Ukraine takes helm as rift deepens between OSCE states
ANALYSIS:It is perhaps fitting, though not reassuring for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, that a country on Europe’s east-west fault line is taking the group’s helm at a time when it is deeply divided and struggling for direction.
Ukraine replaces Ireland in the chairman’s seat for 2013, and is charged with launching a drive to refocus, reinvigorate and to some extent reorganise the 57-nation OSCE before 2015, when the organisation will mark 40 years since the signing of the Helsinki Accords that provide its foundation.
At its Dublin summit, the OSCE adopted a “strategic road map” dubbed the Helsinki +40 process, to analyse how the group could be more effective in conflict resolution, arms control, counter-terrorism, border management and a range of other security issues.
But for the second year running, the summit exposed a wide rift between western states led by the US and a collection of ex-Soviet countries grouped around Russia, on matters of human rights, democracy and the protection of free media.
Ukraine, as incoming chairman, must now try and act as a bridge between the two blocs – a fiendishly hard role with which it is uncomfortably familiar.
The country is itself divided along linguistic and political lines, and over a tumultuous decade it has been led by allies of Moscow and ardent pro-westerners. Now, under President Viktor Yanukovich, Kiev says it wants close ties with both Russia and the EU. But at the OSCE – an organisation created to bring together cold war adversaries – it seems that eastern and western camps are drifting ever further apart.
At last year’s summit, the US and Russia sparred over the democratic standards of the latter’s recent election, criticism that Russian leader Vladimir Putin claimed acted as a trigger for major anti-government protests in Moscow.
On the sidelines of the summit in Dublin, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton accused Moscow of trying to “re-Sovietise” its former empire and of cracking down on human rights groups.
Russia and several other ex-Soviet states have long accused the OSCE of unfairly assessing their elections and doing the bidding of western powers, and they urge the group to focus on security matters and to downgrade democracy, rights and press freedom issues.
This seemed to be the thrust of Mr Putin’s comments on the eve of the Dublin summit.
“It is important to intensify co-ordination on the most essential aspects of the organisation’s activities. Unfortunately, the current state of affairs does not inspire optimism,” he said.
“It is time the OSCE stopped taking care of the interests of individual countries and focused on unifying agendas. I hope Ukraine will take up this particular position during its chairmanship.”
Well aware of Russia’s lack of enthusiasm for the OSCE’s human rights and democracy work, Mrs Clinton voiced “a growing concern for the future of this organisation and the values it has always championed” and said the OSCE “must avoid institutional changes that would weaken it and undermine our fundamental commitments”.
Though charged with launching the Helsinki +40 process to “reinforce and revitalise the OSCE”, Ukraine is taking a conservative approach to its chairmanship. It might be the only way to make progress, given the US-Russian impasse on key issues. Foreign minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko said Ukraine wanted to improve the group’s effectiveness in all major fields . “It is not the fundamentals of the OSCE that need change, but the change is needed for mindsets – from confrontational thinking to a co-operative approach.”