Russia has been blocking important decisions in the OSCE for weeks. Now the Council of Ministers in North Macedonia is supposed to look for solutions today, but the invitation from Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov threatens new trouble.
Is the Russian Foreign Minister coming or not coming? The question hung over the OSCE Council of Ministers, the annual meeting of foreign ministers, for a long time. When it finally became clear that Sergei Lavrov was coming, the explosive power of this question immediately became apparent. Ukraine and the three Baltic states immediately canceled their participation at ministerial level. Poland denied Lavrov entry last year.
But the current OSCE chairman, the Foreign Minister of North Macedonia, Bujar Osmani, understands his role as host differently: “First of all, I have to make it clear that Mr. Lavrov is not coming to Skopje, but to the OSCE. As he recently did in New York at the United Nations Nations and not in the USA.” We are the OSCE chairmanship country and therefore welcome all participating states and partners. “We do not dictate individual bilateral agendas. Our role is to create the conditions for meetings.”
No meeting with Blinken
It is unclear how many bilateral meetings there will be for Lavrov. The Russian side says there are many requests for talks. What exactly they are is kept secret.
In any case, there will be no meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The US Ambassador to the OSCE, Michael Carpenter, made this clear in advance: “There will be no planned contacts with the Russian Federation. I even believe that Foreign Minister Blinken’s paths will not cross at all at this Council of Ministers.”
No longer a normal household
Russia is blocking important decisions in the OSCE. The world’s largest regional security organization has not had a normal budget for two years. Missions in Ukraine, for example, are financed by donations from various participating states and partners.
While Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke of the OSCE having to remain “somewhat operational,” Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg confirmed that the organization was on the heart-lung machine.
In Skopje on the eve of the official meeting, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell nevertheless highlighted the OSCE’s basic idea: “I understand the discomfort of some participating states about the decision to allow Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to take part. However, this decision is in line with our common goal “To keep multilateralism alive.”
Russia is “fightingly determined”
Other signals are coming from Russia. Lavrov’s deputy Alexander Grushko told the Russian state news agency Tass in advance that the mood was “fightingly determined.” It therefore seems quite realistic that Russia will use the Council of Ministers for its war propaganda.
The country has several options to put pressure on the OSCE. Malta still has to be approved as the chair of the OSCE in 2024. The OSCE ambassadors negotiated this solution at the last minute after Russia had strictly blocked Estonia’s application for many months.
During his visit to Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela expressed cautious optimism that Russia would not block this compromise: “Developments indicate that we will hold the presidency from January 1st.”
Personnel questions are also on the agenda
However, the foreign ministers have not yet officially agreed. Their meeting began in the evening with a non-public working lunch, although it was previously announced that Lavrov would not be there. The Council of Ministers officially starts on Thursday.
In addition to the chairmanship, it should also be about keeping the OSCE running in terms of personnel. The terms of four key leaders expire on Sunday, including that of Secretary General Helga Schmidt of Germany. It remains to be seen whether a solution to the successor will be found in Skopje or whether the OSCE will be even deeper into the crisis from next week.
Silke Hahne, ARD Vienna, currently Skopje, tagesschau, November 30, 2023 3:00 p.m