Russia halts Council of Europe payments over Crimea row

A pro-Russian activist holds a Russian flag as he stands on the roof of Sevastopol City Hall building in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol on February 28, 2014

Russia said Friday that it was suspending its contributions to the Council of Europe for 2017 over a lengthy dispute regarding delegates from the country who were stripped of their authority after the annexation of Crimea.

The foreign ministry in Moscow said top diplomat Sergei Lavrov had informed the Council of Europe's Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland of the decision in a phone conversation.

Russia has long railed against a 2014 decision by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to deprive its delegates of voting rights in the wake of Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

Moscow was reportedly to contribute about 33 million euros ($38 million) for the year to the 47-member body which focuses on democracy and human rights across Europe.

Russian parliament speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said earlier this month that Moscow still had about 11 million euros to pay, a sum that would be blocked.

Lavrov told Jagland that Moscow would halt the payments until the "unconditional total restoration" of Russia's rights, the foreign ministry said.

In a separate statement, the ministry said the 2014 decision to restrict Russia's rights were part of attempts to "punish" the country "for the free expression of the residents of the Crimean peninsula, who voted for the accession of the Republic of Crimea to Russia."

"Since then, the situation in PACE has only been deteriorating: a frenzied campaign is being run to persecute parliamentarians who wish to normalise interaction with Russia," it said.