Scholz Hopeful of Democracy in Russia After Putin Is Defeated

(Bloomberg) — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it’s important to keep communication channels open with opposition figures in Russia and Belarus to help smooth the transition to democracy there once Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “imperialism” has been thwarted in Ukraine.

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Scholz was speaking in Reykjavik at a rare summit of the Council of Europe — a group of 46 nations founded in 1949 to promote democracy and human rights that’s attempting a reset following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Kremlin forces last year. The Council expelled Russia and suspended all relations with Belarus, which wasn’t a member, due to its active support for the war.

Scholz said he’s certain that the conflict will not end in a Putin victory because Germany and its allies will continue to support the government in Kyiv “until a just peace is achieved.”

“Until then, we as the Council of Europe should maintain bridges to the representatives of another Russia, another Belarus,” Scholz added, in an address Tuesday to the opening session of the summit. That would “offer the perspective of a democratic, peaceful future of both countries — as unlikely as it may seem to us today.”

Headquartered in Strasbourg, France, the Council of Europe structure incorporates the European Court of Human Rights. Its members include all 27 European Union nations plus countries like Turkey, the UK and Ukraine.

Scholz said the Council will play a key role in punishing “the war crimes of the Russian occupiers” in Ukraine and in demanding “accountability for the enormous damage that Russia is inflicting on Ukraine day by day.”

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A so-called “damage register” cataloging the destruction that leaders plan to launch in Reykjavik “plays a central role in this,” he said.

Addressing the summit via video link, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the initiative.

“This brings closer the creation of a full-fledged compensation mechanism and will show the world that aggression is not worth even thinking about,” he said. He was speaking after Russia launched a major attack earlier Tuesday, which Zelenskiy said was repelled with all missiles launched shot down.

The summit in the Icelandic capital is the first meeting of the Council of Europe’s leaders in nearly 20 years as it seeks a re-orientation following Russia’s ejection, 26 years after it joined in 1996.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also addressed the gathering, and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is due to speak later on Tuesday before leaders reconvene Wednesday.

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