Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 93

With seven CIS member governments in tow, Russia has renewed its campaign to “reform” the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Moscow’s two-fold goal is to use OSCE mechanisms in ways that would increase Russian clout on post-Soviet countries and promote “all-European” security arrangements at the West’s expense. Moscow has induced some leaders of CIS member countries to join this campaign by exploiting their resentment of the OSCE’s democracy-promoting function.

On September 23 in Vienna, Russian ambassador Alexei Borodavkin presented an appeal to the OSCE Permanent Council after its content had been made public at the September 15-16 CIS summit in Astana. The signatories demand the OSCE to shift priorities and resources away from democracy-related activities, toward politico-military and security-related ones, while broadening Russia’s and its nominal allies’ representation in OSCE headquarters and field operations. Moldova, Georgia, and Azerbaijan refused to sign the letter and oppose this Russian agenda. Turkmenistan apparently supports Moscow’s offensive without signing the document. Russia collected the signatures of Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. The endorsement by Kazakhstan bodes ill for that country’s ambition to serve a term as the OSCE’s chairman.

In the sphere of democracy-building, Moscow is calling for new criteria for evaluating elections, taking into account the CIS countries’ proposals; larger representation of CIS countries in OSCE election-monitoring activities; shifting the focus of OSCE field missions “from the political situation . . . to specific [socio-economic] project activities” as needed by CIS host-countries; and making the use of OSCE off-budget funds subject to agreement by “all the concerned parties.”

The first two points seek to dilute internationally valid criteria for free-and-fair elections and to neutralize the OSCE’s election-monitoring agency, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which often criticizes flawed elections in post-Soviet countries. The third and fourth points aim to restrict OSCE field missions’ pro-democracy activities and stop Western off-budget funding (above-board, officially reported supplementals) of such activities.

In the politico-military sphere, the September 15 Address and September 23 Russian follow-up presentation call for rapid entry into force of the 1999-adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) as a “cornerstone of European security”; preserving the OSCE’s role in conflict settlement “through the existing negotiating formats and mechanisms”; enhancing the role of the OSCE’s Forum for Security Cooperation and its “right to take independent decisions”; and generally “making full use of, and enhancing, the OSCE’s unique capacities in the politico-military field,” so as to “restore the OSCE’s primordial and basic function, that of taking decisions on the main security issues in Europe.”

The first of these items seeks to place NATO’s Baltic flank under CFE treaty constraints, irrespective of Russia’s ongoing violations of that same treaty’s terms and of the associated 1999 Commitments to the OSCE to withdraw Russian forces from Moldova and Georgia. The second of these items actually rejects reform of OSCE conflict-settlement instruments, which Russia successfully manipulates to freeze the negotiations. The third and fourth items reflect Moscow’s reawakened hopes of using the OSCE to erode NATO’s role.

On organizational “reform,” the two documents call for conferring political functions on the OSCE’s Secretary General and its Secretariat [these are basically administrative offices]; setting aside more posts for CIS member countries in the OSCE’s Secretariat, field missions, and specialized agencies; enlarging the OSCE’s anti-terrorism staff and budget; and institutionalizing an OSCE consultative mechanism to address threats to stability and security. These proposals appear designed to endow the OSCE, at least on paper, with some institutional features and security functions for which it is structurally unsuitable or redundant, increase Russia’s role in the organization, and use it to hinder Western security initiatives east of the NATO area.

This set of proposals follows the eight countries’ July 3 polemical “Declaration on the State of Affairs in the OSCE,” adopted at President Vladimir Putin’s initiative during an informal CIS summit on July 3 in Moscow and presented by Borodavkin to the OSCE Permanent Council’s July 8 meeting. Exploiting OSCE fears of demise through redundancy and irrelevance, Russia is using a carrot-and-stick approach. With one hand it offers to “increase the organization’s effectiveness” in the ways proposed; with another, it threatens to block the adoption of OSCE budget and political documents at its year-end meeting if the organization does not play along.

The OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office, Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Solomon Passy, made several faux pas in a last-minute attempt to head off the Astana statement. In his September 14 letter to the presidents of all twelve CIS member countries, Passy repeatedly called for developing “relations between the OSCE and the CIS,” and referred to “the countries of your region.” These formulations imply recognition of the CIS as a Russian-led grouping and a regional organization. Moreover, the letter addressed all twelve presidents as signatories to the July 3 polemical statement, ignoring the fact that some had not signed, and that even some of the signatories have no wish to be consigned to a “CIS region.”

Responding to the Astana and Russian statements in the September 23 OSCE Permanent Council meeting, the European Union collectively offered to discuss all the proposals in detail. The EU thus distanced itself from the United States, which had set clear limits to what it might discuss. The U.S. statement described the OSCE’s promotion of democracy and human rights as its core mission and the “basis of the OSCE’s role in Euro-Atlantic security,” thus deflecting the idea of giving the OSCE significant politico-military and hard-security functions. The United States firmly defended the integrity of OSCE democracy standards and its election monitoring in participant countries. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones testified at a September 15 Congressional hearing, (and her comments were repeated verbatim by U.S. ambassador Stephen Minikes at the September 23 OSCE Permanent Council meeting), that the “OSCE’s field missions are on the frontlines of democracy and human rights,” a statement that obscures the organization’s capitulations to Russia on some of those frontlines.

Thus, in 2002, dictator Alexander Lukashenka, with Russia’s support, evicted the OSCE’s Mission from Belarus, then allowed it back the following year after eliminating “democracy” and “human rights” from the Mission’s mandate and requiring his approval for Mission activities. In March 2003, Russia forced the OSCE observer group to abandon Chechnya, only weeks after the organization’s Dutch Chairmanship had declared Chechnya a top OSCE priority. From that point on, the OSCE fell silent on Chechnya. It then elevated Moldova and Georgia to the top of the OSCE’s priorities, only to founder on Russia’s refusal to withdraw troops from those countries. This year, the OSCE said not a word about the transnational terrorist operation whereby a thousand “volunteers” crossed several Russian regions to join South Ossetian forces against Georgia. In Moldova, the sole CIS member country that comes relatively close to meeting OSCE democratic criteria, the OSCE jointly with Russia is pressing for official empowerment of Trans-Dniester’s Russian-installed, neo-Soviet dictatorship.

Moscow now demands that the OSCE’s 2004 year-end meeting act on those “reform” proposals. At worst, it may squeeze new concessions from an OSCE anxious about its survival. At a minimum, it will intimidate the organization into continuing passive acquiescence with Russia’s breaches of OSCE commitments.