Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 222

In the wake of the Istanbul summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe, Baltic leaders are concerned by the twin processes which overshadowed the summit: Russia’s war in the Caucasus and the OSCE’s inability to deal with the problem. According to Lithuanian Parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, the “colonial war” against Chechnya may–as a result of the OSCE’s and the Western powers’ passivity–be followed by Russian operations against Georgia or Azerbaijan, which form “Russia’s main targets in the Caucasus. The two countries want out of the Russian sphere of influence, whereas Russia is loath to allow that to happen.” Landsbergis is concerned that Russia might, in a follow-up stage, “tackle the Baltic states” using the tested scenario: “Bombs go off somewhere in Pskov [Russian city near Estonia and Latvia]… Russian security agencies start talking about Estonian or Lithuanian involvement. Moscow turns up the pressure on the Baltic states, manipulates the local Russian communities and finally intervenes with troops.” Landsbergis made these remarks in Die Presse, Austria’s leading newspaper, for maximum resonance with the OSCE: Vienna is the seat of the organization’s Permanent Council, and Austria will hold the OSCE’s rotating chairmanship in 2000.

Reporting on the OSCE summit to the Estonian parliament, Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves concluded on the basis of the organization’s record that “the OSCE would do nothing if Estonia is attacked. They may only discuss the problem. The OSCE is not a priority for us because it will not give us the security we need. It is not the type of organization that would rush to help in a difficult situation.” Citing the OSCE’s inaction during the successive wars in the former Yugoslavia, Ilves remarked that the wars and assaults on small nations in the Balkans continued until NATO intervened.

The Baltic leaders’ and parliaments’ condemnation of the war in the Caucasus contrasts with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel’s silence. By the same token, many in Estonia and also in Latvia are unhappy with the OSCE’s interventionism–sometimes in tandem with Russia–in favor of a special position for the Russian language in those two Baltic countries (see the Monitor, May 11, June 21-22, July 8, 13, 19). At the Istanbul summit, Estonia had hoped in vain to obtain agreement on a code of conduct that would define the scope of authority of the OSCE’s mission in Tallinn. In his report to the parliament, Ilves noted that “Estonia is hardly the place where a permanent OSCE mission is needed,” particularly since the organization is ignoring or failing to deal with real and urgent challenges in other areas. Without naming Russia, Ilves noted the “double standards” which are sometimes evident in the OSCE’s treatment of a big country and the small Baltic states (BNS, Itar-Tass, Turan, November 25-26, 29).