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Analysis: Russia Coordinates New Broadside Against OSCE

  • Liz Fuller

At Moscow's instigation, the six CIS states that are members of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan), together with Moldova, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, issued a statement in Vienna on 8 July harshly criticizing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and calling for a fundamental refocusing of its priorities and activities.

The statement, which was adopted during a meeting of CIS heads of state in Moscow on 3 July and bears the imprimatur of the Russian presidential press service, charged that the OSCE "does not respect such noninterference in internal affairs and respect for national sovereignty," and that it is guilty of double standards by focusing "selective attention on certain states while ignoring problems in other states." It claimed that the OSCE's humanitarian activities are restricted to "monitoring the human rights situation in the countries of the CIS and former Yugoslavia," and that this almost exclusive focus on the human rights dimension "significantly restricts" its ability to counter new challenges and threats.

The statement further targeted the OSCE's Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), noting that its primary activity of election monitoring is frequently "politicized and fails to take into account the specifics of individual countries." Over the past decade, ODIHR monitoring missions have criticized as failing to meet European standards most of the ballots, both parliamentary and presidential, in all the nine states that signed the condemnation.

The joint statement also criticized as "ineffective" the OSCE's field missions in the CIS, noting that their financing consumes a significant chunk of the OSCE's budget. It claimed that instead of fulfilling their mandate "to provide assistance to the government of the host state," those missions concentrate "exclusively" on the human rights situation and engage in "unwarranted" criticism of the domestic political situation.

It concluded that "the OSCE's agenda should include the swiftest removal of the imbalance between the three dimensions of the organization's activity by increasing the role of its military-political, economic, and environmental elements," and called for drafting "new approaches" to the organization's work.

Speaking in Moscow on 8 July, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov warned that Russia and other CIS states might "lose all interest" in the OSCE if it continues to "degenerate" rather than reform.

This is by no means the first time that Russia has criticized the OSCE for allegedly neglecting the security aspect of its original mandate. Exactly 10 years ago, in July 1994, then-Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev formally proposed that the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), as it was then called, should assume the role of an umbrella organization with overall responsibility for coordinating security in Europe, in cooperation with NATO, the West European Union, and the Council of Europe. A Russian Foreign Ministry official told Interfax on 20 July 1994 that other CIS states supported that Russian proposal. A Russian parliamentarian said the Russian proposal was prompted by NATO's shortcomings, specifically with regard to peacekeeping. He said NATO's Partnership for Peace program launched earlier that year "is an interesting forum for cooperation in military training and joint exercises, but it does not...guarantee security in Europe." But the underlying Russian rationale was clearly concern at the prospect of NATO expansion to incorporate one or more of the former Warsaw Pact countries.

At its summit in Budapest in December 1994, the CSCE changed its name to reflect its enlarged membership and shifting priorities in the wake of the collapse, first of socialism in Eastern Europe, and then of the USSR. But Russian politicians continued to lobby persistently for enhancing the OSCE's security component and specifically for the adoption of a new European security charter. Addressing a meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Copenhagen in December 1997, then-Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov argued that the OSCE "should be the appropriate framework for the reinforcement of pan-European security." At the same time, he urged that the proposed OSCE charter should not mandate "interference into the domestic affairs of member states."

The new OSCE security charter was finally adopted at the Istanbul OSCE summit in November 1999. It outlined intended "new steps," including enhancing the focus on security, expanding the OSCE's role in peacekeeping, and the need to counter the growing threats of terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking. It also stresses the potential threat to regional security posed by "acute economic problems and the degradation of the environment." By that time, however, it was already clear that Russia was losing the battle to forestall NATO's expansion eastwards: the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary were formally admitted to the alliance at its Washington summit in April 1999, and seven more countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) were to follow suit in early 2004.

Russia, nonetheless, persisted in its criticisms of the OSCE. In June 2000, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarev complained that unnamed Western countries were trying to narrow the OSCE's focus to human rights issues in the former East Bloc. He said such efforts "would reduce the OSCE to nothing," and warned that Russia "will do everything to prevent this." In January 2001, Russian diplomats presented to OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis proposals for reforming the OSCE, which met with a lukewarm reception.

The most recent Russian broadside against the OSCE came just days after the NATO summit in Istanbul failed to designate any CIS states as potential candidates for a future round of NATO expansion. Instead, the final communique signed at the summit stressed the importance of enhanced "cooperation" and closer "partnership" between NATO and the states of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, and also Ukraine. The question therefore arises: is Russia trying to persuade its CIS allies that in light of NATO's increased geographical focus on "out-of-area" operations, such as its engagement in Afghanistan, on the one hand, and its reluctance to designate any CIS states as potential future members, on the other, a revamped OSCE could guarantee European security just as effectively?

It should be noted that of the four CIS states (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan) that have made clear their aspiration to join NATO, two (Georgia and Azerbaijan) declined to sign the joint statement criticizing the OSCE. Turan on 10 July quoted a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry as saying that Baku had proposed an alternative draft statement that contained the accusation of double standards but also arguing that the OSCE's primary mandate is conflict prevention and mediation, specifically averting "ethnic cleansing" and "the occupation of the territory of sovereign states." Ukraine and Uzbekistan, by contrast, endorsed the Russian initiative.