The OSCE Ministerial Summit; Russian rescue of a 'NATO supplement'

Dragan Bisenić
Source: Kosovo Online

Writing for Kosovo Online: Dragan Bisenic, a journalist

The last night departure of the last giant of 20th-century diplomacy, Henry Kissinger, coincided with the beginning of the 30th OSCE Ministerial Summit. This coincidence could have an unfavorable outcome for the great achievement of Kissinger's 'détente', from which the Helsinki Final Act emerged as an instrument of Cold War relaxation and understanding between East and West. The summit in Skopje has existential significance for this organization, which currently lacks a chairperson, a budget, or a legal leadership. Russia has been blocking the adoption of the budget for two years and vetoed the Estonian proposal for chairmanship because last year, in its capacity as chair, Poland refused to invite Russia to the Ministerial Summit. This is one reason why this summit will be a historic event. Other reasons stem from the fact that this will be the first meeting between Russian and Western officials in a long time.

The event in Skopje is formally called the 30th Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Ministerial Council is the central body for decision-making and management of the OSCE. The annual meeting is an opportunity for foreign ministers to assess the security situation in the Euro-Atlantic and Euro-Asian regions, as well as the organization's work in all areas of operation. Of course, the situation in Ukraine will be high on the agenda and is likely to dominate it. Moscow has announced that Sergey Lavrov will be dedicated to fully explaining Russia's position and how it sees the end of the conflict.

Russia believes that new and bold political initiatives are needed, similar to the preparation and convening of a summit conference and the development of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975 or the Paris Charter in 1990, as the former European security architecture will no longer function. Before and at the onset of the Ukrainian conflict, Moscow called for the revival of the concept of "Helsinki 2.0". This approach was considered quite realistic for a long time. It was naturally believed that the OSCE was the only constant platform on which Russia could discuss security and arms control issues with Western countries. In light of the sudden intensification of anti-Russian sentiments, the question of the advisability of continuing membership in the OSCE is now being reconsidered with utmost urgency.

Meanwhile, Moscow has considered, and at times announced, the possibility of leaving the OSCE several times. In January of this year, the Baltic countries raised the question of Russia's exclusion from the OSCE, but this initiative was rejected.

Prior to that, there was a public debate in Moscow where it was argued that the Russian leadership faced a difficult dilemma: to continue its "meaningless membership in the OSCE, subjected to humiliating attacks and, at best, engaging in endless and futile discussions, or to turn the OSCE page and find another platform for security and cooperation for Russia". It was then emphasized that an alternative order was being created, where the former East-West axis was no longer as attractive.

Russian strategists believe that at the recently concluded G20 meeting in New Delhi, the global community took the first step towards a post-global, post-Ukrainian world and rendered globalization based on Western rules a thing of the past. Regarding Ukraine, it is assessed that the West made three strategic miscalculations concerning this conflict: 1) hopes for an economic catastrophe in Russia failed due to an unprecedented (over 15,000 sanctions) financial and economic war; 2) the widely announced June offensive by Ukrainian armed forces also failed; 3) the attempt to isolate Russia from global markets also failed.

Leading Russian experts announce that Russia plans to revise its foreign policy doctrine, with significant attention given to countries, regions, and associations crucial to Russia. In this context, the reshaping of Russian geopolitics is particularly important.

The fact that Russia rejected Estonia's candidacy for the chairmanship of the OSCE is a part of such a policy.

"For example, currently, there is no Estonian Ambassador in Moscow, and vice versa. What's the point of having full-fledged diplomatic relations with a country that, relatively speaking, competes with Poland for the title of the leading Russophobe in Europe? What 'reward' awaits Estonia in this 'competition'? A position for Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as NATO Secretary General? If so, then the 'Estonization' of Europe will enter the next phase. How long will Europeans and the entire Old World tolerate this? Today, according to the Financial Times, the EU's economy constitutes 65% of the size of the US economy. Ten years ago, in 2013, this figure was 91%, although the EU has a hundred million more people than the United States. As a result, the US GDP per capita is now more than double that of the EU, and the gap is widening", the leading Russian strategist Aleksandr Dugin said at the recently concluded "Primakov Days" Conference.

He tates that Europe has been a role model for Russia for 300 years, but this period is coming to an end.

