On December 6-7 in Vilnius, the OSCE’s year-end ministerial conference dramatized this organization’s vulnerability to sabotage by the Kremlin. That vulnerability is inherent in the OSCE’s own structure and modus operandi, which enable Russia to exercise discretionary veto powers under this organization’s consensus rules.
Lithuania, holder of the OSCE’s rotating chair in 2011, had set the bar of expectations and deliverables realistically low. The Lithuanian chairmanship adopted the motto that results “measured in millimeters” would still be valuable, given the organization’s internal constrains and the overall international context. This Chairmanship worked even harder, compared with some past chairmanships, albeit for diminishing returns this time. But Lithuania faced an almost impossible task promoting Western values and interests amid the West’s own crisis, against an overconfident Russia, and using such an inadequate instrument as the OSCE.
Moscow vetoed all the significant year-end documents: the ministerial council’s draft political declaration, the draft “regional statements” on the conflicts in Georgia and Moldova, and the draft decisions (mainly relevant to Georgia and Azerbaijan) on the problem of refugees and forcibly displaced persons as a major aspect of the unresolved conflicts.
Russia refused even to discuss the proposed statement on the conflicts in Georgia, unless delegations from Abkhazia and South Ossetia would participate in the negotiations at the conference. Such participation would, however, have signified international recognition of those two Russian-occupied territories as “states.” Russia alone “recognizes” them as such at the OSCE.
The Russian side also refused to discuss the OSCE Draft Decision on Refugees and Forcibly Dispersed Persons. It cited lack of expertise on this topic in the Russian delegation and a lack of time as excuses. The document was a tame one. Pegged to the 60th and the 50th anniversaries of the relevant international conventions, the draft also cited relevant OSCE documents (honored in the breach). Without naming Russia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Armenia or Armenian-occupied territories in Karabakh, the draft decision suggested using the experience gained in the Balkans and applying it to “other parts of the OSCE area” to address refugee and displacement issues. The document stopped far short of mentioning ethnic cleansing or calling for remedies (OSCE Ministerial Council Documents, December 6). Even so, Moscow vetoed it – on Russia’s own behalf and that of its local allies.
Georgia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Grigol Vashadze, reminded the conference that Moscow has ignored Tbilisi’s 2010 and 2011 calls for political dialogue in any format (whether bilateral, mediated, or indeed within the OSCE, which is by definition a platform for dialogue). Similarly, Russia has failed to reciprocate President Mikheil Saakashvili’s pledge of non-use of force and peaceful resolution of the Russia-Georgia conflict. Instead, Russia has responded by stepping up the militarization of occupied territories, Vashadze noted in his speech. He alluded to “some leaders who still dream of restoration of the Soviet Union, spheres of influence, near abroad domination, [who] use force as instrument of foreign policy and engage in ethnic cleansing” (OSCE Ministerial Council Documents, December 7).
In the run-up to the year-end meeting, the Lithuanian chairmanship had hosted the official re-start of negotiations on the Transnistria conflict, after an interruption of almost six years. Although Russia went along with the re-start, it nevertheless vetoed the proposed regional statement on the conflict in Moldova at the ministerial council. Moscow did start negotiating on that document, but only to claim that it could not be adopted without Transnistria’s representatives taking part in the negotiations. This implied the participation of Tiraspol’s representatives in Chisinau’s delegation. Russia does not “recognize” Transnistria and would be content to see some form of a joint Chisinau-Tiraspol delegation.
This formula corresponds with Moscow’s goal to empower Transnistria to participate in the formulation and implementation of Chisinau’s foreign policy. Moscow seeks to achieve this result in the absence of a political settlement that would define Tiraspol’s competencies. Inclusion of Tiraspol’s representatives in Moldovan delegations would pre-judge that settlement, and set faits accomplis on those competencies, in advance of any negotiated agreement.
Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Iurie Leanca, cautiously greeted the re-launched negotiations as “a first step on the difficult way ahead” in his speech. Without naming Russia, Leanca regretted the latter’s decision to open 24 polling stations in Transnistria for the elections to Russia’s Duma, without Moldovan consent: “The presence of a kin-state’s citizens on the territory of another state must not be used as a justification for infringing the territorial sovereignty of that state” (OSCE Ministerial Council Documents, December 7).
In line with Chisinau’s current position, Leanca’s speech drew an artificial distinction between Russian troops guarding ammunition stockpiles in Transnistria and Russian “peacekeeping” troops there. Chisinau calls for removal of the ammunition and withdrawal of the stockpile-guarding troops, which are “stationed there contrary to [neutral Moldova’s] Constitution and [Russia’s] international commitments, as well as without the consent of the host country [Moldova].” However, Chisinau sounds irresolute about the Russian “peacekeeping” operation: “We reiterate our call to start reflecting on the transformation of the current peacekeeping operation into a multinational civilian arrangement under a relevant international mandate.” Indeed, “start reflecting” after 19 years seems none too soon.