Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 148

With two weeks remaining from the OSCE’s 2004 budgetary authorization, Moscow threatens to block adoption of the 2005 budget unless the organization introduces Russian-proposed “reforms.” Those proposals seek to: boost the OSCE’s role in the military-political and security sphere, where Russia can and does manipulate the organization; emasculate the OSCE in the democracy sphere, where the organization can and does operate independently of Russia; and curtail overall Western influence in the OSCE by restricting extra-budgetary funding of the organization.

Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, Deputy Minister Vladimir Chizhov, and other officials pushed those proposals forcefully at the OSCE’s year-end conference in Sofia on December 6-7, and continue to do so afterwards. Moscow argues that OSCE activities are doubly imbalanced: functionally, by focusing selectively on democracy issues while neglecting all-European military-security issues; and geographically, by focusing on political developments in post-Soviet countries while ignoring what Moscow describes as flawed elections and human-rights violations in Western countries and their new allies.

The “reform” proposals target three OSCE institutions and processes: the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which specializes in monitoring elections throughout the OSCE area; the organization’s field missions; and its budget-formation procedures. Russian officials continually refer to reform proposals advanced by the presidents of eight CIS countries in their July 3 and September 15 collective statements to the OSCE. At the Sofia year-end meeting, however, only Belarus acted as a convinced supporter of those reform proposals.

The joint Russia-Belarus proposal calls for tasking ODIHR to: take into account the work done in the CIS on developing election standards; use those standards, alongside Western ones, in working out a “common, uniform set of criteria” for OSCE-CIS appraisals of elections; increase the proportion of CIS countries’ representatives in ODIHR election observation missions; finance election observation through the OSCE’s unified budget only [i.e., disallowing Western countries’ contributions; these do not require Russian approval, whereas the unified budget does].

Russia and Belarus gave the OSCE until June 30, 2005, to introduce these changes, and the organization’s Permanent Council to adopt new political guidelines for OSCE/ODIHR election monitoring in line with those changes. In a similar vein, the statement by CIS Executive Committee Chairman and Executive Secretary Vladimir Rushailo called for “coordination” of OSCE/ODIHR and CIS election observation missions, with a view to issuing “joint assessments” of elections. As is often the case, Russia spoke on the collective behalf of the CIS without reflecting a consensus among those 12 countries. In the end-game negotiations on the draft final declaration, Armenia proposed inserting a positive reference to developing a common OSCE-CIS set of election standards. Armenia had similarly lined up behind Russia and Belarus in accepting the fraudulent election of Viktor Yanukovych as president of Ukraine.

Had such “reforms” been in place, OSCE/ODIHR could not have ascertained the electoral fraud in Ukraine, would have joined the Rushailo-led CIS monitoring mission in blessing the fraudulent returns, and would have been prevented from deciding — as it did at Sofia — to send and fund observers to the repeat runoff in Ukraine.

To “reform” the OSCE’s field missions, Russia proposes to: restrict the missions’ extra-budgetary funding, which mostly consists of above-board contributions by Western countries to local pro-democracy activities; confine the scope of missions’ activities to socioeconomic projects requested by host countries’ authorities; limit the missions’ mandate to one-year renewable terms, subject to the host government’s agreement each time; and increase the proportion of representatives of certain CIS member countries in OSCE field missions. The organization’s German-led Minsk Office was “reformed” already in 2003 along these lines.

The proposed budgetary “reform” would entail: revising the scales of OSCE member countries’ contributions “according to their ability to pay” [i.e., reducing CIS countries’ contributions]; ending or curbing the practice of extra-budgetary funding of the OSCE in general [thus cutting the organization’s overall financial resources]; and establishing budget formation procedures that would, in their practical effect, severely restrict the OSCE’s ability to function without Russia’s or its supporters’ approval.

Russia gave the OSCE until December 31 to commit itself to proceeding down this road. “In the absence of firm obligations on this score, we cannot vote the 2005 budget,” Lavrov and Chizhov both warned. Their statements and those of other Russian officials before, during, and after the Sofia meeting strongly suggested that Russia can either keep the OSCE in business or push it toward demise (“throw it on the sidelines of history,” in Lavrov’s unreferenced paraphrase of Trotsky), depending on the extent to which it cooperates with Russian policies.

Such warnings exploit the OSCE’s structural vulnerabilities, fear of demise through irrelevance, awareness of its rapidly diminishing raisons d’etre — save election-monitoring, which Moscow now wants to rein in — and its disposition to give in to Russia year after year in the military-security sphere as a price of remaining a player in that sphere. Anxious about institutional survival, and damaged by Russia perhaps irreparably at the 2002 Porto and 2003 Maastricht year-end meetings over a wide range of security and democracy issues, the OSCE hides its weaknesses and failures from public view. It prefers to paper over the problems, instead of debating them openly and exposing Russia’s tactics.

At the Sofia meeting, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that the United States “categorically disagreed” with Russian proposals to shift OSCE’s focus away from democracy building in post-Soviet countries. The European Union spoke out in a similar vein. Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Bot, speaking for the EU’s presidency on behalf of all member countries, as well as the External Relations and European Neighborhood Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, both ruled out any reduction of OSCE democracy-building activities, or a “rebalancing” of security and pro-democracy goals at the expense of the latter. Whether this stance, taken in the year-end meeting’s media limelight, can hold in the non-transparent give-and-take with Russia.

The OSCE’s incoming Slovenian Chairmanship for 2005 sounds anxious. According to that country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, OSCE Chairman-in-Office-designate Dimitrji Rupel, in his closing statement at Sofia, “Foremost among these challenges . . . is the fissure in relations [between] East and West. As a stark reflection of this regrettable reality . . . the more we talk of no new dividing lines in Europe, the more we are confronted with them. I therefore read carefully the Moscow declaration and Astana address of Presidents of CIS states . . . a resounding expression of dissatisfaction at the highest level, which has to be taken into account. I intend to work relentlessly to address this situation.” Pointing to the urgent need to adopt the 2005 budget before the end of 2004, Rupel stated, “Without this, the very functioning of the organization would be in jeopardy . . . . My biggest concern at the moment is to avert a political stalemate in the organization.”

If that concern is overriding — and Russian tactics are indeed designed to make it the overriding concern for the OSCE — then the temptation may well persist to ensure the organization’s survival through continuing concessions to Russia regarding the “frozen conflicts,” CFE Treaty and Istanbul Commitment implementation, border monitoring, and other security issues, as well as using the OSCE to reopen ethnic issues in Estonia and Latvia at Russian insistence. That approach would only deepen the OSCE’s crisis.

Russian duress and for the third consecutive year, the OSCE at Sofia was unable even to cite its own earlier resolutions; let alone call, if only symbolically, for their implementation. The organization lost the final vestiges of its credibility in the security sphere at the Sofia meeting.

That repeat failure, however, points the OSCE’s way out of crisis. Election monitoring, promotion of good governance, and democratic institution building in post-Soviet countries are compelling raisons d’etre for the organization. It is in the democracy sphere that the OSCE can bring its comparative advantages to bear. This, not Russian-prescribed “reforms,” can provide the OSCE with a new lease on life.

(Documents of the OSCE’s 2004 year-end ministerial conference, Vienna and Sofia, December 1-8; Interfax, RIA-Novosti, December 9-12).