A Russian diplomat who declined to be identified said this week that there is what he called a "bias among many OSCE states against the Russian view of the problems being discussed by the organization."
His comments reflect the views of the chief Russian delegate, Aleksandr Alekseyev, who told the Permanent Council last week that the OSCE has "double standards" about the way it treats issues "west of Vienna or east of Vienna."
Russia says these efforts do not alter its basic argument that there is a lack of balance in judging events in East and West. Among the Western delegations, there are complaints that Russia is largely responsible for the OSCE's inability to resolve a number of long-standing problems. In some cases, they accuse it of failing to honor its obligations.
One problem is the dispute between Moldova and its breakaway region of Transdniestr over a possible federation. An additional irritation for many OSCE members is Russia's failure to withdraw all its troops and military equipment from Transdniestr, as it pledged in 1999 to do. Russia is also criticized for not withdrawing military forces from Georgia. Its failure to do so is delaying ratification of an important treaty on the deployment of conventional military forces in Europe.
Russia's differences with most other members of the OSCE on these matters are so strong that it vetoed the final communique of the OSCE's summit meeting in Maastricht, Holland, last month. It argued that the chapters on Georgia and Moldova/Transdniestr reflected only Western viewpoints. It was able to do so because of an OSCE rule that all decisions must be made by consensus. This means that an agreement or document is invalid if one state refuses to accept it, and negotiations must start again.
Resolving -- or at least making meaningful progress -- on these problems is the goal of the new chairman of the OSCE -- Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi.
Pasi told journalists in Vienna that differences between states are common in the OSCE. He emphasized that all 55 member governments have their own agendas and want to achieve particular goals. But he said that in most cases, intensive negotiations eventually make it possible to find a compromise.
"Of course, each country has, so to say, a veto right in the OSCE, so all decisions made by the organization are made by full consensus among the 55 member states. But, of course, like other international organs, the OSCE is also a place for debate," says Pasi. "We are not coming with 55 equal opinions. On the contrary, most frequently we have 55 different opinions. But at the end of the day, we want to have one document to be adopted by consensus."
Pasi acknowledged that there is little chance of progress on some matters -- among them the OSCE's desire to resume operations in Chechnya. A mission was sent to Chechnya in 1995 but was forced to leave early last year when Russia declined to renew its mandate.
Pasi said his predecessor as OSCE chairman, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer -- who is now NATO secretary-general -- had offered Russia a list of possible OSCE programs which he believed would satisfy Moscow and the local authorities in Chechnya. His arguments were not successful. Pasi, who has studied the details of de Hoop Scheffer's negotiations, said he sees little hope that the OSCE will return to Chechnya in the near future.
He is more optimistic about other areas. Among them is the issue of Russian troops in Georgia. Russia has said it could take up to 11 years to complete the withdrawal and resettlement of its troops. However, the OSCE believes a recent offer from the United States could make a difference. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lynn Pascoe told Russia earlier this month that the U.S. might help pay for an accelerated withdrawal.
The Russian military presence is a holdover from when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union. Originally, Moscow had four military bases in Georgia. Russia and Georgia reached agreement in 1999 to close two of them, but Moscow has resisted demands that all its forces leave.
The new OSCE chairman is less optimistic that a solution can be found soon to the dispute between Moldova and its Russian-speaking breakaway region of Transdniestr. They are trying to create a federal structure in which both could be comfortable. A complicating factor is Russia's refusal to withdraw all its troops and military equipment, as it pledged to do in 1999.
Russia shocked the OSCE late last year when it became known that it had been trying to reach a private settlement that would have enabled it to keep its troops in the region for another 20 years. Russia has been working together with the OSCE and Ukraine since 1993 to reach a settlement, and it was accused of going behind the backs of its partners for its own advantage. The Russian initiative has since collapsed.
"I hope we shall have some advancement [on Moldova/Transdniestr] in 2004. But I cannot say that I am optimistic that we shall have the ultimate solution to the question in this year," Pasi says, "But we shall try."
Pasi touched on the OSCE's problems in trying to improve democracy in Turkmenistan and Belarus and said the only road to success is "negotiations, negotiations, and more negotiations." Pasi said isolating regimes such as the one in Turkmenistan is counterproductive.
The new OSCE chairman said he sees the future of the OSCE as cooperating with the United Nations and other organizations on bigger problems such as fighting terrorism, international crime and, particularly, trafficking in women and children. He said education and the free flow of information could be key factors in winning these battles. He also wants the OSCE to become more active in combating all forms of intolerance, including anti-Semitism.
Pasi said the OSCE does not need new resolutions or strategies. It only needs to implement what it has already agreed to do. "We have documents enough in the OSCE. We have visions. We have strategies. We have papers. We have agreements. We have strategies. And really what we need today is to implement these documents. Because producing new documents without implementation is not worth it."
Pasi said skeptics argue that the OSCE has little to offer the current world. Its importance, they say, lay in the past when it was known as the Helsinki Process and was a forum for negotiations between NATO and the Warsaw Pact on human rights and military security. Pasi said he sees the OSCE as a vibrant organization that still offers hopes of changing things for the better, just as it did when it provided inspiration for millions of people who opposed communism in Eastern Europe.
"The OSCE has a bright future," he says. "The OSCE was the organization of our hopes...the hopes of my generation. I remember the Helsinki Process, and I remember what were the expectations of the people behind the Iron Curtain from this Helsinki Process. I am very happy to see that the results are in front of us and that we are harvesting the results of the Helsinki Process. I do believe that this organization can fulfill the dreams of new generations today."