Focus on Rising Tensions as Speakers Urge Implementation of Minsk Agreements
Voicing deep concern over regional conflicts, radicalization and violent extremism, the Chair-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) today stressed the need to foster open and constructive dialogue in seeking common solutions to threats.
Delivering the organization’s annual briefing to the Security Council, OSCE Chair Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, declared: “Everywhere we look, there are grave threats to peace and security.” Citing the war and destruction in Syria and Ukraine, as well as serious violations of international law, rising nationalism, and radicalization and terrorism in societies, he said armed conflicts had caused much suffering, displacement and destruction in the OSCE area of operation, and emphasized the need to find political solutions.
He went on to emphasize that one of the central issues on the OSCE’s agenda was the crisis in and around Ukraine, noting that the organization held regular discussions on the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, the flow of arms into Ukraine’s Donbas region, the role of the Russian Federation, implementation of the Minsk agreements, and repeated acts of violence. Other major security challenges were radicalization and terrorism, both of which threatened the internal stability of OSCE member States, the rule of law and the basic freedoms of expression, religion and belief.
Noting that more than 10,000 people from the OSCE area of operations had joined Da’esh, he said such fighters not only caused terrible suffering in Syria, Iraq and Libya, but also threatened the security of OSCE member States. “No matter whether we want to solve conflicts or fight against terrorism, what is needed is trust,” he said, emphasizing that rebuilding trust among States was the most difficult task. However, as a neutral country, Austria had always been a bridge-builder between East and West, and would strive to find common solutions to challenges as OSCE Chair.
As delegates took the floor following the presentation by the Chair-in-Office, the Russian Federation’s representative said his country stood ready to assist in Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria, and expressed hope that 2017 would bring peace to eastern Ukraine after three years of conflict. Calling for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, he also voiced hope that the OSCE’s Austrian Chair would oversee the objectivity of its Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. As an important mechanism for building European security, the OSCE’s role should be strengthened and clearly defined, he stressed.
The representative of the United States, while commending the work carried out by the OSCE, reiterated that full implementation of the Minsk agreements was the best way to alleviate the suffering of people in eastern Ukraine. The United States recognized Ukraine’s bravery and commitment to finding a solution to the ongoing conflict, she added.
Painting a bleak picture, the United Kingdom’s representative said the international rules-based system was under threat, as was evident in eastern Ukraine, where residents had lived in fear for three years amid daily sniper fire, shelling and lack of gas during winter. Those were the consequences of the Russian Federation’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said, while thanking the OSCE for its monitoring of ceasefire violations.
Similarly, Ukraine’s representative said the situation in conflict-affected areas of his country remained volatile and unpredictable, adding: “Escalation is possible any time the Russian Federation considers it politically necessary or convenient.” Instead of implementing the Minsk commitments in good faith, that country had resorted to political and military provocation, blackmail and political pressure, he emphasized. Resolving the crisis in and around Ukraine would require not only a peaceful resolution in Donbas, but also an end to the occupation of Crimea, he stressed, voicing interest in a sustained OSCE focus on practical implementation of the Counter-Terrorism Declaration, as well as the strengthening of border security.
Other speakers today included representatives of Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Japan, Sweden, China, Italy, Ethiopia, France, Uruguay, Senegal and Egypt.
The meeting began at 10:09 a.m. and ended at 11:40 a.m.
SEBASTIAN KURZ, Chairperson-in-Office, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of Austria, said his country had taken over the Chair at a critical moment. “Everywhere we look, there are grave threats to peace and security,” he said, citing war and destruction in Syria and Ukraine, serious violations of international law, increasing nationalism, and radicalization and terrorism in societies. Rising anxiety and mistrust were the consequences, he noted. In confronting those challenges, the Chair would focus on defusing existing conflicts, helping States to combat radicalization and violent extremism, and rebuilding trust and confidence among OSCE member States.
