Russia has demonstrated that it is prepared to destroy the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), regardless of whether other states accede to its demands.
Western OSCE foreign ministers found themselves at the same event in Europe as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the first time since February 2022.
Russia has been consistently kicked out of all international organisations whose principles it has trampled underfoot. Lavrov is considered one of the key figures responsible for Russia's military aggression and for justifying international crimes. The doors to events in European capitals were either closed to him or he refused to participate. When Lavrov joined, online, the UN meeting in Geneva in the first days after the invasion, almost everyone present rose as one and left the room.
He was not welcomed by the OSCE either. In December 2022, while Poland held the Chair, Lavrov and his team were denied visas.
The boycott of Russia was broken this week.
North Macedonia, which currently chairs the OSCE, wanted to move beyond the crisis and avoid the potential collapse of the organisation, which would be possible in the event that Russia were once again banned. Therefore, the country agreed to host the Russian Foreign Minister and fulfilled all his ultimatums.
The Ministerial meeting of the OSCE, held this week in North Macedonia, was thus a failure even before it ended.
The boycott of the meeting, initiated by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, was supported by the foreign ministers of many key states, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat. Yet Lavrov continued to set conditions, which even required a change in the route taken by his plane.
To top it off, the Russian minister announced that despite these actions, he does not see a real prospect of preserving the organisation.
Blackmail by collapse
"I want to defend the Macedonians, who have supported Ukraine all year long." Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba began with these words his response to EuroPravda's question about the OSCE ministerial meeting.
And the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as a symbolic step, released a video thanking the Macedonians before that. Moreover, it did so shortly after Skopje announced that it would comply with all the demands of the Russian Foreign Ministry and open the doors for the meeting and an air corridor for the Russian government plane, suspending the international sanctions.
Kyiv with this 'Thanksgiving' went to somehow deal with public outrage over the actions of the OSCE chair.
It was the Macedonian authorities responsible for breaking boycott against Lavrov.
But Moscow is a master of blackmail. It skillfully played on the indecisiveness of many Western diplomats and their favouritism towards old, even almost non-functioning "dialogue platforms," such as OSCE.
First, Lavrov showed strength, blocking the decision on the next presiding state, which was supposed to be Estonia, and did not agree to any acceptable alternative for others. The organisation without a presiding state will function against its own rules. Only at the end of the year did Moscow "reluctantly" agree to vote for Malta if Skopje made concessions regarding the admission not only of Lavrov but also of anyone on the lists of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
To strengthen the ultimatum, Russia warned that in the event of a negative response, it would block not only the next presidency but also the OSCE financing, as well as the appointment of top officials. Either you compromise your principles and lift the diplomatic blockade from Lavrov, or Russia destroys OSCE.
Disgrace and Chaos
There was another way out.
Ukraine explained to its partners that Lavrov would continue to undermine the OSCE no matter what the other states do.
Sergei Lavrov, through all his actions in Skopje, demonstrated that he was not bound by the rules. For example, he spoke for almost 15 minutes, despite the fact that each minister had only 3 minutes. The North Macedonian chairperson humbly ignored this, not making any remarks to the Russian minister. Meanwhile, the EU representatives, who also exceeded the limit, were criticised by the Chair for it.
After a long and very boring report on the "Kyiv regime," which focused on new Russian twists like "the EU eagerly accepts Nazis", Lavrov moved on to the main point. He refuted expectations that actions would appease the Russian diplomat and announced that he no longer saw any point preserving OSCE.
"The OSCE is essentially being turned into an appendage of NATO and the EU. Let's face it, the organisation is on the brink of collapse. A simple question arises: does it make sense to invest effort in revitalising it?" he asked.
He commented to Russian journalists that he practically sees no chance of preserving OSCE from collapse.
It became evident that even if Russia eventually votes for all the necessary decisions, that will only be temporary relief. Russia will start blackmailing again before any subsequent decision is taken. Moreover, it is easy for it to do so, since the OSCE makes decisions by consensus (or consensus minus 1). Thus, Russia and its ally Belarus can block anything.
Ukraine therefore offered colleagues from European countries another option, according to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Since Kuleba believes the only way to save the OSCE is to kick Russia out of the organisation. This could be done either by excluding Russia or by rebooting OSCE without it.
Anything is possible if the will is there.
Russia will eventually force other states to do this anyway. However, first, it will disgrace other members, like North Macedonia.
How Countries Supported Ukraine
Support for Lavrov was very low. It is true that Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szíjjártó, who acts as a mouthpiece for the Kremlin’s ideas and has traditionally worked on Russia’s behalf, called for a stop to arms supplies to Ukraine. He also met with Lavrov once again, demonstrating that he is not taking part in the diplomatic boycott. And the traditional "peacemaker," Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, who also had a meeting with the Russian foreign minister "at the request of OSCE", asked that states "not be afraid of dialogue."
Greece's actions in support of Russia came out of the blue. After even Bulgaria refused to let the Russian plane pass through its airspace until all sanctioned individuals were removed from the passenger list other than Lavrov himself, Greece agreed to provide an air corridor without any demands.
However, most other countries unequivocally supported Kyiv.
However, most other countries unequivocally supported Kyiv in Skopje.
Lavrov faced a real avalanche of protests and demarches, and the participating OSCE ministers made their decisions at the last moment.
The process was initiated by Minister Kuleba.
Just a day before the meeting, when it became clear that Lavrov's visit would indeed happen, the Ukrainian foreign minister announced that his trip to Skopje was cancelled. The Baltic States immediately supported Ukraine.
NATO foreign ministers were in Brussels at the Ukraine-NATO Council meeting on that day. Several of the ministers announced that they were ready to support Ukraine but would not declare this publicly in order "not to spoil the karma" for the North Macedonians.
The scale of this support became evident only once they arrived in Skopje. As EuroPravda found out, 13 out of 31 NATO member states’ foreign ministers refused to travel to Skopje and did not board the charter transporting ministers between the two meetings. Those who arrived decided not to attend the main session after a joint dinner, where Lavrov was absent, so as not to find themselves at the same table with him. They let their deputies, assistants, or even ambassadors speak on their behalf (Lithuania left the chair empty).
This was also the approach taken by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU High Representative Josep Borrell. On Wednesday evening, Borrell said he wanted to speak in person and went to Skopje, but then realised that such legitimation of Lavrov was unacceptable and did not attend the session.
The foreign ministries of the UK, Canada, Italy, Poland, Belgium, and others also did not attend the event.
When Lavrov was speaking, Ukraine’s representative and those of several other countries deliberately left the room, making Lavrov nervous. The Russian minister did not hold back and, breaking away from reading papers, said, "Leave me alone!" It's hard to understand exactly what he meant by that, but he certainly did not seem like someone who had achieved a diplomatic victory.
After the statements made by the Russian minister, there is no clarity even as to whether he will fulfil his promises and whether the decisions that would save the OSCE from collapse will now be approved.
By Sergiy Sydorenko
Editor, European Pravda
From North Macedonia