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OSCE: U.S., Russia Clash Over Organization's Future

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Participants at the 14th OSCE Ministerial Council on December 4 (OSCE) BRUSSELS, December 5, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Ending as it did without major decisions, the December 4-5 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels highlighted the diverging visions pursued by some of the major countries within the organization.

Most key issues pitted the United States against Russia, and divisions ran deep on the most fundamental issues.

Speaking shortly before the end of the meeting today, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns outlined a vision of the OSCE as a body with a continued strong mission to promote democracy and defend human rights.
The OSCE "gives objective straight advice about democracy, human rights, electoral practices."


"One of the key challenges facing all of us in the Euro-Atlantic community is, 'How can young democracies in the Balkans, in Central Europe, in the Caucasus, and in Central Asia become fully fledged democracies?'" he said. "And the OSCE is the most important institution available to all of us, the most effective arm of the Euro-Atlantic community, because it is an objective observer of elections. It gives objective straight advice about democracy, human rights, electoral practices."

Differing Visions

A key test of that vision was the debate on a draft declaration on "strengthening the effectiveness" of the OSCE, which emphasized the importance of the mission Burns outlined. Burns noted today that Russia was the last country to block the adoption of the text.

The previous day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had taken issue with that vision, saying it was imbalanced, judgmental, and didn't address current concerns.

Russia has long resented what it sees as the OSCE's meddling in the affairs of the post-Soviet successor states. Lavrov said the OSCE risks "irrelevance" if it does not start tackling global threats like terrorism and the drug trade.

A declaration on OSCE effectiveness was finally adopted on December 5. Russia showed its displeasure by blocking another text that would have committed OSCE member states to the protection of domestic human rights activists and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The outgoing OSCE chairman in office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, did not hide his disappointment, saying that "I can only regret that an important decision on human rights defenders was blocked." De Gucht noted in his closing remarks that "a vast majority" of OSCE members believe they should protect human rights defenders.

Overall, de Gucht tried to strike a positive note, saying he hopes the OSCE has put an end to the phase of "introspection" -- a reference to the years in which member states have spent arguing about the organization's future role.

Going In Circles

On issues of substance, however, there was little evidence to support this hope, as divisions followed the same basic pattern.

U.S. Undersecretary Burns noted the "profound disagreement" between the United States and Russia on the latter's treatment of Georgia and Moldova. Burns said he regretted Russia's decision to block agreement of declarations on conflicts in both countries.

De Gucht said there was only "circular" movement with respect to separatist conflicts in Georgia and Moldova (RFE/RL file photo)

He also made it plain that the United States believes Russia has failed to honor its commitments before the OSCE.

"Unfortunately, there will be no agreed-upon language in the final document on Georgia and Moldova," he said. "I think the great majority of countries here have called upon Russia to meet its Istanbul commitments made in 1999 -- to withdraw their remaining military equipment from Moldova, to withdraw their troops from Georgia. These two countries deserve to be fully independent and fully sovereign, and the United States will continue to support them in that right."

OSCE Chairman De Gucht also noted that 2006 had only produced "circular" movement with respect to conflicts in Georgia and Moldova. He said tensions had run high during discussions of these issues and warned that the OSCE's credibility had been damaged as a result.

De Gucht cited an absence of political will, calling for "mutual concessions" and saying no one should be angling for an "all or nothing" outcome. He warned that resorting to force would not bring sustainable solutions.

Kazakh Leadership Bid

The OSCE meeting noted some progress in Nagorno-Karabakh, but there were no signs of an impending breakthrough.

De Gucht praised the OSCE's outgoing Belgian chairmanship for swiftly defusing the controversy surrounding Kazakhstan's bid to lead the OSCE in 2009. He said the decision was deferred until November next year and is now subject to democratic reforms, which Kazakhstan has promised to undertake. "So the link between these two elements does seem to be very important," he added.

The United States led efforts to persuade Kazakhstan to accept a later date, but appeared actively engaged behind the scenes to reach a compromise after Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev on December 4 vowed not to back down.

Undersecretary Burns indicated on December 5 that U.S. officials had had "good" contacts with their Kazakh counterparts on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting.
Democracy In Russia

Demonstrators in Moscow carry a coffin with a television in it to protest government control over broadcasting (TASS file photo)

DO RUSSIANS LIKE THEIR GOVERNMENT? During a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office on November 15, Richard Rose, director of the Center for the Study of Public Policy at the University of Aberdeen, discussed the results of 14 surveys he has conducted since 1992 on Russian public opinion about democracy and the country's development. He discussed the implications of these opinions for relations with the West and for Russia's 2008 presidential election.


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