Noting that armed conflict had caused much suffering, displacement and destruction in the OSCE operational area, he emphasized the need to find political solutions. One of the central issues that the OSCE was dealing with was the crisis in and around Ukraine, he said, adding that the annexation of Crimea, the flow of arms into Donbas, the role of the Russian Federation, implementation of the Minsk agreements, and repeated acts of violence were all discussed regularly.
Recalling his first visit to eastern Ukraine, he expressed regret over the situation of civilians there, saying it was necessary to improve their living conditions and stressing that access for humanitarian organizations was crucial. There was vital need for all sides to implement the Minsk agreements in full and ensure strict observance of the ceasefire. The OSCE, with its Trilateral Contact Group, had demonstrated its crucial role in brokering the ceasefire, and its Special Monitoring Mission had prevented a deterioration of the situation. It had also facilitated repairs to critical infrastructure, including electricity and water supply. Other major challenges to security were radicalization and terrorism, both of which threatened the internal stability of States, the rule of law and basic freedom of expression, religion or belief.
Noting that more than 10,000 people from the OSCE area of operations had joined Da’esh in order to rape and kill, he said such fighters not only caused terrible suffering in Syria, Iraq and Libya, but also threatened the security of OSCE member States. Young people remained the most vulnerable to radicalization, he said, announcing that in order to address its root causes, he had appointed Peter Neumann as his Special Representative on Radicalization. “No matter whether we want to solve conflicts or fight against terrorism, what is needed is trust,” he said, emphasizing that rebuilding trust among States in the OSCE area was the most difficult task. As a neutral country, Austria had always been a bridge-builder between East and West, he noted, adding that, as OSCE Chair, it would strive to foster open and constructive dialogue so as to find common solutions to the challenges. During Austria’s tenure, the OSCE would also try to resume discussions on conventional arms control in Europe, he said. “Together, we can strengthen the cohesiveness and resilience of our societies to better counter threats to our security.”
PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) called for greater cooperation between the United Nations and such regional and subregional organizations as the OSCE on the basis of Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter, taking into account the comparative advantages while avoiding duplication and waste of resources. The OSCE should try to carry out the functions for which it had been created, focusing on terrorism, drug trafficking, cyberthreats, minority rights and fighting neo-Nazism, he said, emphasizing the importance of ensuring the rights of minorities. Recalling previous summit declarations on cooperation with the United Nations, he said he was worried by attempts at the OSCE to impose monitoring mechanisms or introduce non-consensus-based General Assembly and Human Rights Council documents.
He went on to state that the Russian Federation stood ready to assist in Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria, also expressing hope that 2017 would bring peace to eastern Ukraine after three years of conflict. Emphasizing that the Minsk agreements must be implemented in full, he also voiced hope that the Austrian Chair of the OSCE would continue to oversee the objectivity of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. The Russian Federation considered the OSCE an important mechanism for building European security, he said, adding that his country would like to see its role strengthened and its work more clearly defined.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said that, as the Council had heard the day before, the international rules-based system was under threat. That was evident in Marinka, eastern Ukraine, where residents had lived in fear for three years amid daily sniper fire, shelling and lack of gas during winter. Those were the consequences of the Russian Federation’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said. It was thanks to the work of OSCE monitors that it had become known that ceasefire violations had reached record highs, he said, emphasizing that aggression directed against OSCE monitors must stop. The Special Mission must be granted free access to all parts of Ukraine, he added. Events in that country’s eastern part reinforced the OSCE’s importance to international cooperation, he said. Sadly, events in Ukraine highlighted the threat faced by the rules-based system, he said, underlining the need to continue strengthening the OSCE, as well as its cooperation with the Security Council.
ROMAN VASSILENKO (Kazakhstan) made a number of recommendations for United Nations-OSCE cooperation, saying the latter should remain a good partner for countries in transition. Kazakhstan suggested greater cooperation between the two organizations on sustainable development, as well as between the OSCE on the one hand, and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on the other. There was also great potential for the OSCE to build on existing cooperation with the United Nations in Afghanistan, and to step up joint efforts against human trafficking. Describing the OSCE as one of the key partner organizations for the United Nations, he said the nature of their cooperation must become closer and more expansive, comprehensive and multidimensional.
