President Vladimir Putin’s November 30 decree, suspending Russia’s participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, was one of several Kremlin-inflicted humiliations of the OSCE during the organization’s year-end meeting in Madrid. In a parallel move, Russia imposed crippling restrictions on the ability of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR, the election-monitoring agency) to monitor Russia’s December 2 parliamentary elections, thus forcing ODIHR to desist.
In the run-up to the year-end meeting, an emergent bloc of seven post-Soviet states under Russian leadership submitted further proposals that would disable the OSCE’s democracy-promoting role.
As U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns observed in his speech to the Madrid conference, the OSCE’s own concept of “how to achieve democratic peace in Europe has been under assault from within this organization. This Ministerial [conference] has before it a number of proposals that attempt to dismantle the structures that we have put in place to promote democracy, free elections, human rights.” The U.S. delegation leader sounded unprecedently frank about Putin’s role: “President Putin’s allegations that the United States was somehow involved in ODIHR’s decision to decline sending a mission to Russia are completely untrue and unfounded.”
The United States, the European Union, and an overwhelming majority of the 55 OSCE countries reaffirmed full support for ODIHR’s election observation activities, its internationally recognized methodology, and its status as an OSCE institution independent from governments. Expressing concern over Russia’s move, they urged Russia to enable ODIHR to observe the upcoming presidential election in that country (April 2008) without restrictions and in accordance with established practice.
In response, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov implied that Moscow was prepared to sink ODIHR altogether: “We have reached a point of no return: Either we shall all agree together on rules for election monitoring, or the differences in this area will threaten ODIHR’s prospects as an institution.” He did not need to elaborate on the threat. Russia could kill or disable an unwanted OSCE activity or operation by blocking the adoption of the entire organization’s budget (as in the case of the Georgia Border Monitoring Mission) or, less dramatically, by creating impossible conditions for a particular operation in the recipient country (OSCE’s Mission in Belarus, observers in South Ossetia, ODIHR in Russia and potentially in Russia-influenced countries henceforth).
The OSCE’s Chairman in Office, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Angel Moratinos, tried hard to accommodate Russia regarding ODIHR at the year-end conference. In his draft final declaration, Moratinos watered down the acknowledgment of ODIHR’s work, eliminating even the words “election monitoring and promoting human rights” from the text. Thus, the acknowledgment ended up citing no reasons. The appeasement proved pointless as Russian intransigence ultimately torpedoed the entire final declaration.
In contrast with Russia’s attitude, Georgia invited ODIHR and the OSCE countries to “send as many observers as possible” to Georgia’ presidential election campaign, ahead of the January 5 balloting. Announcing this invitation to the Madrid conference, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gela Bezhuashvili also urged the OSCE to monitor Georgian media coverage of the election campaign, including the fairness of airtime allocation to candidates.
Russia also opposed an OSCE draft decision on protecting human rights advocates and on ensuring the participation of non-governmental organizations in democracy-promoting activities under OSCE aegis. Russia and several allied countries countered with a draft decision that would authorize governments to allow or disallow those activities and the participation of local NGOs or nominate government-backed NGOs for participation in OSCE projects.
With ODIHR forced out of its observation role, Russia’s December 2 parliamentary elections were observed on a short-term basis by delegates from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and from OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE/PA). In a joint statement, the two groups characterize the conduct of Russia’s electoral campaign as “not fair” and not meeting democratic standards. They note “frequent abuse of administrative resources, media coverage strongly in favor of the ruling party, and an electoral code whose cumulative effect hindered political pluralism.”
Such elections and the corresponding assessment cannot remain without consequences at least for the plan of certain PACE leaders to install Kremlin-affiliated politician Mikhail Margelov as PACE president as of January 2008. Margelov, hitherto chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s external relations commission, is a prime exponent of the “managed democracy” system, which triumphed for the Kremlin in the 2003 and 2007 parliamentary elections, and seems poised for a repeat performance in Russia’s April 2008 presidential elections. Whether those PACE leaders could sway the Assembly to vote for Margelov seems far from certain now. Such a vote would be seen as a PACE reward to the Kremlin in the wake of Russia’s managed parliamentary elections and ahead of the similar exercise to be expected in the April presidential election in Russia.
(Documents of the OSCE year-end conference, Madrid, November 29-30; PACE and OSCE/PA releases, December 3; see EDM, October 31, November 2, 16)