Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 143

Russian hegemonic claims regarding Georgia, Moldova, and now also Ukraine, torpedoed the OSCE’s year-end meeting at the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Sofia on December 6-7. The annual event ended without the usual political declaration and regional statements, the adoption of which is always the ultimate if formal criterion of success for the consensus-based OSCE.

It ended, moreover, under the shadow of Russia’s threat to block the timely adoption of the OSCE’s 2005 budget. The organization’s incoming Slovenian chairmanship for 2005 warned the Sofia meeting that “the very functioning of our organization would be in serious jeopardy” unless next year’s budget is adopted before the end of this year. Moscow would only consent if the OSCE agrees to “reform” itself in ways that would increase Russia’s political clout even further and give it, for the first time, financial clout as well. The proposed reforms would allow Moscow to misuse the organization more effectively than has hitherto been the case on basket-one issues of security, and to reduce its effectiveness on basket-three issues of democracy.

Throughout the drafting process that began in mid-November, Russia had threatened to veto any references — even oblique ones — to its obligation to withdraw troops from Moldova and Georgia. It also ruled out any criticism of the would-be statelets it has carved out of the two countries; rejected any mention of the need to internationalize the conflict-settlement processes; and opposed the use of the OSCE’s “Western” criteria in evaluating Ukraine’s elections.

As the drafting continued ahead of the conference and down to the wire until December 7, some West European governments, the European Union collectively, and the OSCE’s Bulgarian Chairmanship made major concessions on Moldova and Georgia, hoping for at least a purely formal OSCE “success” by adopting documents even if they had been watered down into irrelevance.

Nevertheless, Russia rejected those paragraphs from the final documents on security issues in Moldova, Georgia, and conventional arms control. It also vetoed the paragraph on elections in Ukraine. Such obstruction forms part of Moscow’s overall policy to stake out a claim of droit de regard over these countries, excluding any real international involvement except one that ratifies Russian-made solutions. Secondly, Moscow seeks to demonstrate that it can hold the OSCE hostage and even scuttle the organization unless it collaborates with Russia’s policies regarding the formerly Soviet-ruled countries. In essence, Moscow applies a carrot-and-stick treatment: while threatening to “kill” an uncooperative OSCE (i.e., reduce it to irrelevance and redundancy), it offers at the same time to keep alive and indeed “strengthen” the OSCE in the security sphere in hopes of using it to offset NATO, U.S., and EU security initiatives in the post-Soviet area.

The OSCE’s 2002 year-end conference in Porto witnessed Western capitulation to Russian demands regarding Georgia and Moldova in the final documents. The Porto formulae continue to haunt Georgia and Moldova, not to mention the OSCE, while Russia continues to capitalize on those formulae. At the 2003 year-end conference at Maastricht, however, Western countries sought to meet Russia halfway on those issues. An emboldened Moscow played winner-take-all, with the result that the Maastricht conference ended without a political declaration and regional statements. The absence of such documents means “failure” by OSCE criteria; but it is preferable to the adoption of documents that would deal further setbacks to Western interests or to Moldovan and Georgian independence, which belongs in that same set of interests.

Ukraine, hardly ever an issue in the OSCE and certainly never a contentious issue, surged to the top of the agenda at this year’s final meeting, thanks to Ukrainian civil society’s reaction to official falsification of the presidential election returns. On this issue, the often-disunited European Union managed to speak with a single strong voice, and in unison with the United States as well. Apart from Russia and Belarus, all those involved treated the situation in Ukraine purely as a democracy issue, as distinct from a geopolitical issue. On this basis, promoting democracy in Ukraine has suddenly become one of the long-sought, high-priority issues of European and Transatlantic consensus and joint efforts in the post-Soviet area.

(Documents of the OSCE’s 2004 year-end ministerial conference, Vienna and Sofia, December 1-7).