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Europe: Russia, EU Look Set To Clash Over Future Of OSCE

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in happier times Luxembourg, 17 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union yesterday strongly contested recent Russian criticism of the OSCE's role in the former Soviet Union.

The OSCE is a participatory body that operates on the basis of consensus among all its members. To lose a major player such as Russia, which last year contributed about $10 million to the 55-nation group, would threaten the long-term future of the organization.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner is the EU's external affairs commissioner. Speaking in Luxembourg yesterday at the end of an EU foreign ministers meeting, she said the OSCE is in "crisis."

"Indeed, we are having a bit of a crisis there. This is true. And therefore I think the OSCE is at a very important and challenging point in its history," Ferrero-Waldner said. "We have to see what we can do."

One senior EU diplomat told RFE/RL that the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, will in the coming days write to President Vladimir Putin to express the EU's concerns. According to the diplomat, Solana will warn Putin that by undermining the OSCE, Russia is putting its relations with the EU at risk.

Another EU official told RFE/RL that no member state spoke out against the letter at today's meeting. France and Italy -- both considered close to Russia -- chose not to speak. Germany expressed serious concern about the impact of Russian obstruction on the situation in the South Caucasus.

Moscow has repeatedly said the OSCE focuses excessively on the former Soviet Union. In talks with the EU, Russian officials have accused OSCE electoral observation missions of fomenting unrest in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

In December, Russia vetoed the extension of an OSCE border monitoring mission in Georgia. Moscow also froze funds it is due to contribute to the OSCE, demanding the organization devote more energy to larger European security issues.

Yesterday, Jean Asselborn, the foreign minister of the current EU presidency, Luxembourg, forcefully underlined the bloc's commitment to the very OSCE priorities that Russia is contesting.
Russian officials have accused OSCE electoral observation missions of fomenting unrest in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

"I would like to recall the EU's commitment to the activities of the OSCE in the field [of political and human rights], in particular electoral observation missions, missions on the ground, and border-monitoring missions. All three are for us extremely important," Asselborn said.

Asselborn said the EU is conducting talks with Russia to overcome what he also described as a "crisis." The talks form part of the preparations for a larger EU-Russian strategic partnership, due to be signed in Moscow on 10 May.

Last week, Russia said it will temporarily resume payments to the OSCE after it struck a deal with the United States. Reports say Washington won Russia's agreement in exchange for promising to consider unspecified "reforms" in the OSCE.

EU officials interviewed by RFE/RL say the reforms in question are likely to represent an attempt to review the OSCE's electoral observation activities.

Asselborn indicated the EU feels sidelined by the United States and Russia. He said that since the bloc funds 70 percent of the OSCE's budget, "there can be no question of us paying the money and others taking the decisions."

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