”This organization (let’s face it) is on the brink of the abyss. Hence, a simple question: Does it make any sense to invest in any effort to revive it? Can it ever adapt to objective global realities and once again become a platform for addressing regional security issues based on the Helsinki Final Act principles, primarily the principle of equality of all participating countries? So far, there have been many more questions than answers.”
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov
at the OSCE Ministerial in Skopje
Sometimes in international relations one format for cooperation is lamented and described as nonfunctional while states involved still hesitate to take a decision on drastic changes, not knowing what this might mean. In addition there is the blame factor: Does Russia want to take the blame for discontinuing an organization which was based on an initiative of the Soviet Union from the early 1950’s?
Today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation, OSCE, is perceived by the Russian leadership to be something very different than the politico-military security order in Europe proposed by the Soviet Union. Lavrov again:
Why do we need flawed human rights institutions that are used as a tool by those who are set on privatizing the secretariats of international organizations to suit their own needs? What interests of pan-European security and cooperation does such an OSCE serve?
In the mid 1980’s, the Soviet leadership – already before President Gorbachev rose to power – after much hesitation decided to continue cooperation with the West despite little hope of progress – but at that time it was mainly about arms control, not human rights.
Still Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov reluctantly agreed to a temporary prolongation of the OSCE structures at the ministerial meeting in Skopje 30/11-1/12.
And this despite the Russian delegation (without Lavrov who left after 15 minutes) having to sit and listen to strong criticism on Ukraine even from the Chair of the organization, North Macedonian Foreign Minister Osmani. Seemingly, Russia’s only real friend in the organization remains Belarus.
For Lavrov to have to spend five hours to fly into North Macedonia after being denied passage through Bulgarian airspace (due to the presence on board of one or more sanctioned persons) must have felt degrading. And the interest of talking to Lavrov when arriving to the scene late was, to say the least, limited. The only bilateral consultation which seems to have taken place was with the Hungarian Foreign Minister and perhaps also with the Austrian, no doubt seeking Russian support for Vienna as host city for the OSCE.
Russia has not hesitated to leave other regional and subregional formats in the last year, but OSCE seems to be another matter. Lavrov in his speech criticized the creation of the European Political Community (EPC) setup – an initiative by president Macron and the EU for not including Russia and Belarus:
They have created a “European political community” without Russia and Belarus. Thus, another dividing line on our continent has been drawn, which destroys the OSCE space.
So how could he leave the OSCE not violating his own logic? The OSCE has after all the decisive advantage in comparison with the EPC of including the US (and Canada) – the only negotiating counterpart besides China which Russia recognizes to be on its own level.
The United Nations clearly no longer – if ever – is an organization of likeminded states. The same goes for the OSCE. Is it worth it to keep an organization going on the faint hope of it being able to make a real difference?
Russia has not contributed to an answer to this question. There is no agreed budget for the organization. It has allowed a new non-NATO chair to be appointed (Malta) and allowed the heads of the institutions in the OSCE to continue – but only for nine months.
The period nine months happens to coincide with the upcoming elections in the US. No doubt Russia has – perhaps even stronger – hopes than before that a reinstatement of Donald Trump as US President might be a gamechanger with a much more divided West and a possible US-Russian collusion.
As the ministerial in Skopje demonstrated, there are already divergencies in the Western position with the ministers of Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania staying away from the meeting.
US Secretary of State Blinken limited his participation to a few hours before the real meeting began on his way to Israel whereas the new UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron clearly relished the opportunity to come back into the limelight again.
The bottom line is unfortunately clear as what is likely to happen during the coming nine months: Russia singled out hybrid threats against Moldova during the coming year in its speech to the conference – predictably blaming the West:
In effect, Moldova is destined to fall the next victim in the West-unleashed hybrid war against Russia. This should give food for thought to every country where Western emissaries, funds and so-called NGOs are now active.
The Moldovan government protested. But Lavrov could just as well have added that the target for the hybrid threat is the OSCE as a whole. This does not bode well for 2024.
Lavrov for his part as discussed in an earlier article hopes for more cooperation in other formats, outside the Western sphere:
Meanwhile, life goes on. Eurasian integration and equal cooperation based on a fair balance of interests are proceeding on our continent in constructive formats, regardless of the OSCE drowning under the confrontational agenda that was imposed on it.