On July 24, the head of the OSCE Center in Ashgabat, Ambassador Paraschiva Badescu, had to vacate her post and leave the country because Turkmen authorities refused the OSCE’s request for another six-month extension of her accreditation. Such request and extension is typically a routine and technical matter, but Turkmenistan chose to turn it into a political showdown, in which it prevailed over the OSCE.
The U.S. Mission to the OSCE in Vienna described the incident as an “effective expulsion” in an address to the organization’s Permanent Council. While the United States expressed its “deep dismay,” the European Union sent its collective “deep regret” in a statement by 30 member and candidate countries to the Permanent Council. Both Washington and the EU, seeing “no grounds whatsoever” for denying the extension, urged Turkmenistan to reconsider. But Turkmenistan countered with a terse statement that “this plain and clear position is definitive and not subject to review.”
Badescu, a Romanian career diplomat, had headed the OSCE’s Ashgabat Office since January 2002. According to emigre Turkmen oppositionists, “In order to preserve constructive working relations between the OSCE and the [Turkmen] authorities, Badescu never openly criticized the dictatorial regime of [President Saparmurat] Niazov during her entire stay there” (gundogar.org, July 22). Western participants in the Permanent Council also expressed this view.
The OSCE’s Chairmanship unwittingly facilitated Niazov’s move by requesting Turkmenistan to approve Badescu’s extension. The Chairman-in-Office, Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Solomon Passy, could have handled the matter routinely as an internal OSCE procedure. Now other authoritarian governments may take the Chairmanship’s decision to request local approval — and the blunt reply — as a precedent.
In 2003 and 2004, Turkmenistan postponed a planned visit by the OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities, Rolf Ekeus, five times. With such actions, Turkmenistan’s government joins Belarus and Russia as countries that openly defy the OSCE’s human-rights monitoring and democratic institution-building functions.
Last year, Russia forced the OSCE’s Chechnya observer group to leave Russia by refusing to prolong its mandate. Moscow made that move only two months after the OSCE’s 2003 Chairman-in-Office, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (currently NATO Secretary-General), had officially defined the extension of the Chechnya observer group’s mandate as the OSCE’s top priority for the year. From that point on, the OSCE fell completely silent on Chechnya. It then elevated Moldova to the top of the Chairmanship’s priorities, and made it a benchmark for success at the year-end conference, only to founder on Russia’s refusal to withdraw the troops from that country.
In 2002 Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka pioneered the strategy of evicting the OSCE by invoking visa and mandate-extension technicalities. Lukashenka evicted all of the OSCE’s Minsk Office diplomatic staff, one by one, from his country, with tacit support from the Kremlin, and consequently the paralyzed OSCE raised not a word of protest during that entire year. At the year’s end, Lukashenka consented to reopening the Office in return for a total rewrite of its mandate, again with Moscow’s support. The new mandate, now in force, dropped all references to “democracy” or “human rights,” set restrictions on funding the Office, and required it to clear all its actions with Lukashenka’s authorities.
At the moment, the Kremlin is pressuring the OSCE on a broader front by using the Commonwealth of Independent States. Informally hosting the presidents of ten CIS member countries in early July in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin collected signatures from eight of them on a collective “Declaration Regarding the State of Affairs in the OSCE.” Only the presidents of Georgia and Azerbaijan refused to sign. Russia presented the collective declaration on July 8 in Vienna to the OSCE Permanent Council, as an opening salvo in this campaign. Turkmenistan, which had skipped the Moscow meeting, acted with the Russian-led group at the Permanent Council meeting.
Purporting to speak for the “large group of countries, wielding considerable political weight, that make up the CIS,” Russia warned that “the critical mood has become so heated that it prompted the CIS heads of state to examine in detail the unfavorable state of affairs in the OSCE.” In essence, the declaration accuses the OSCE of focusing “exclusively on monitoring human rights and democratic institutions” in CIS countries, while neglecting to play a role in the all-European security architecture and Euro-Atlantic security affairs. Russia wants the OSCE to “correct this imbalance.”
The demarche reflects Russian diplomacy’s familiar goal of enhancing the OSCE’s role as a security institution and using it to offset NATO. It also reflects a more recent goal of empowering the OSCE as a security organization in areas to the east of NATO, so as to prevent the alliance (or the EU) from assuming security functions there. Thus, Russia and other authoritarian regimes have launched a common effort to reorient the OSCE from the sphere of human rights and democracy toward that of security, where the OSCE is helplessly weak and exploitable.