OSCE’s Year-End Conference Continues Pattern of Failure

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 235

The OSCE’s Finnish chairmanship fell between two stools at the organization’s year-end conference on December 4 and 5 in Helsinki. Despite Russia’s recent invasion of Georgia, a chairmanship overly eager to produce a final political declaration by consensus gave in to Russia on basic issues of security and democracy far more than Western countries could accept.

For an organization whose own measure of success is the adoption of year-end political declarations and associated documents, the Helsinki conference continued the OSCE’s pattern of failure. That pattern has haunted the OSCE since its last summit in 1999 (“Istanbul Commitments,” soon torn apart by Russia) and since the 2003 ministerial meeting (permanent failure to adopt political documents or even to register, let alone counteract, Russia’s rogue conduct in Europe’s East).

Thus, the Helsinki draft final declaration (see EDM, December 3, 4) collapsed not only under the weight of Russia’s veto but even more because it short-changed Western principles and key positions. Even countries such as Germany and Italy, often indulgent with Russian transgressions on issues of security and governance, subscribed to the collective statements by NATO and the European Union during this conference. These differed from the draft final declaration and other chairmanship texts that papered over or ignored Moscow’s violations of the OSCE’s own norms.

Romania presented the common position of NATO’s 26 member countries on the Adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE, 1999) and Russia’s breaches of that treaty. It noted that Russia’s actions in Georgia “called into question Russia’s commitment to fundamental OSCE principles, [including those] that underpin the CFE Treaty” (Statement by the Delegation of Romania on behalf of 26 countries, December 5). Criticizing Russia’s unilateral “suspension” of its compliance with the treaty since December 2007, the NATO statement urged Russia to resume implementation without further delay. It underscored the importance of “flank” limitations on conventional forces, even as Russia wants to abolish those limitations on the northern and southern flanks by renegotiating the treaty.

NATO reaffirmed its proposal to negotiate “parallel actions,” a phased-in quid-pro-quo involving Russian troop withdrawal from Moldova and Georgia in return for international ratification of the CFE Treaty. Offered in 2007 and repeated most recently at NATO’s December 3 Brussels ministerial meeting and the OSCE’s December 5 Helsinki conference, the “parallel actions” proposal has been overtaken by Russian unilateral actions. Moscow’s goals have advanced from international ratification of the existing treaty to wholesale renegotiation of that treaty to working out a new treaty.

The European Union’s collective statement, also endorsed by partner countries, “emphatically condemn[ed] Russia’s unilateral decision to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia” (Intervention of the European Union, December 4). Presented by French Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner, the EU statement praised the OSCE Georgia Mission’s performance in South Ossetia and called for its continuation. On this point the EU directly confronted Russia, which has blocked the OSCE Mission’s access to South Ossetia since the Russian invasion in August.

Moreover, Russia now claims without any credible evidence that the mission had foreknowledge of Georgian preparations to “attack South Ossetia” but withheld that information from Russia. During the Helsinki conference, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov demanded an international investigation into the mission’s activities (Statement by the Russian Delegation, December 5). Moscow’s accusations seem intended to force the removal of the mission’s Finnish chief and to rebuff the attempts by Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Alexander Stubb to reopen the mission’s access to South Ossetia.

The EU statement looks, however, limp on other issues related to Georgia, Moldova, and the CFE Treaty. Drafted by the EU’s French presidency and reflecting French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s reconciliation with Russian breaches of the armistice in Georgia, the statement merely says that “the EU is not convinced that deploying thousands of troops and building military bases in the two separatist regions contributes to stability” (Intervention of the European Union, December 4).

Inadvertently or not, this reads as if the issue—and, thus, a core part of the armistice—were a matter of discussion, rather than implementation. It gives Moscow time and scope to “convince” key EU players, as it has already convinced Sarkozy and Kouchner, to declare the armistice essentially fulfilled by Russia. The EU statement, unlike the positions of NATO and the United States, does not call for implementation of the August 12 and September 8 armistice documents on Georgia and omits any call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova under the CFE Treaty package.

Georgia tried to fill the gaps left by the Finnish Chairmanship in the draft final declaration. The Georgian amendments called for implementation of the August and September armistice agreements, safe return of expellees to their places of residence in South Ossetia, and an international presence throughout Georgia’s territory to build stability and security (Amendments by the Georgian Delegation, December 3). Given Russia’s veto power, however, the OSCE could not have introduced these amendments in its documents, even if the organization had desired to do so.

Russia vetoed (“withheld consensus from,” in the parlance of the OSCE) the intention of many countries to issue a regional statement by the ministerial conference on the Transnistria conflict. In its national statement, Moldova called for an early, unconditional, and complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldovan territory (as stipulated under the 1999 CFE treaty package) and replacement of Russian “peacekeeping” troops by an international mission of civilian observers. The statement makes it clear that Moldova will only ratify the CFE treaty if Russia withdraws those troops. Moldova further called for international assistance to democratization in Transnistria and resumption of negotiations on the political status of Transnistria in the existing, 5+2 international format. Moscow and Tiraspol have blocked that format since March 2006, after having allowed it to function for just five months). The OSCE, which has handled the Transnistria conflict since 1993, has proven unable to advance toward a resolution, because Russia has paralyzed such efforts through its veto power within the organization.