Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 219

In the likely event of its adoption, the draft ministerial declaration of the OSCE’s

upcoming year-end conference is already setting a record on two counts: brevity and

irrelevance. The year-end political declarations (and documents attached to them in

some cases) traditionally serve as the main yardstick for the success or failure of

the ministerial conference, of the OSCE itself for the year, and of the

organization’s Chairmanship.

In most years, the final declarations were lengthy, comprehensive, and ambitious

documents. However, an increasingly aggressive Russia confronted the organization

with the dilemma of either giving in to Moscow’s geopolitical agenda or giving up on

issuing year-end declarations. The OSCE resolved this dilemma by sacrificing Georgia

and Moldova to Russia at the 2002 Porto year-end conference, then by standing up

half-way (and amid agony) to Russia at the 2003 Maastricht and 2004 Sofia year-end

conferences. There, only Russia’s winner-take-all intransigence prevented

compromises. Those two conferences failed to result in political declarations,

largely because Russia threatened to veto the position of most participant countries

on three interrelated issues: the conflicts in Georgia and Moldova and the Russian

obligation to withdraw its forces from those two countries under the

OSCE’s 1999 Istanbul summit decisions.

While the Maastricht and Sofia “failures” were in fact blessings in disguise,

because another Porto would have spelled the OSCE’s end, many felt that another year

with no consensus-based declaration in 2005 could be irreparably damage the

organization. Moreover, Russia used its veto to block the adoption of the

organization’s 2005 budget, then lifted the veto under an implied threat to use that

power again in 2006, unless the OSCE “reforms” itself to Moscow’s prescriptions on

international security and democracy standards. Thus, after three consecutive years

of shattered conferences and amid budgetary blackmail, the OSCE’s most influential

players have decided to turn the 2005 year-end conference into an exercise in sheer


The draft declaration reflects this overriding priority: institutional survival, at

the risk of courting irrelevance and at the cost of forfeited credibility. That risk

and that cost seem, perhaps logically from a bureaucratic perspective, preferable to

another agitated year-end conference with no final declaration and a sword of

Damocles hung by Moscow over the organization’s budget. The United States and

European Union are behind this cautious approach: both look with concern at the

prospect of the OSCE’s demise, though neither would identify Russia as the source of

their concern.

Thus, the year-end draft declaration marks a dramatic downscaling of the

organization’s declared ambitions, compared to earlier years. Even so, certain items

in the document ring particularly hollow. For example, the opening paragraph pays

homage to the Helsinki Final Act in the context of international security and

stability, ignoring the ongoing breaches of that Act in the Black Sea-South Caucasus

region. Forcible border changes, mass-scale ethnic cleansing, de facto annexation of

territories, and the stationing of foreign forces on other countries’ territories

are conveniently not mentioned.

The draft declaration would “support OSCE conflict-resolution efforts,” but shies

away from assessing the organization’s track record in that regard because the

record is too discouraging. It reaffirms a commitment to secure borders in the OSCE

area, ignoring Russia’s termination of the OSCE’s Georgia Border Monitoring

Operation (BMO) this year. That failure also caused the OSCE to lose the opportunity

of leading the Moldova-Ukraine border assistance mission, which the European Union

took over after watching the OSCE’s passive acceptance of the BMO’s termination.

The perennial issues related to frozen conflicts and the Istanbul commitments are

squeezed within a three-line paragraph that is the only bracketed paragraph, its

final wording yet to be agreed upon. It fails to name Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan,

Armenia, or Russia; it abandons even the routine OSCE language on territorial

integrity, inviolability of borders, and other basic principles; it mentions the

Istanbul commitments without naming any longer the country that undertook those

commitments and to whom the troops belong; and it avoids uttering the words

“withdrawal” or “forces,” although earlier OSCE documents spelled them out and even

added reinforcers (e.g., the orderly, undelayed, internationally observed withdrawal

of Russian forces).

This paragraph, if adopted in its present form, would again sacrifice Moldova. The

draft wording “welcome[s] the significant progress made toward fulfillment” of those

commitments,” a phrasing applicable to Russian forces in Georgia, but clearly not in

Moldova, where nothing has been withdrawn for about two years. By failing to make

that distinction (apparently because they decided to avoid naming countries in

deference to Russia), the drafters are failing to hold Russia accountable to that

part of its obligations, implicitly creating an impression of Russian overall

compliance with the Istanbul commitments.

(Draft Ministerial Declaration, OSCE Vienna, November 18)