Even though its development suffers from an ambiguous and profound crisis, and it is taking an increasingly hostile line against Russia, especially after the beginning of Russia’s special military operation, and in relation to the wider situation in Ukraine, nevertheless the OSCE remains the only European platform where we can engage in multilateral diplomacy. In view of the fact that the Organization was created as a forum for political dialogue on an equal basis and collective decision-making on the most important security issues affecting its members, and that the OSCE’s strengths are its broad membership (57 States) and comprehensive approach to security, Russia continues to regard this structure as an important and unique instrument in the system formed by the various European institutions.
Given the collapse of our relations with the European Union and NATO and our withdrawal from the Council of Europe, Russia is interested in restoring the original function of the OSCE, undermined by the efforts of the West, as one of the leading forums for mutually beneficial dialogue on equal terms and for the collective elaboration of consensus-based decisions on many key issues affecting European security. That is why, despite the clear crisis in the Organization’s identity, and despite the fact that it is drifting to the margins of European politics, Russia participated in the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Skopje in a bid to save it from losing its political relevance and authority, and, in effect, collapsing.
For the Russian delegation, the road to Skopje was a hard and thorny one. Right up to the last moment, those opposed to Sergey Lavrov’s personal participation in the ministerial meeting hoped that the Russian Foreign Minister would be prevented from travelling to Skopje, as happened last year when the OSCE Chairpersonship was held by Poland. But, despite various obstacles, the full Russian delegation took part in the thirtieth anniversary session of the Ministerial Council. It is clear that the decision to allow Sergey Lavrov to attend this event was made not by North Macedonia, as the holder of the OSCE Chairpersonship, but by its patrons, the Americans and the EU, who realized that only the personal participation of such a respected Minister would enable them to prevent the final collapse of the Organization, elect the OSCE Chair for 2024, reappoint its four leading officers – the Secretary General and the heads of its main offices – and try to “push through” the budget for the next year and avoid its being blocked by Russia and Belarus, as without the adoption of a budget the OCSE would be forced to wind up its activities.
Russophobic Estonia has long stood as a candidate for the next OSCE Chairpersonship, and its candidacy was supported primarily by the UK, the US, and the EU, but for obvious reasons, was rejected by Russia and Belarus. Unfortunately, the other Collective Security Treaty Organization and CIS member states sided with the majority view. With time of the essence, we urgently sought for another more neutral candidate who would be acceptable to us, for example, Switzerland or Austria, but in the end, once it was understood that Estonia was not an acceptable choice, Malta was selected. The West was also seriously concerned about Russia’s objections to their proposal to renew for another three years the terms of office of the OCSE’s Secretary General, Helga Schmid (Germany), and the heads of its specialist offices, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), headed by Matteo Mecacci (Italy) since 2020, the Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM), headed by Kairat Abdrakhmanov, formerly Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister, also since 2020, and the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media, headed by Teresa Ribeiro (Portugal), all of which expire at the end of December. In view of the politicized and anti-Russian orientation of both the offices themselves and in particular their heads (perhaps, to a certain extent, with the exception of Kairat Abdrakhmanov), Russia proposed to re-elect either the Secretary General, or, alternatively, the heads of the offices, but the Western representatives did not accept this proposal, insisting on re-electing the whole group, and rejecting an “either/ or” solution. Faced with a refusal on the part of Russia and Belarus, the option of technically extending all of the appointments for one year was proposed, as provided for by the OSCE rules of procedure.
Thus, in the interests of promoting their positions, the Collective West, unlike last year, authorized the Russian Foreign Minister’s service aircraft to fly over the territory of European Union countries, enabling him to participate in the Ministerial Council, apparently in the hope that Russia would be ready to vote for the necessary decisions. However, Ukraine, Poland and the three Baltic States did not agree with this approach, and as a sign of protest refused to send their ministers to Skopje, but this did not affect the general offensive position taken by the Western representatives in sharply criticizing Russia’s special military operation, affirming their unconditional support for Ukraine and promoting their own agreed position in spite of the Russians and Belarusians. And this is happening at a time when the OSCE is increasingly losing its credibility and authority, is ceasing to be a unifying forum – in fact, on the contrary, it has in effect become an appendage of the EU and NATO – and is in a deep state of crisis, to the extent that there are very real doubts about its continued survival. Sergey Lavrov was absolutely right when he told the meeting that the Organization is on the edge of an abyss, is degenerating, and “has turned into something whose future is a matter of indifference and in whose rescue, no one is ready to invest.” In short, the OSCE is at a crossroads and its future increasingly depends on the willingness and ability of its partners to adapt to today’s realities and steer it back towards its original purpose. Meanwhile, the Western members continue to pursue their previous destructive line, subverting and undermining the OSCE without learning any lessons from their failed tactics. It is precisely this confrontational policy of the Western countries that Sergey Lavrov drew attention to in the meeting of the Ministerial Council and during the press conference, noting in particular the complete degradation of all the Organization’s achievements in the three areas of security: military and political, economic and environmental, and humanitarian and rights security. Instead of showing a constructive approach in order to save the Organization, in their speeches at the meeting the Western representatives spoke more about “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine” and called for the exclusion of our country from the OSCE. What is more, it is significant that two key representatives of the anti-Russian campaign, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrel both preferred to retreat, leaving Skopje before the start of the plenary session of the Ministerial Council. They were less concerned with the fate of European security and the Organization itself than with organizational and technical issues, on which they focused all their attention.
As a result of discussions on the OSCE Chairpersonship for 2024, Russia eventually agreed to Malta’s candidacy. Austria and Switzerland never offered themselves as candidates. One factor in the decision was the fact that Malta is not formally a member of NATO, although it works closely with the bloc. As for the terms of office of the Organization’s Secretary General and the heads of the three key OSCE offices, we agreed to extend these for only nine months and called for a re-election of all four officers next September. Since 2021 we have refused to approve the adoption of a full-fledged budget for the Organization unless our proposals are taken into account, and in Skopje the Western countries failed to persuade Russia and Belarus to abandon their principled position. The OSCE will continue to operate on a temporary budget for the time being, and before the end of the year the Western representatives will almost certainly make new efforts to resolve this issue.
At the end of the ministerial meeting by the OSCE the current Chairperson, Bujar Osmani, Foreign Minister of Northern Macedonia, made a significant statement: he stressed that there was no sense in continuing with the discussion on excluding Russia from the Organization, adding that the principle of universal consensus would not work without Russia.
That is one of the few agreements that came out of the conference in Skopje. For several years now, unlike in the past, the Ministerial Council has failed to adopt decisions on the OSCE’s work in any of its three main areas of activity, which once again highlights the crisis afflicting the Organization and its state of degeneracy. Meanwhile, following the ministerial meeting, the heads of the delegations of the Collective Security Treaty Organization member states adopted a joint statement calling for the need to increase the effectiveness of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, to search for and promote positive and unifying issues and to set the mood for an ideology-free and pragmatic dialogue on the resolution of security problems of mutual concern.
In 2025, the Helsinki Final Act will be 50 years old, and it has already been decided that Finland will chair the OSCE in that anniversary year. It should be noted, however, that the Organization is approaching this momentous occasion in a deplorable and crisis-ridden state, and the prospects for its taking successful and unifying measures to strengthen cooperation on the continent remain dim, since it is, in fact, on the brink of an abyss. Unless it takes into account shared interests and works in accordance with a positive and unifying agenda, the OSCE is doomed to collapse.
Anvar Azimov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Senior Research Fellow of Moscow State Institute of International Relations, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.