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Wider Europe Briefing: NATO Meeting Will Be Heavy On Symbolism, But Not Much Else; And Will The OSCE Survive? 

What's in store for Ukraine as NATO foreign ministers head to Bucharest?
What's in store for Ukraine as NATO foreign ministers head to Bucharest?

Welcome to Wider Europe, RFE/RL's new newsletter focusing on the key issues concerning the European Union, NATO, and other institutions and their relationships with the Western Balkans and Europe's Eastern neighborhoods. To subscribe, please click here.

I'm RFE/RL Europe Editor Rikard Jozwiak, and this week I'm drilling down on two major issues: the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Bucharest and what is predicted to be a stormy OSCE gathering in the Polish city of Lodz.

Brief #1: NATO's Last Ministerial Meeting Of The Year, And On Its Eastern Flank, To Boot

What You Need To Know: The foreign ministers of the 30 NATO allies meet in Bucharest on November 29-30 for the last ministerial meeting this year. These sorts of meetings tend to take place in Brussels, but with coronavirus travel restrictions hopefully now a thing of the past, NATO has decided to arrange at least one gathering a year in other cities across the alliance. Last year, Latvia's capital, Riga, hosted the foreign ministers. (There was a limited number of journalists present and social distancing was the norm.)

As one NATO diplomat told me, there is no coincidence that a ministerial meeting is once again taking place in a member country on the alliance's Eastern flank. Important meeting discussions aside, holding it in Bucharest sends a clear message: NATO is very much present in a region close to the war in Ukraine.

Deep Background: The alliance's foreign ministers will be joined by their Swedish and Finnish counterparts, the latter only as invitees as Turkey and Hungary still haven't ratified their membership applications. Expect little movement on this front, at least from Turkey. Budapest recently announced that it plans to give Sweden and Finland the thumbs-up in February, whereas the protracted talks between Sweden and Turkey are expected to continue well into 2023. The topic probably won't be broached much in Romania, as it has become much more of a bilateral issue.

There will, however, also be a group of other non-NATO foreign ministers present at the meeting. Ukraine's Dmytro Kuleba will most likely be there, as will foreign ministers from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, and Moldova. The latter trio will have one of four working sessions over the two days dedicated to them. In the declaration at the end of the NATO summit in Madrid in June, leaders acknowledged "the changed security environment in Europe" and added that "we have decided on new measures to step up tailored political and practical support to partners, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova."

To follow up with the trio, there will be more joint training, more NATO advisers visiting, and more support for the countries' cyberdefenses. With Bosnia and Georgia, this makes perfect sense as they, together with Ukraine, are NATO aspirants. But what about Moldova? The country is constitutionally neutral, and NATO has only had a civilian liaison office in Chisinau since late 2017. It is interesting to note that Moldova is the only country in the meeting that is neither a member nor with a stated intention to join the military alliance.

Drilling Down

  • The Bucharest meeting is symbolic for one obvious reason: It takes place in the room where a key NATO summit declaration was signed in 2008. For Ukrainians and Georgians, this is very significant. It was the moment when NATO leaders -- for the first time -- formally stated that the pair will become members of the alliance.
  • No date was set, but NATO has often reiterated that the "Bucharest decision" is valid, even though little progress has been made since. Certainly, expect questions of enlargement, but don't expect decisions to be made, especially since Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy symbolically reapplied for NATO membership after Russia claimed to have annexed more Ukrainian land on September 30.
  • There will, however, be a lot more talk about Ukraine's (and, by extension, Georgia's) NATO bid in the run-up to, and possibly during, the next NATO summit, slated to take place in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, on July 11-12, 2023. The host is hoping that Zelenskiy himself might make an appearance, especially as he hasn't left Ukraine since the war began in February.
  • A lot will depend on how the war has progressed by then, but there is some hope, especially among Eastern members of the alliance, that Kyiv will be offered something tangible in terms of future NATO membership. Before, this would have meant giving Ukraine a so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP) -- a concrete road map to join -- but now many NATO officials feel this concept is outdated. Instead, there is speculation that something can be promised to Ukraine once the war is over.
  • What that something would be isn't entirely clear, but rest assured it will require some deft semantic gymnastics to please both Easterners who want to push ahead and the more reluctant members in the West. The stick-in-the-muds would much prefer to keep insisting on the "Bucharest decision," with no new or clearer promises for Ukraine.

Brief #2: After Another Russia-Poland Spat, Will The OSCE Survive?

What You Need To Know: Directly after the NATO meeting in Romania on November 29-30, the foreign ministers will travel to the Polish city of Lodz for the annual Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) ministerial council on December 1-2. There could not be two more contrasting moods in the two organizations at the moment.

While NATO is increasingly self-confident after the initial shock of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the OSCE is facing something of an existential crisis. The run-up to the meeting, which in theory should bring together the foreign ministers of the 57 participating states, has been rocked by a spat between Russia and Poland, with the latter currently holding the rotating annual chairmanship of the organization. Russia has been critical of Poland this year, as Warsaw has prioritized issues related to the war, irking the Kremlin.

