective reasons for the scale-up. First, consider numerous global challenges, which must be jointly addressed and resolved. Second, mind the faulty nature of some forums, for instance PACE. Third, do not forget about the foreign pressure exerted on our country.
“Pay heed to closer interparliamentary cooperation following the elections for a new convocation of the State Duma. We owe it to the Duma leadership, namely Vyacheslav Volodin. Contacts abound.”
“Obviously, cooperation between parliaments to tackle global issues is a vital dimension of foreign policy. Classical diplomacy has lost its monopoly on international relations, as there appear new channels of communication. Civil society has actively engaged in a dialogue. Therefore, the role and significance of parliamentary diplomacy will grow every year,” the expert said.
Anton Hashchenko regards possible coordination of national legislation regarding topical issues – for example, combating terrorists and extremists – a precondition for stepped-up parliamentary diplomacy. Moreover, he stresses the importance of an interparliamentary dialogue. One can expect closer and stronger relationships built on mutual trust.
“Ultimately, it affects the position of a parliament on an international issue. For example, we have interacted with the Israeli parliament this year. As a result, Israel condemned the demolition of monuments in Poland,” Hashchenko emphasizes.
Several important inter-state multilateral meetings took place on the sidelines of the IPU Assembly, including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the BRICS Parliamentary Forum.
Vyacheslav Volodin, Chairperson of the CSTO PA, moderated the 10th plenary session of the Assembly. It focused on the harmonisation of the CSTO national legislations in countering terrorism and cross-border crime, international legal assistance in criminal matters, and combating IT crimes.
The IPA CIS Council met on the same day, with the State Duma speaker taking part in it as well.
The Speaker is also scheduled to meet with his counterparts from Brazil, India, Iraq, Congo, and Serbia. In addition, Volodin has recently held talks with Iranian Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani and Hammouda Youssef Sabbagh, the newly elected Speaker of the People’s Council of Syria.
By the way, the Iranians invited Volodin to Tehran, with the visit due next year.
The State Duma Chairperson remarked at the meeting that Larijani and he would “have at least two more opportunities to meet” by the end of the year.
“We intend to make a statement to promote the Parliamentarians against Drugs conference in the framework of the UN, which is to be held in Moscow in early December, and we invite you to take part in it,” Volodin said. He added that “chairpersons of parliaments are due to meet in Islamabad on December 24-25 to discuss counter-terrorism.” “As far as I know, you are planning to participate in it,” said the Speaker addressing Mr. Larijani.
“Our inter-parliamentary dialogue should lay the foundation for legislative support for decisions taken at the highest level and for a better understanding of each other”, he stated.
The State Duma’s Speaker added that he shared Ali Larijani’s opinion as to the current developments across the globe and the ineffectiveness of penalties as a pressure tool against a state.
As Volodin stressed, “Not only do we appreciate your viewpoint on today’s state of affairs but also share it. The sanctions’ regime cannot bridge the gap between the parties. Those who have imposed sanctions should understand that this instrument is not effective. Here is a reality check for them. Penalties may just aggravate the problem”.
In this regard, Volodin reminded all the attendees that “the ill-conceived and misguided decisions were to blame for the crisis in Libya, Iraq, and Syria”. “The reverberations are felt by these countries and across Europe. Indeed, failed states, heavy casualties, and millions of refugees are the direct outgrowth of good intentions which just turned out to be a fig leaf”.
In addition, the State Duma’s Speaker pointed out that a growing influx of migrants, a product of the conflicts, had created new problems, especially security challenges. Therefore, he considered “the inter-parliamentary dialogue an appropriate platform for examining and taking decisions”.
In his address to Larijani, Volodin said that “we strongly oppose double standards. Thus, we share your concern about certain approaches to Iran’s nuclear program. The rules-based international order would certainly be a better alternative to what we have now. Our side has expressed concern over the recent attacks on the UN institutions and the attempts to discredit them. We firmly believe that it would be right to contribute to the UN family rather than challenge and discredit it”.
The Speaker of the Russian Parliament’s Lower Chamber invited his Iranian counterpart to organize a conference on the two countries’ relations under the auspices of the two parliaments.
As he stated, “Your proposal to put our inter-parliamentary relations on a real footing, including economic one, is fully endorsed. We welcome any initiatives to establish new formats of inter-parliamentary dialogue to have a closer look at economic matters”. Volodin also suggested that the two countries “should arrange a conference on external economic relations, the development of business contacts and their legislative support. We are ready to prop up all the steps to closer and better relations”.
Alexander Konkov, a Russian political scientist, believes that Iran, which has experienced sanctions firsthand, is aware of their crippling effect on constructive cooperation and progress. As he puts it, “It is an inter-parliamentary dialogue which is a graphic example of a mechanism rendering any restraints or sanctions futile. As parliamentarians represent their public’s interests, imposing a straitjacket or some targeted sanctions will lead to nothing but limited communication and search for mutually beneficial grounds. The Union enables all the sides to identify sanction-related risks and consider the ways of overcoming those uncertainties at an inter-parliamentary level, which constitutes a major step towards finding the best possible model to ensure cooperation between deputies”.
As for Iran, the current situation is compounded by President Trump’s willingness to seriously review the nuclear accord. Specifically, he is determined to urge Congress to amend the certification requirement by setting the trigger points that would re-impose or “snap back” sanctions lifted under the JCPOA. As State Department officials put it, those trigger points “would include violations of the deal involving illicit atomic work or ballistic missile testing”.
Analysts point out that Trump has long threatened to torpedo the deal which had Iran curb its nuclear activities in exchange for lifting international sanctions. Every 90 days, the US president must certify to Congress that Iran is keeping up its end of the JCPOA. Should he refrain from certifying the agreement, Congress has a statutory 60-day period to decide whether to re-impose sanctions. However, the president’s unilateral decision will not scrap the deal.
Alexander Konkov is not ready to make certain predictions about the normative implications of America’s potential withdrawal from the nuclear agreement. “In fact, everything is possible. However, the US decision should not have a backfire effect on bilateral relations. Even if a revised nuclear deal alters multilateral cooperation, it may be unreasonable to miss the window of opportunity. As Russia has no reason to act with an eye to US decisions while developing its relations with Iran, it is highly likely to follow the bilateral priorities set out by the deal”.
Valentina Matvienko, Chairperson of the Russian Federation Council, said the other day that Russia would do its best to ensure that the 137th IPU Assembly – especially its discussion and adoption sessions – would see no attempts to apply pressure tactics against the participants.
She praised the IPU role as a platform to unite rather than divide parliaments and parliamentarians worldwide, adding that “this is the principle Russia as a host country strictly adheres to”. Matvienko also hoped that the IPU would argue against military build-up and for peaceful resolution to all international problems.
In his turn, Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin pointed out that the upcoming days would elevate the status of Saint Petersburg as the world’s parliamentary capital. That view is overwhelmingly shared by most experts.