OSCE in Deep Crisis: Russia's Veto Paralyses Europe's Largest Security Body

PeopleDiplomats ♦ Published: September 28, 2023; 09:30 ♦ (Vindobona)

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is facing its most profound crisis as Russian vetoes block critical decisions, endangering the stability and functionality of the world's most extensive security body. This stalemate emerges from Moscow's continued aggression towards Ukraine, exacerbating tensions between OSCE member states.

At an Extraordinary Meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg underlined Austria's appreciation of the OSCE. / Picture: © BMEIA Bundesministerium für Europa, Integration und Äußeres / Gruber / Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

The OSCE has its origins in 1975, serving as a vital platform for Western powers and the Soviet Union to discuss security concerns. However, since the onset of the war in Ukraine, Moscow has been stonewalling pivotal decisions like approving a budget and electing a new chair for the 57-member institution, scheduled to take place next year.

North Macedonia's Foreign Minister, Bujar Osmani, currently chairs the OSCE. As Vindobona.org reported, he recently voiced concerns in a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over Russia's disruptive tactics, highlighting that Moscow's "zero-sum game approach" has effectively "paralyzed the institution." With Osmani's term ending in December, his successor's appointment needs unanimous agreement from OSCE members, including Russia. However, Moscow has rejected the sole nominee, Estonia’s Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna, primarily because of Estonia's close ties to Ukraine.

The crisis comes as Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine shows no sign of ending and after Russia brokered a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2022, the OSCE stopped its monitoring mission in Ukraine, and Russia has also illegally detained OSCE staff members in Russian-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk, as Vindobona.org reported. Russia has allowed the mandate for the OSCE mission in Moldova to be extended for only six months, instead of the usual one-year period.

Russian aggression and the OSCE's institutional gridlock have raised questions over the organization's purpose. The crisis comes after the formation of the European Political Community, a 57-member organization for European strategic discussions championed by French President Emmanuel Macron that excludes Russia. The OSCE's secretary-general is Helga Schmid, and the EU provides more than two-thirds of the organization's €140mn annual budget.

Ian Lesser, vice-president of the German Marshall Fund, a US think-tank, indicated that Russia's objective is to render the OSCE ineffective, as the Financial Times reported. Given Estonia's firm stance against Russia's actions in Ukraine, its candidacy for chair has become contentious.

European Reactions to the Crisis

The European Union commends North Macedonia and previous OSCE Chairpersonships-in-Office for their efforts in leading the organization during Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine. The EU assured its support to the OSCE's contribution to ensuring accountability for violations of international law, including human rights and humanitarian law, and called for the prompt adoption of the OSCE's budget and support of its unique approach to security.

Amid these challenges, Alexander Schallenberg, Austria's Foreign Minister, has been vocal about his country's dedication to the OSCE. Speaking during an Extraordinary Session of the OSCE's Permanent Council, he pressed member states to save the institution. "The OSCE is caught in an existential crisis," Schallenberg warned, urging all participating countries, particularly those in Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and the Western Balkans, to voice their concerns and uphold the organization's core principles.

US Reiterates its Commitment

In a strong reaffirmation of commitment to the OSCE, Acting Deputy Secretary of State and Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Ambassador Victoria Nuland, emphasized the importance of the organization's core values, particularly sovereign equality, inviolability of borders, peaceful settlement of disputes, and respect for human rights. She called out Russia for its aggressive stance and urged the OSCE to remain steadfast in the face of challenges.

UK's Stance on Disinformation

Nicholas Aucott, the UK military advisor, criticized Russia's use of the OSCE as a platform for spreading disinformation. Aucott called on the Russian delegation to engage in meaningful dialogue and return to mature diplomacy and multilateralism. Emphasizing verifiable information, he hopes the upcoming Security Dialogue on 'Information Integrity' will encourage Russia to embrace a constructive approach to international relations.

Looking Ahead

As the conflict in Ukraine rages on, and Russia continues to veto OSCE decisions, the organization's future hangs in the balance. Russia has even hindered other OSCE missions, such as the monitoring mission in Ukraine. These actions, coupled with Moscow's aggression in regions like Donetsk and Luhansk, emphasize the urgency of finding a resolution.

However, as Foreign Minister Osmani stressed during the OSCE's recent Chairpersonship meeting, the organization exists for the people and should focus on discussing solutions. Despite the current challenges, many OSCE members remain optimistic about finding common ground, emphasizing the need for unity and collaboration to ensure a secure future. In this backdrop, the OSCE's destiny lies in the hands of its members. As Osmani concluded, "The challenges ahead are enormous, and we should act together in overcoming them."


Austrian MFA

US Mission to the OSCE

UK Mission to the OSCE

EU Delegation to the OSCE