The spat intensified earlier this month when Poland said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov wasn't welcome to attend the ministerial council, pointing out that he was on the EU sanctions list. The Russian ambassador to the OSCE will now lead the Russian delegation in Poland, but expect that this cloud will hang over the entire meeting.

Deep Background: Moscow was very unhappy with Poland's snub, to say the least. In a letter to all OSCE participating states, seen by RFE/RL, the Russian Mission to the Vienna-based organization didn't mince words: "Taking in consideration the unprecedented nature and gravity of the consequences of this decision of the Polish authorities for the organization, the Russian side expects the participants of the forthcoming meeting to deliver a principled assessment as well as to condemn these actions by Warsaw that have not been seen in the whole history of the OSCE."

On November 24, in the last weekly permanent council of OSCE ambassadors ahead of the Lodz meeting, the Russian ambassador to the group attended for the first time since the summer. He raised the issue, speaking of "the failure of the Polish OSCE chairmanship," and, according to several sources who are not authorized to speak on the record, argued that the barring of Lavrov was political and undermined the authority of the OSCE.

A furious response ensued, in which Poland, backed by all other EU member states, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Ukraine, said that, on the contrary, Russia was destroying the organization with its war on Ukraine and its selective approach to various OSCE principles.

Drilling Down

  • The most pertinent question now is, what will happen in Lodz? It is already clear that it will be a ministerial council without any decisions and no final declaration. (Expect only a statement from Warsaw by virtue of being the host and the chair.) Poland has noted that there is no business as usual as long as the war in Ukraine rumbles on and that the meetings will focus on the situation there.
  • The problem here is that the OSCE makes decisions by unanimity. With Russia a pariah, there is pretty much a deadlock on everything. The OSCE budget for next year has still not been agreed upon, and it looks like a solution is unlikely before the deadline at the end of the year. The OSCE's biggest-ever mission, the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, remains suspended since the spring after Russia refused to extend it. And to add insult to injury, three of the mission's staff are reportedly still in Russian hands after being detained.
  • Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey, who died suddenly over the weekend, had been invited, as he hadn't been blacklisted by the European Union, unlike many other members of Minsk's ruling elite. Belarus's ambassador to the OSCE showed up at the Permanent Council in Vienna last week and sided with Moscow over the standoff. Russia often demands that some of its closer allies, notably Belarus and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, follow Moscow's lead. The thing to watch out for this week is if countries sympathetic to the Kremlin will send their foreign ministers or OSCE ambassadors to head their national delegations in Lodz.
  • Don't expect any movement on any other OSCE-related issues in Eastern Europe during the meeting. There might be a general statement on the so-called "5+2 format" -- a diplomatic platform tasked with finding a solution to the conflict between Moldova and unrecognized Transdniester, which includes the OSCE, the EU, the United States, Russia, and Ukraine. The talks have been on and off since 2005 but have been completely frozen since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
  • The OSCE Minsk Group, which for the last 30 years has sought to find a negotiated solution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, also appears to be on life support. Baku has questioned the group's purpose ever since its victorious 2020 war over Armenia. And the war in Ukraine has pitted the Minsk Group co-chairs Russia, on one side, against France and the United States, on the other. Azerbaijan might use the opportunity in Lodz to lash out at Poland once again for initiating a recent OSCE fact-finding mission to Armenia near the country's border with Azerbaijan. The report from that mission is expected in late December, which is likely to infuriate Azerbaijan even more.

Looking Ahead

It is possible that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti will meet with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Brussels in the coming days. Last week, their chief negotiators managed to find a last-ditch deal on the dispute over car license plates that has dogged relations between Belgrade and Pristina ever since Kosovo declared independence in 2008. The meeting will likely focus on the possible next steps the two sides can take in an EU-facilitated bid to "normalize" their relations.

Another visit to keep an eye out for this week is European Council President Charles Michel's trip to Beijing on December 1 to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It comes after EU leaders in October held an in-depth "orientation debate" on all facets of EU-China relations following the reappointment of Xi as the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. The meeting comes in the context of China's increasingly ambivalent stance on the war in Ukraine but also with the EU taking a more active role in Asia. Last month, Michel toured Central Asia and, on December 14, there will be the first ever EU-ASEAN summit in Brussels.

That's all for this week. Feel free to reach out to me on any of these issues on Twitter @RikardJozwiak or on e-mail at

Until next time,

Rikard Jozwiak

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

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About The Newsletter

Wider Europe

The Wider Europe newsletter briefs you every Monday on key issues concerning the EU, NATO, and other institutions’ relationships with the Western Balkans and Europe’s Eastern neighborhoods.

For more than a decade as a correspondent in Brussels, Rikard Jozwiak covered all the major events and crises related to the EU’s neighborhood and how various Western institutions reacted to them -- the war in Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, the downing of MH17, dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, the EU and NATO enlargement processes in the Western Balkans, as well as visa liberalizations, free-trade deals, and countless summits.

Now out of the “Brussels bubble,” but still looking in -- this time from the heart of Europe, in Prague -- he continues to focus on the countries where Brussels holds huge sway, but also faces serious competition from other players, such as Russia and, increasingly, China.

To subscribe, click here.