"We must reassess ourselves as a self-sufficient, developed North, a partner of Greater Asia and the global South, an active participant in the future multipolar world order, which is no longer shaping in Europe but in Eurasia", Dugin emphasized.

The main characteristic of the modern era is the relationship between China and the United States.

"In the global dynamics, China is a rising world power, while the United States is a declining power", Dugin concludes.

Ahead of his arrival in Skopje, Sergey Lavrov said that the OSCE was turning into a "NATO supplement" and a "marginal structure". The Russian Minister stated that there were chances of saving the OSCE, but they were slim.

"They (the Council of Europe and the OSCE) obsessively transform, in fact, into supplements of the EU and NATO, into purely marginal structures that the West is trying, in the worst sense of the word, to use in the interest of its selfish policy. You can still try to save the OSCE, but, to be honest, the chances are slim", Lavrov said on November 27.

The meeting and the presence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are important for two reasons: the EU now believes that it needs to talk to Russia about European security and signals that European countries now recognize the need for dialogue with Russia – a situation contrary to Ukraine, which still refuses to negotiate with Moscow.

What will be of interest to the OSCE is that the talks could evolve and include conditions for any Ukrainian agreement. It seems that in Europe and the United States, there is a growing awareness that a political, not just a military solution, is now needed. It is unlikely to happen immediately in Skopje, but there are all signs that the two sides – the Western bloc and Russia – will obviously engage in talks in that direction. The fact that Blinken and Lavrov were both present at the meeting, even though they did not meet, indicates that both diplomats are aware of the importance of the gathering and the opportunities it provides for future relations. There is no doubt that the US Secretary of State has left a team of associates who will engage in working-level discussions with Russian partners on almost all issues hindering mutual relations. The Russian Minister arrived with a large group of 80 diplomats, indicating an ambitious plan for work and meetings during the conference.

"The solid core of anti-Russian states", such as Ukraine and the Baltic states, are boycotting the meeting. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Russia of creating an "existential crisis within the OSCE" and turning this agency "into a hostage of its whims and aggression". The Ukrainian Foreign Minister said, "We should focus our joint efforts on saving the OSCE from Russia, not sending messages about the possibility of returning to cooperation". It is significant that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a few days ago in Skopje, refused to provide advice to the organizers regarding Sergey Lavrov's participation in the Summit. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg emphasized that Lavrov should be present and had not ruled out negotiations with him, as the OSCE was "essential for the future".

Sergey Lavrov revealed that several Western foreign ministers had requested to meet with him at the event, which he had accepted. This group could include Germany, France, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Malta, and other countries that have not been overly vocal in anti-Russian sentiments.

The most can be expected from Germany. German Chancellor Scholz stated just a few weeks ago that he was willing to continue dialogue with Putin on peace in Ukraine, and Germany has maintained a pragmatic stance towards the conflict, considering further needs for the Russian energy market. The European bloc of states does not want to risk the collapse of the EU; in Brussels, they aim to shield the bloc from such a fate and move it towards encouraging a potential agreement with Russia regarding European security. This means establishing a security architecture that prompts negotiations to end the conflict in Ukraine. If true, Lavrov's agreed presence in Skopje is a form of an early "olive branch" from the EU and the United States to Russia, saying, "We need to talk". Therefore, it seems that the optics in Skopje are not ideal for Ukraine and its supporters.

Judging by its recent statements, Russia is not interested in a ceasefire just for the sake of a ceasefire because, in its opinion, it would allow Kyiv to try to save itself and rearm. This means that even for the start of negotiations, the West must take real steps, not just issue declarative statements. Russian media speculates that this means Russia will demand the West to stop supplying weapons to Ukraine. This is a demand that the West will find difficult not only to promise but also to fulfill, despite increasing doubts about this issue in the United States.

In a note sent to EU members, the State Department assessed that "failure to find a chair would mean a victory for Russia", hence the almost frantic search for an appropriate solution. In the end, an agreement was reached for Malta to take over the chairmanship, guaranteeing that the OSCE would survive for at least another year. This is, for now, the smallest outcome of this meeting, which can provide a useful timeframe and space for more ambitious plans to rebuild European security. Expectations are low, so in the case of any breakthrough, the surprise would indeed be significant.