Mr. INCHAUSTE (Bolivia) said conflicts between States must be addressed by taking the United Nations Charter into consideration and respecting the principles of sovereignty and independence of States. Regional and subregional organizations also played a crucial role in maintaining peace and security, he said, emphasizing the need to improve their coordination and cooperation with the United Nations for better results.
MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said that the OSCE, as the largest security organization in Europe, played a unique and significant role in maintaining peace on the continent, and reaffirmed her country’s full support for its comprehensive approach to security. The United States was committed to institutions that helped in keeping Europe safe, she said, emphasizing that the OSCE promoted peaceful solutions to conflicts, fought corruption, enhanced regional security and supported good governance. It must continue to support civil society and independent media in the region, she emphasized. Turning to the situation in Ukraine, she recognized that country’s bravery and commitment to finding a solution to the ongoing conflict. Full implementation of the Minsk agreements was the best way to alleviate the suffering of people in eastern Ukraine, she stressed. As for Georgia, the United States looked forward to working with the OSCE to find a peaceful solution that would guarantee and protect that country’s sovereignty, she said.
YOSHIFUMI OKAMURA (Japan) said the OSCE had shown exemplary support for the Security Council in maintaining peace and security at the regional level, from the belief that an international order based on the rule of law would bring peace and stability to Europe. Based on that notion, the OSCE had taken a comprehensive approach that encompassed politico-military security, as well as economic, environmental and human aspects. Expressing grave concern over the situation in Ukraine, which seriously challenged the global order, he said Japan had dispatched an expert to the Special Monitoring Mission and continued to support the country’s reform efforts.
CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) said the OSCE played an indispensable role in upholding the rules-based system in the region, while serving as a unique platform for dialogue on European peace and security. Security in Europe, like elsewhere, depended on a rules-based order in which the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States big and small was respected. It was worrying that the OSCE’s human dimension was under pressure. On Ukraine, the Russian Federation continued to violate fundamental principles and he reaffirmed strong support for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, which must be given full unhindered access to all parts of the country. He went on to welcome the OSCE dialogue on future risks, and the intention to mainstream a gender perspective into the organization’s work.
LIU JIEYI (China), noting that the United Nations was at the core of the international collective security architecture, expressed support for enhanced cooperation between the Organization and regional and subregional organizations, in line with Chapter VIII of the Charter. Those groups must strictly observe such principles as independence and territorial integrity. Welcoming the OSCE’s cooperation with the Security Council, he expressed hope that the situation in Ukraine would improve as soon as possible, with parties implementing relevant Council resolutions and the Minsk agreements, and the international community continuing its support for a political settlement.=eob=
INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy) said the OSCE had an unreplaceable role in facilitating the settlement of conflicts affecting Europe. Its prompt engagement in the crisis in Ukraine had proved its vitality and capacity to respond with monitoring and mediation mechanisms. Efforts by the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine and the Trilateral Contact Group were essential for implementation of the Minsk agreements and a sustainable solution to the crisis. The OSCE’s mediation role in protracted conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria and Georgia, along with the diplomatic tracks promoted and coordinated by the organization, had been crucial in bringing about stability. Given that emerging challenges and conflicts in the Mediterranean and the Middle East had impacted the security and development of OSCE members, the organization had a role to play in engaging countries in political dialogue.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) took note of the OSCE’s efforts in conflict prevention and resolution, as well as in post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. Emphasizing the OSCE’s important role in resolving protracted and new conflicts in South-Eastern Europe, south Caucasus and Central Asia, she said “dialogue and negotiation remain the only way to find a durable political and diplomatic solution to some of these difficult and extremely delicate issues of peace and security affecting OSCE Member States.” Political will and commitment was needed to reach a peaceful settlement. As cooperation with regional and international organizations was vital for the OSCE in countering terrorism, she expressed support for its continued partnership with the United Nations through high-level dialogue and information-sharing, as well as cooperation in the field.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the crisis in eastern Ukraine represented one of the most dangerous violations of the OSCE’s founding principles. France was deeply concerned about a recent spike in tensions, but remained determined to pursue Normandy-Format mediation alongside its German partners. Emphasizing that there was no alternative to implementing the Minsk agreements, he said the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission must be able to carry out its mandate unimpeded. Beyond Ukraine, the OSCE was a key tool for promoting European peace and security, he said, urging it to focus on resolving regional conflicts, the management of conventional weapons, democracy and human rights, as well as human trafficking, radicalization and climate change. It was important that the OSCE identify concrete solutions beyond political posturing, he stressed.
