Addressing the 2005 inaugural session of the OSCE Permanent Council on January 13, Russia openly threatened to sink the organization unless it accepts Russian-prescribed “reforms.” Permanent representative Alexei Borodavkin declared, “The situation has reached the critical point, and any further delay in reforming the organization would bring grave political consequences upon the OSCE . . . This year can either mark a turning point toward a renewed OSCE, or see it pushed farther toward the periphery of European politics.” He made clear that Moscow would continue to press its point by refusing to approve the organization’s 2005 budget.
The Russian address listed “reform” proposals carried over from the preceding year, but with some shifts of emphasis. Most notable among these was a demand for the OSCE to pressure Latvia and Estonia into conferring citizenship unconditionally to Soviet-era residents, as well as granting voting rights in municipal elections to non-citizens, and stopping school reform. Borodavkin’s speech implied that OSCE inaction on these issues would add to Russia’s reasons for questioning the organization’s legitimacy: “Why does the OSCE keep silent about that scandalous situation? It is not difficult to guess why. Should it continue in this vein, the OSCE could forfeit its ‘honest broker’ function and, therefore, its political usefulness.” Such warnings appear designed to intimidate the OSCE into resuming its meddling in Estonia and Latvia through the High Commissioner on National Minorities after a four-year pause.
That move, currently under way, corresponds to Moscow’s notion of “strengthening the OSCE” as long as it cooperates with Russia. Along the same lines, Borodavkin’s address insisted, the “OSCE must continue its efforts toward conflict-resolution in the established formats” — a reference to Moldova/Trans-Dniester, Georgia/South Ossetia, and the Karabakh conflict, all formats in which the OSCE underwrites Russia’s dominant role. The Russian address offered to “strengthen” the OSCE even more by asking it to become involved in conflict-resolution in Western Europe.
Assailing the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) as a “clear example of political hypocrisy” and “an instrument of manipulation and destabilization,” Borodavkin warned, “We are not going to put up with this.” He demanded that ODIHR’s standards for monitoring and evaluating elections be harmonized with Russia’s standards, and that its field operations add personnel from Russia and CIS countries. For now, ODIHR remains one of the few OSCE institutions able to operate outside Russian control.
In his inaugural address as OSCE Chairman-in-Office for 2005, Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitrij Rupel seemed to aim above all for the organization’s survival. Unlike previous chairmen-in-office, Rupel failed to mention the most egregious human rights and security problems in the OSCE’s area of responsibility, such as Chechnya, Russian troops in Moldova and Georgia, ethnic cleansing from Abkhazia and Karabakh, de facto border changes by military force, and breaches to the CFE Treaty of which the OSCE is the custodian. Observing, “It is truly unfortunate that we do not have an agreement on a budget for a year in which we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act [and] the 15th anniversary of the Paris Charter for a New Europe,” he omitted the even more unfortunate fact that the OSCE is unable to uphold those covenants, or at least for the record to note their ongoing violation on the territories of several OSCE member countries.
Rupel tried to offer Russia a modicum of satisfaction by agreeing — under apparent duress — to discuss several of Moscow’s reform proposals. Without alluding to Russia’s responsibility for terminating the OSCE’s Georgia Border Monitoring Operation (BMO), he expressed regret for its termination and called for reconsidering the issue in response to Georgia’s expressed wish. Casting Slovenia in the role of West-East facilitator, he expressed hope that the “summit meeting of Presidents Bush and Putin in June 2001 in Slovenia . . . will guide our work this year,” meaning the chairmanship and the OSCE generally. Rupel appeared oblivious to that summit’s connotations in terms of misperception of the Kremlin leader.
For their part, the Moldovan and Georgian delegations called for withdrawal of Russian troops from their territories, as well as internationalization of conflict-settlement negotiations so as to include the United States and the European Union. Moldova also appealed for international monitoring on the Trans-Dniester sector of the Moldova-Ukraine border, as well as for international inspection of Russian and Trans-Dniester military units and arms stockpiles. Georgia asked for urgent resumption of the Border Monitoring Operation on the Chechen, Ingush, and Dagestani sectors of the Georgia-Russia border from Georgian territory. The U.S. and European Union statements supported these goals in varying degrees.
Ukraine’s position, reflecting the recent political developments in the country, changed dramatically by comparison with November 2004. Speaking on behalf of the GUAM group of countries (Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova), the Ukrainian delegation put the Permanent Council on notice, “The OSCE has to prove its capability to safeguard the implementation of its own norms and principles.” GUAM and other countries “strongly believe that the issue of unresolved conflicts should always be at the forefront of the daily agenda . . . We call on the OSCE for more active engagement and decisive actions.”
These assertions did not reflect confidence in the OSCE’s capacity to perform; rather, they seem intended to build the case for transcending the OSCE so as to broaden the existing formats. The Ukrainian statement expressed “strong support” for the BMO (enjoining the “OSCE to give due regard that the extension of BMO is strongly supported by the host country and the international community”), for the proposed Declaration on Security and Stability for Moldova, and for international inspection of the military installations in Trans-Dniester. Russia had thwarted all of these initiatives toward the end of last year.
(Documents of the Permanent Council session and Slovenian Chairmanship, January 13).