Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 214

Moscow is lining up the member countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) — Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan — in a Russia-led bloc within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This bloc has emerged in the run-up to the OSCE’s year-end ministerial conference, which is scheduled to be held in late November in Madrid.

The CSTO countries jointly back Russian proposals on key issues to be discussed at the year-end conference. Purporting to speak on that group’s behalf, Russia is threatening to paralyze major OSCE operations unless those proposals are approved at the Madrid meeting. The OSCE’s 2007 Spanish chairmanship, host of the year-end meeting and drafter of the final documents, is trying to accommodate Moscow on major issues.

The Russia-led bloc calls for refocusing the OSCE on the military-political dimension, which Moscow mis-describes as the organization’s “original essence,” its “primary mission” and its “brand.” To this end, Russia and the other six countries are circulating a set of proposals to “fully utilize the potential of OSCE’s Forum for Security Cooperation” and “enhance FSC’s contribution to all-European security.” This move continues Moscow’s long-standing attempts to endow the OSCE with functions that could duplicate or interfere with those of NATO and maintain a Russian-influenced grey area in Europe’s East. The novel elements are the bloc basis and extended scope of the proposals.

With this group in tow, Russia presses for rapid institutionalization of the OSCE. It proposes to adopt a Charter, endow the OSCE with international legal personality and legal capacity, and turn it into a full-fledged regional organization.

To date, the OSCE lacks most of the attributes of an organization. Despite the word “Organization” in its title, the OSCE remains essentially a Conference, as it was originally named (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe — CSCE). Russia hopes to build up the OSCE into an all-European security body and counterpose it to NATO, particularly in Europe’s East. This is why most Western countries have long resisted turning the OSCE into a full-fledged organization.

Russia and the CSTO countries have drafted an OSCE Charter and are calling for the creation of an unofficial working group, attached to the Permanent Council, to examine that draft, with a view to adopting a Charter at the OSCE’s 2008 year-end meeting. Russia and its six allies oppose an alternative proposal, which would merely task a group to consider whether the adoption of a Charter would be appropriate.

The Russia-led group has also distributed a proposal to create an “anti-narcotics safety belt” on Afghanistan’s northern borders, based on cooperation between the OSCE and the CSTO. Meanwhile, Russia seeks unsuccessfully a similar arrangement of the CSTO with NATO, implying a bloc-to-bloc relationship. The United States and NATO countries are careful to avoid that implication. They favor participation by Russia and Central Asian countries in their national capacities, not as CSTO, in curbing the Afghan narcotics traffic. Tajikistan had originated the anti-narcotics safety-belt proposals almost a decade ago and reaffirmed it many times in its national capacity. However, Moscow’s proposal is primarily a political maneuver, seeking international recognition and legitimization of the CSTO. The OSCE seems to be a relatively soft target in this regard. It maintains regular official contacts with CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha and sent its own Secretary-General, Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, to attend the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit in October in Dushanbe.

The same group of countries has drafted “Basic principles for organizing the observation of national elections by ODIHR” (Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE’s election-monitoring arm) for the Madrid meeting. Under this proposal, the election observation modalities and the operation of ODIHR itself would become subject to approval on an inter-governmental basis — that is, dependent on the veto power of Russian and its allies in the OSCE’s Permanent Council. Such a rearrangement, if introduced, would liquidate ODIHR’s long-established autonomy. Moreover, the Russia-led group wants ODIHR to “rebalance” geographically — that is, to monitor elections also in Western countries, thus diverting some of its limited resources away from monitoring post-Soviet countries’ elections.

In its national capacity, Russia has announced that it would veto in Madrid a draft document on protecting human-rights advocates and on ensuring the participation of non-governmental organizations in democracy-promoting activities.

Moscow describes Kazakhstan as the “collective candidate of the CIS” to take over the OSCE’s chairmanship in 2009 (after Finland in 2008). In reality, Kazakhstan’s candidacy is backed by the CSTO countries, not the CIS. According to Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Grushko, addressing the OSCE Permanent Council on November 8, “If the Madrid meeting does not unequivocally and unconditionally make a positive decision on Astana’s candidacy, then we do not rule out that the OSCE may remain without any chairmanship, and not only in 2009.” This implies that Russia and perhaps CSTO countries would veto any chairmanship, if the OSCE does not accept Kazakhstan’s.

The incumbent chairman, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Angel Moratinos, “strongly supports” Kazakhstan’s chairmanship, as he has told the U.S. Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission press release, November 5). Russia’s threat to veto any other chairmanship — that is, to sink the chairmanship as an institution — seems designed to put Kazakhstan in the chair in 2009, not later as some Western countries suggest. It also seems designed to demonstrate that Russia can play havoc with the OSCE, unless the OSCE plays along with Russian policies.

(Documents of the OSCE Permanent Council sessions, November 8, November 15)