Entry ban for Lavrov: Russia accuses Poland of destroying the OSCE

RRussia predicts the near end of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) – again. This year’s Polish chairmanship of the organization and its “Western like-minded comrades are pushing the OSCE into an abyss,” according to a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Moscow reacted last week to Poland’s refusal to allow Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to come to Lódz next week for the annual OSCE foreign ministers’ meeting.

The Polish government justifies this with the sanctions imposed by the EU on Lavrov after the Russian attack on Ukraine at the end of February. For the same reason, Poland has not issued visas to delegates from Russia and Belarus to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which started on Thursday.

The statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry is a broadside against Poland. The entry ban is only the highlight of the Polish “anti-presidency”. Warsaw made it impossible for the organization to function normally and violated the applicable consensus principle at numerous events. In doing so, the Polish government “not only discredited itself, but also caused irreparable damage to the authority of the entire organization,” according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. Russia’s war against Ukraine, which has also dominated debates in the OSCE this year, is not mentioned in the ministry’s statement.

Russian criticism of the OSCE not new

The prophecy that the OSCE is about to become irrelevant because of the behavior of Western countries has been a standard part of Lavrov’s speeches at the Council of Ministers for many years. Somewhat at odds with these forecasts is the weight that Russia appears to be giving to the organization. While many of the 57 member states from North America, Europe and Central Asia often only send ambassadors to the annual meetings, Russia has been the only large country to always be represented at ministerial level since 1995.

The OSCE, which emerged from the Cold War Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, is a thorn in the side of the Russian leadership because its understanding of security includes a commitment by members to democratic principles. Several OSCE institutions deal with the human rights situation and election observation in member states. Russia has made a number of unsuccessful attempts to end or at least curb these OSCE activities.

Time and time again, Russia has hampered the organization’s work by blocking compromises on budget or personnel issues that the other members had agreed on; This is possible because decisions in the OSCE can only be made unanimously. Russia recently prevented a decision to hold the 2023 Council of Ministers in Skopje, which will take over the annually rotating OSCE Chairmanship from Poland.

Criticism of Poland’s decision against Lavrov is not heard in western Europe. After all, it is Russia that is violating basic principles of international law and the OSCE with the war against Ukraine, according to the Foreign Office. There, reference is also made to Russia’s policy of blocking the OSCE: since autumn 2021, Moscow has forced the termination of three OSCE missions in Ukraine, including the observation mission that was supposed to monitor the ceasefire in Donbass, which was never really observed. In addition, both in Berlin and by the Polish Foreign Ministry, it is emphasized that Russia’s participation is desirable – just without Lavrov. Moscow has already announced that its OSCE Ambassador will come to Lodz.

Interest in the OSCE is growing again

However, during the meeting of the organization’s parliamentary assembly in Warsaw, which will last until Saturday, an initiative will be discussed that will make it possible to formally suspend the delegations of the two aggressor states, Belarus and Russia. This is met with rejection in Germany because they want to keep Russia in the organization – also to prevent other member states from having to choose between Russia and the OSCE.

In fact, in view of Russia’s war against Ukraine, some states in the post-Soviet region are registering a renewed interest in the OSCE in Berlin. Although its weight in everyday politics is small, it is the only forum besides the United Nations in which the Central Asian states, for example, regularly sit down at one table with Europeans and Americans.

That is why pro-Ukraine politicians also reject moves that could give Russia an excuse to leave the OSCE. “The OSCE is not a club of like-minded people, but an institution that is supposed to use a wide variety of instruments to prevent and end wars and conflicts,” says the chairman of the German delegation in Warsaw, Green Member of the Bundestag Robin Wagener. One should not play Putin’s game of “gradually weakening the OSCE”.

Recently, the Russian blockade policy has also led to the search for ways past Russia. For example, formal OSCE missions do require a unanimously approved mandate. But there is the possibility of projects being implemented by groups of willing states under the umbrella of the OSCE. In this way, the mission blocked by Russia in Ukraine was revived at the beginning of November, which implements humanitarian projects there and supports state institutions with reforms. The question is how Russia will react if, in the coming years, leadership positions in the OSCE have to be filled where the consensus principle cannot be circumvented.

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