JOSÉ LUIS RIVAS (Uruguay), emphasizing the value of regional and subregional organizations, said that his country held membership in several groups that had helped to make Latin America and the Caribbean a region of peace, complementing the work of the United Nations. The OSCE, covering a great geographic space, had a membership of 57 States and great experience in conflict resolution, he noted. Uruguay shared its values, as stated in the Helsinki Final Act, and recognized its contributions to the promotion of dialogue, as well as the work of its various missions on the ground.
GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said Austria had taken up the OSCE Chair during turbulent times, noting that Europe was struggling with radicalization, terrorism, violent extremism, refugee crises and transnational crime. The conflict in and around Ukraine was one crisis for which there could be no military solution, he said, emphasizing that all sides must step up efforts to implement the Minsk agreements and engage in constructive dialogue. It was also important to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, he stressed.
SEIF ALLA YOUSSEF KANDEEL (Egypt) expressed support for the OSCE Chair’s priorities, including countering violent extremism among young people in particular, rebuilding trust among OSCE member States and preventing conflict. Commending the organization’s efforts to find a political solution to the conflicts in Ukraine and Georgia, he stressed that no military solution could end the conflicts, encouraging States to shoulder responsibility, demonstrate the necessary will and bolster dialogue. As an OSCE partner in the Mediterranean, Egypt stood ready to join efforts to counter terrorism and extremism, prevent trafficking in persons and confront Islamophobia.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, saying that the severe consequences of the Russian Federation’s ongoing aggression against his country remained a major threat to European security. Ukraine commended the determination of the OSCE’s Austrian Chair to protect the organization’s fundamental principles and commitments, as recently seen in its condemnation of the Russian Federation’s unilateral recognition of so-called documents issued by illegal structures in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk. As demonstrated by the recent spike in hostilities near Avdiivka, in the Donbas region, the situation in conflict-affected areas of Ukraine remained volatile and unpredictable. “Escalation is possible any time the Russian Federation considers it politically necessary or convenient,” he said. That country’s political goal of undermining Ukraine remained unchanged, and instead of implementing the Minsk commitments in good faith, it had resorted to political and military provocations, blackmail and political pressure.
Resolving the crisis in and around Ukraine would require not only a peaceful resolution in Donbas, but also ending the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, he emphasized. Recalling the General Assembly’s resolution of 19 December 2016 on that issue, he said all diplomatic assets and international instruments must be used to ensure that Crimea did not become an “exclusion zone” in relation to basic human rights. Ukraine urged strengthening the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, he said, describing restrictions on its movement and intimidation by “hybrid” Russian forces in Donbas were alarming. Noting that Ukraine endured incursions by terrorist groups regularly sent from Russia into Donbas, he said that his country was interested in a sustained OSCE focus on practical implementation of the Counter-Terrorism Declaration, as well as the strengthening of border security. Emphasizing the human dimension at the core of the OSCE’s concept of comprehensive security, he said there could be no security without respect for human dignity, for the rule of law and for fundamental human rights.