Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 223

Secretive, end-game negotiations at OSCE headquarters in Vienna, one week before the year-end ministerial conference, demonstrate that Russia (not without assistance from a few countries) is successfully destroying the organization’s credibility as a security actor. The OSCE’s own lack of transparency plays into Moscow’s hands in that regard.

On November 29, the OSCE’s Joint Consultative Group convened to discuss the drafting of its report to the OSCE’s year-end conference regarding implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and Russia’s Istanbul Commitments on force withdrawal from the southern flank. The JCG includes the 30 countries signatory to the CFE Treaty (of which the Istanbul Commitments are an integral part), officially referred to as the “CFE community.” Its annual report takes the form of a letter to the OSCE’s Chairmanship for presentation to the organization’s year-end conference, summing up CFE- and Istanbul-related developments during the year. Russia presses for ratification of the 1999-adapted CFE treaty, but refuses to be held accountable on the Istanbul Commitments, although the two form twin parts of one and the same set of 1999 Istanbul documents.

Belarus is the current holder of the JCG’s chair, which rotates on a fortnightly basis among the “CFE community’s” countries. Traditionally, the JCG’s chairing country in late November forwards the report letter to the year-end OSCE conference, after coordinating it with all JCG parties. In this case, Belarus used its position to help Russia block the drafting and sending of that report.

In the November 29 meeting, Spain, on NATO’s behalf, proposed that the report letter be drafted and duly forwarded to the year-end conference. The United States took the floor in support of that proposal. However, the Belarusian chairman rejected the proposal on the grounds that there would be no consensus on the document. Russia weighed in to confirm that there would be no consensus, clearly warning that Russia would use its veto power if necessary.

The debate turned farcical when the Russian delegation added the argument that the overall agenda is “too busy” to accommodate discussion on the JCG report prior to the year-end OSCE conference. When the United States meekly suggested that, perhaps, a time slot might be found for that purpose during the year-end conference in Slovenia, the Russian side predicted with sovereign confidence that there would be “even less time” there.

Moscow has found several helpers in this cover up. In 2003, just before the year-end Maastricht conference, Armenia happened to hold the JCG’s rotating chair, and it blocked the sending of the report letter without further ado. Armenia acted partly out of self-interest, as it holds a reputedly large arsenal of Russian-supplied heavy weaponry in excess of CFE Treaty limitations. Forward-deployed mainly in areas seized from Azerbaijan, this arsenal escapes OSCE or other international verification and forms one part of the problem coyly designated by the OSCE as “unaccounted-for treaty-limited equipment.”

Last year, Luxembourg chaired the JCG just prior to the OSCE’s year-end Sofia conference, and it made unnecessary for Russia to use the veto. Luxembourg cited its lawyers’ advice that the JCG chair should not draft and coordinate the report letter if there was no consensus within JCG on the document. With Russia poised to block the procedure in the first place, the Luxembourg chair declined to initiate the report letter to the year-end conference. At that time, Luxembourg was one of two appendages (the other was Belgium) to the “Berlin-Paris axis” that was accommodating Moscow on a number of European and international security issues.

In Tuesday’s JCG debate, the Belarusian chair availed itself of Luxembourg’s argument from last year: no consensus, hence no JCG report letter. Belarus now claims to be adhering to the Luxembourg-set precedent. Thus, 2005 will be the third consecutive year when the OSCE is unable officially to take stock of implementation — or, indeed, non-implementation — of those agreements, of which the OSCE itself is the custodian.

On November 28, the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom, a consultative mechanism to draw up the year-end conference documents) was the scene of Russian stonewalling on the Istanbul Commitments and an oblique attempt by Germany to assist Moscow off that hook. The draft political declaration’s most significant paragraph — that regarding compliance with Russia’s Istanbul Commitments — suffers from glaring omissions in its mere three lines (see EDM, November 23). Russia intimidated the Slovene chairmanship into submitting such a draft. In the PrepCom meeting, Moldova proposed that the paragraph should reflect the actual situation in that country: to wit, “no progress this year” on withdrawal of Russian forces (in fact, no Russian troops have withdrawn in several years). The United States, Britain, Poland, and the GUAM group supported Moldova’s proposal. Russia rejected it as expected.

For its part, Germany proposed that a new, distinct paragraph on CFE be added to the political declaration. With an eye to the 2006 CFE Review Conference, the German-proposed paragraph would call for “strengthening the CFE regime” (alluding to the ratification process) without referring to Russia’s Istanbul Commitments. By separating the two issues, the German proposal appears designed to weaken and even break the linkage between Russian compliance with the Istanbul Commitments and Western ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty.

The proposal follows a recent German attempt in PrepCom to blame “certain narrow interests” (presumably meaning Georgia, Moldova, and the Baltic states) for their insistence that the CFE Treaty and Istanbul Commitments are linked. Far from reflecting any “narrow interests,” however, that linkage is official U.S. and NATO policy and is indeed being upheld by NATO collectively, even if a few member countries act otherwise in their national capacities. Germany and a few other West European countries have increasingly suggested that the CFE Treaty be ratified even without Russian compliance with the Istanbul Commitments.

Georgia ably defended the common Euro-Atlantic and regional security interests in the PrepCom meeting. It asked that any paragraph on the CFE Treaty in the final political declaration be merged with the paragraph on the Istanbul Commitments into a single paragraph, and that it reaffirm the linkage between the two. Citing Russia’s seemingly successful rejection of any reference to its troop-withdrawal obligations, Georgia pointed out that a separate paragraph on the CFE Treaty would set the stage for the OSCE and other international documents to advocate for that treaty only, without calling for Russian compliance with the Istanbul Commitments any longer, thus breaking that linkage.

(Documents of OSCE Permanent Council, ICG and PrepCom, November 2005)