Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 28

On February 7 in Moscow, Romania’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mircea Geoana–the new chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)–discussed the differences which increasingly set Russia apart from an overwhelming majority of OSCE member countries. Those differences center on Moscow’s conduct both in Chechnya and toward some of the formerly Soviet-ruled nations. The OSCE’s end-year 2000 ministerial conference in Vienna collapsed over Russia’s opposition to a nearly unanimous consensus on Chechnya, Moldova, Georgia and Belarus. Last month, Russia submitted at the organization’s headquarters in Vienna a set of proposals to “improve the activity of the OSCE.”

These proposals formed one part of Geoana’s discussions in Moscow with Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov and other Russian officials. The suggested “improvements” reflect the goal to reestablish control over much of the ex-Soviet space, and are therefore seemingly marked by internal contradictions. On the one hand, Russia suggests expanding the functions and mandate of the OSCE especially in the security sphere, hoping to dilute NATO’s and America’s role. On the other, Russia seeks to thwart OSCE action at every step–especially in the security and human rights spheres–in countries like Moldova, Georgia or Belarus. In those countries, Russia aims to maintain a system of military bases and alliances and to prop up satellite political authorities–local ones in Moldova and Georgia, central ones in Belarus–while hoping to minimize OSCE interference with those Russian policies.

At the concluding news conference in Moscow, Geoana stated that he had raised the issues of Moldova and Georgia as part of the OSCE’s legitimate field of action–a formula which negates any sphere-of-influence approach to those issues. By the same token, Geoana turned down suggestions that the OSCE should recognize the outcome of parliamentary elections in Belarus. Some Russian officials went so far as to suggest that they might seek recognition of a Russia-Belarus “union parliament,” elections to which are tentatively scheduled to be held this autumn. The Duma’s chairman Gennady Seleznev aired that idea publicly when receiving Geoana. The latter countered also publicly that the state of democracy in Belarus does not qualify that country’s elected authorities for OSCE recognition.

Geoana had taken the unusual step of announcing to an international audience beforehand that he would raise those issues in Moscow. In his paper at the top-level Security Policy Conference in Munich on February 4, he announced that his chairmanship of the OSCE would actively pursue remedies to the situation in Belarus, Moldova and Georgia. He said that the collapse of Slobodan Milosevic’s dictatorship in Serbia left “one more dictator to go, the one in a more northerly location”–a clear reference to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk. Geoana zeroed in on the twin aspects of Moscow’s policy–namely, the quest for a sphere of influence and the support for illegitimate authorities in target areas: “There can be no arrangements which would give certain countries more rights than others to influence decisionmaking or implementation of decisions. Russia’s voice is heard in places where other voices are not heeded, for example in Minsk, in [Transdniester’s] Tiraspol, in [Abkhazia’s] Sukhumi. I urge Russia to use that voice positively and break the deadlock.”

The paper cautioned Moscow that “none of us wants to witness a repetition of the Vienna ministerial conference. We do not want to see that commitments taken at the highest political level, as at the Istanbul summit, are not fulfilled.” That last reference turns the spotlight on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s apparent repudiation of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin’s 1999 binding commitment to withdraw the troops from Moldova and close down at least two military bases in Georgia. The debut of the OSCE’s new chairmanship would seem to presage an activist approach by the organization, ruling out any implicit sphere-of-influence arrangements in countries targeted for such arrangements by Moscow (Itar-Tass, February 7; Mircea Geoana, “A Secure Europe–A Secure Russia,” paper for the Security Policy Conference in Munich, February 3-4; see the Monitor, December 5, 2000, February 2, 5-6; Fortnight in Review, December 1, 2000).