LONDON (REUTERS) - Russia on Tuesday (March 15) quit the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog based in Strasbourg, pre-empting possible expulsion over its attack on its neighbour Ukraine.
Pyotr Tolstoy, head of the Russian delegation at the Council's Parliamentary Assembly, said on his Telegram channel that he had handed over a letter from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announcing Moscow's decision.
The Council of Europe, whose brief is to uphold human rights and the rule of law and is separate from the European Union, had suspended Russia's membership on Feb 25, the day after it invaded Ukraine.
Moscow said last week that the US-led Nato alliance and EU countries were undermining the Council and Russia would no longer participate.
On Monday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal urged the Council to expel Russia, telling the assembly that those responsible for "this unprovoked and unjustified aggression cannot stay in the single European family where human life is the highest value".
The Kremlin said last month that Russia's suspension was unfair, but provided a good reason to "slam the door" for good on the organisation, giving Moscow an opportunity to restore the death penalty for dangerous criminals.
Russia describes its invasion of Ukraine as a "special operation" to demilitarise and "denazify" Ukraine and prevent a genocide of Russian-speakers. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice.
The Council was founded in 1949 in an attempt to enshrine human rights in Europe's post-war order. It drew up the European Convention on Human Rights, which in turn established the European Court of Human Rights. Russia joined in 1996.
Leonid Slutsky, head of the International Affairs Committee of Russia's lower house of parliament, said the countries of NATO and the EU had seen the Council as "a means of ideological support for their military-political and economic expansion to the east".
Russia would now withdraw from the Human Rights Convention.
"But don't be afraid," he wrote on his Telegram channel."All rights will be guaranteed in our country, necessarily and unconditionally."