Transdniestrian thaw and entry of Mongolia among year's highlights


Achievements:Ireland has avoided unpleasant political and financial shocks during its year at the helm of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and has gained credit for bringing a 57th member state into the group and for making progress on a tricky post-Soviet “frozen conflict”.

The chairmanship of the OSCE is estimated to have cost some €4.5 million – compared to a prediction of €7million at the start of the year – and Ireland has managed with a relatively small team of officials dedicated to the many and varied tasks presented by the role.

Ireland was able to keep down the bill partly because this was a relatively uneventful year in the OSCE area: recent chairmen-in-office have had to scramble to deal with, among other crises, mass ethnic riots in Uzbekistan and a brief but intense war between Georgia and Russia.

No real progress was made in talks co-chaired by the OSCE on the rebel Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are both now home to thousands of Russian troops. But there was also no upsurge of violence in either province, and negotiations continue to take place regularly in Geneva, as do meetings in South Ossetia to prevent and resolve dangerous incidents.

Perhaps of more concern was an intensification of belligerent rhetoric between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh – a region officially within Azeri territory that is populated by ethnic Armenians and has been under separatist control since a vicious war in the early 1990s.

Inflamed situation

An already-tense situation along the OSCE-patrolled ceasefire line was inflamed by the return home of an Azeri army officer who had murdered an Armenian soldier while on a course in Hungary.

Budapest said it expected him to be jailed in Azerbaijan, but instead he was welcomed home as a hero, promoted and given an apartment and all his missing backpay.

Some positive steps were made in trying to resolve the dispute between Moldova and its breakaway region Transdniestria, which has close ties to Russia and sees itself as independent.

Ireland’s chairmanship coincided with a tentative thaw in relations between officials on both sides of the river Dniestr, which fed through into a series of modest gains on practical issues.

Erwan Fouéré, Ireland’s envoy on the issue this year, hailed an “excellent rapport between the leaders that led to the resumption of rail services and agreements in other areas”.

After talks on Transdniestria in Dublin last week, Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton said she was “encouraged by the progress achieved in the Transdniestrian settlement process, particularly during the earlier part of this year . . . The agreements reached have established an important level of trust and confidence.”

A key event in Ireland’s chairmanship was a conference on conflict resolution that brought representatives of government and civil society in OSCE conflict zones to Dublin, to hear the views of people involved in the North’s peace process.

Internet freedom

Another high-level gathering in Dublin on internet freedom brought together advocates for independent media and leading figures in information technology, and highlighted the threat to free expression online in many parts of the world – including several ex-Soviet states that are members of the OSCE.

Ireland also successfully ushered in Mongolia as the OSCE’s 57th member, adding further to the diversity of an organisation that prides itself on including states that stretch from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Ireland has also helped Ukraine with preparatory work for its own chairmanship year in 2013.

“A number of important decisions were taken through the year, with one particular decision standing out – accession of Mongolia as the 57th OSCE participating state,” said Ukraine’s foreign minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko.

“This is a remarkable development and the persistent efforts of the Irish chairmanship deserve our high appreciation.”