Platform for Dialogue

Poland’s defiant refusal to allow the Russian foreign minister’s attendance at the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Lodz on December 1-2 provoked a boisterous diplomatic uproar. As might be expected, it gave a new impulse to the long-standing debate about the OSCE’s value to Russia. With less than a month remaining before the Polish OSCE chairmanship expires, it is barely possible to imagine that the new chairmanships—North Macedonia in 2023, Estonia in 2024 and even Finland in 2025—might change the general algorithm of Moscow’s interaction with this organization for the better.

It is not surprising that the voices of those calling for a withdrawal from the OSCE altogether are getting louder in Russia, especially given that our country has already left the Council of Europe this spring. The cases for withdrawal range from ideological (“the OSCE promotes values alien to Russians”) to financial (“Russia could make a better use of EUR 8 million that it annually contributes to the OSCE budget”).

Some hope that the OSCE, without Russia, would not be able to function, perhaps even losing its legitimacy as a pan-European institution. Moscow, for its part, could start an alternative “Eurasian” OSCE—for example, on the basis of the SCO or some other Russia-friendly multilateral platform.

The desire to turn the page on Russia’s foreign policy of the past as soon as possible is understandable and, to some extent, even justified. Yet, it is far from accidental that the address of Alexander Lukashevich, the Russian Permanent Representative to the OSCE, at the final session of the Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting sounded restrained and even stroke a note of cautious optimism.

The special military operation does not change the fact that Russia is the largest European nation. The tough stand-off between Moscow and Brussels does not mean that the European continent has ceased to be a common geographical space for Russia and its Western neighbors. And the OSCE remains one of the few threads that bind this space into a coherent whole.

Assuming that a full-fledged dialogue between Russia and NATO, as well as between Russia and the EU, won’t be reinstated in the foreseeable future, the OSCE appears to be the most promising, even if very modest for the time being, continent-wide platform for discussing issues pertaining to security and development. Incidentally, this has always been the case, despite many alternative platforms present. It was at the OSCE summit late the previous century that an adapted version of the CFE Treaty was signed. It’s on the OSCE venues that the Vienna Document on Confidence and Security-Building Measures was negotiated and adopted in 2011. It is within the framework of the OSCE that the so-called structured dialogue on security issues was launched in 2016.

We should add that the OSCE was the only international organization that was able to deliver a tangible contribution to de-escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine by deploying a special monitoring mission to the Donbass as early as March 2014 and maintaining its presence in the conflict zone for eight years. Even though the experience of the OSCE observers does not look unambiguously successful and is heavily criticized both in Moscow and in Kiev, we must still admit the obvious: no other international structure has a comparable experience in the “field presence”. This means that this experience of OSCE will have to be invoked one way or another, as soon as the need for international monitoring of any prospective ceasefire agreement between Russia and Ukraine arises.

No doubt, we should not overestimate the possible role of the OSCE in Europe’s future. If there ever was a chance to place this organization at the core of the future European security and development framework, that chance was irrevocably lost a quarter century ago. Neither the OSCE nor any other international institution will carry us back into the world that had existed prior to February 24, 2022, let alone into the world of hopes and illusions, dating from the Charter of Paris for a New Europe of 1990.

Yet, the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, dated 1975, which launched the process of multilateral pan-European cooperation, was signed in a deeply divided Europe. The main goal of the Helsinki process was not so much to immediately overcome a glaring divide between the East and the West, as to stabilize the European politics amid that split. In the present-day environment, the lessons learnt through the pan-European process about 50 years ago are becoming relevant once again.

From our partner RIAC

Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council.