As the dust began to settle at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on June 27, the chamber had started to look decidedly different.

The Russian delegation was back, and Ukraine was out, their delegates returning to Kyiv in protest at Kremlin representatives being unconditionally reinstated to the Assembly.

In solidarity with Ukraine, six more nations walked out in protest: Georgia, Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

On June 25, the Assembly had overwhelmingly voted – 118 in favour, 62 against and with 10 abstentions – to unconditionally restore Russia’s voting rights at the Council. Moscow had been sanctioned by PACE five years ago, losing its voice in the Assembly after its illegal invasion and occupation of Ukrainian Crimea.

Ukrainian lawmakers, delegates and allies of Kyiv called the vote’s outcome a “moral capitulation” and an “unconditional surrender” to Russia.

The Kremlin has welcomed its representatives being reinstated to PACE, stating that the decision was “an important step” in having the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula recognized as Russian.

Ukraine is making its next moves in relation to the PACE defeat and has already launched appeals against Russia’s reinstatement with the support of Georgia, the United Kingdom and other allies.

Appeals have been lodged against Russia’s reinstatement with the Venice Commission, an independent advisory board of constitutional lawyers that oversees PACE. The thrust of their complaint is that some Russian delegates are members of parliament elected due to votes from the territory of occupied Crimea.

Complaints will likely allege that the restoration of such delegates from Russia is in breach of PACE statutes, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights.

Four delegates from the current Russian delegation are under international sanctions because they voted for or have otherwise supported Russian aggression against Ukraine.

All seven delegations which have walked out of PACE in solidarity with Ukraine said they were returning home to consult with their governments on “joint actions” at future sessions of PACE. There is no substantial indication that there will be a permanent boycott.

Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin said that Ukraine must not surrender PACE to Russia and its friends.

“Today, we as the delegates of our nations have no answer to our people how exactly the Council of Europe is protecting their rights if it comes across as more interested in protecting the well-being of an aggressor than the victims of aggression and repression,” the seven delegations said in a joint statement late on June 26.

“The future of the CoE is under threat as a whole because the CoE is losing the trust of the people it stands to protect. We return home to consult our Parliaments and Governments about the joint actions in the Assembly in the next sessions,” the delegates stated.

One delegation which did not stage a walkout alongside Ukraine was the 18-member British group. The United Kingdom was the only large European country that strongly supported Ukraine in opposition to Russia being reinstated to PACE. France, Italy, Germany and Spain supported the motion.

“We will stand and fight,” Sir Roger Gale, a veteran member of the U.K. parliament and London’s top delegate to the Assembly told the Kyiv Post.

“But I completely understand the position of my Ukrainian colleagues (who walked out),” he added. “The U.K. has suffered a Novichok attack – but Ukrainian children are waiting for their fathers to come home from Russian prisons.”

On June 26, Gale attempted to shame PACE in a speech where he accused the Assembly of surrendering to “a crude attempt at blackmail” from Russian delegates, who Gale said had offered a “blank check” in exchange for their voting rights being restored.

“We want the Russians to take their place in this Assembly – but not at any price,” he said. “Before readmission, Ukrainian sailors imprisoned in Russia have to be released. Annexed land must be vacated. Human rights respected and, of course, debts paid in full.”

While Ukrainian lawmakers and delegates consult in Kyiv, there is hope they will return to Strasbourg with a new strategy and strong voice.

“Ukraine should not withdraw from PACE, but continue to use it to highlight Russia’s flouting of international law and its human rights abuses,” said John Whittingdale, a U.K. lawmaker who chairs the Ukrainian friendship committee in Westminster.

PACE is a 47-nation international body that helped to shape the European Convention on Human Rights and oversees the European Court of Human Rights. It has 19 more nations than the 28-member European Union among its member states but is not an EU institution.

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