Prague, 7 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine's political crisis has been a key topic of discussion at the two-day annual OSCE foreign ministers conference that concluded today in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.
But while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell exchanged verbal blows over Ukraine, ministers from OSCE member states also discussed possible reforms to the Vienna-based organization.
OSCE spokesman Richard Murphy spoke with RFE/RL in a telephone interview from Sofia ahead of the meeting's conclusion today.
"A number of decisions that are likely to be adopted by the ministers include the decision on the role of the OSCE Secretary General," Murphy said. "They will appoint a panel of eminent people to look into ways of making the OSCE more effective."
Murphy said OSCE chief Solomon Pasi put forward a number of reform proposals.
One of the most urgent reforms is a redistribution of OSCE funds and refocus of efforts from the Balkans to the Caucasus and Central Asia. About 50 percent of OSCE resources are allocated to southeastern Europe, while only 6 percent is spent in Central Asia and 15 percent in the Caucasus.
While Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell exchanged verbal blows over Ukraine, ministers from OSCE member states also discussed possible reforms to the Vienna-based organization.
"The chairman-in-office, Solomon Pasi, has made proposals that some of our meetings should be moved from cities such as Vienna, Warsaw, and Prague further east and may be held in countries [in the] Caucasus and Central Asia," Murphy said. "And there has been some support for that. And the plan is that in the next few years we'll be moved further eastwards."
Some of the strongest criticism of the OSCE has come from leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
During their Moscow summit in July and meeting in the Kazakh capital Astana in September, Russia and eight other CIS members -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan -- said in a joint statement that the OSCE does not respect key principles, such as noninterference in internal affairs and respect of national sovereignty.
That criticism was echoed in Sofia today. Without mentioning Ukraine by name, Russia's Lavrov suggested that the West uses OSCE election monitors as a political tool to influence events in former Soviet states.
Powell, also in Sofia, rejected that notion. He said the issue in Ukraine and other former Soviet states is about letting people choose their own leaders. Powell also criticized Russia on a host of issues, including the lack of rule of law and media freedom.
Murphy would not elaborate on other possible OSCE changes, but he acknowledged that talk of reforms is a result of pressure from CIS countries.
"It's been discussed for some time, certainly throughout this year," Murphy said. "The Russian Federation and some of the CIS countries have made a number of proposals to reform the organization. They would like it to be more effective and to better reflect the needs of participating states."
In a November article in the "Financial Times," Lavrov elaborated on Russia's critique. He said OSCE members are unfairly divided into "mentors" and "pupils," with the former correct in everything and the latter always wrong. The result, he said, is that the OSCE is losing credibility and dividing countries rather than uniting them.
Political analyst Irina Kobrinskaya of a Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) told RFE/RL that the need to reform the OSCE arises from the new challenges the organization faces in the 21st century.
Kobrinskaya said that since the 11 September 2001 attacks on America, the United States has made its security decisions on an ad hoc basis, generally without considering the opinion of others. She said that as a result, the global influence of other countries and international bodies such as the United Nations and OSCE has been reduced.
"The OSCE has also used double standards," Kobrinskaya said. "Therefore, its reputation has diminished. I believe, in the current situation, the OSCE has no chance of regaining its importance and playing a key role in European security and stability and international relations."
Kobrinskaya said she believes the OSCE should go back to its basic goals set in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, such as the promotion of human rights and democratic reforms.
But Fedor Lukyanov, editor in chief of the Russian quarterly "Russia in Global Policy," said the main reason why CIS countries want reforms is because they bear the brunt of OSCE criticism on human rights and democracy.
"Obviously, these appeals and demands [to reform the OSCE] are related to the fact that for the last few years the OSCE turned into an organization that monitors the state of democracy in post-Soviet countries," Lukyanov said. "Since, the state [of democracy in those countries] is not satisfactory, the OSCE gets criticized itself. There is a subjective aspect, such as a feeling of anger and discontent of CIS leaders, because they believe the OSCE is very partial."
Lukyanov said he does not believe attempts to reform the OSCE will be successful.
"Several years ago Russia tried to reform the OSCE in order to turn it to an alternative to the EU and NATO's eastward enlargement. But it didn't work," he said. "I don't see why it should work this time. I believe the OSCE has fulfilled its historical mandate and task."
The ongoing divisions in the OSCE were highlighted at the end of today's meeting.
Disagreements over the role of OSCE election monitors -- who alleged fraud in Ukraine's 21 November presidential poll -- prevented the 55-country group from agreeing on a final statement.