Albania’s Prime Minister outlined the priorities of his country’s 2020 Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) today, assuring the Security Council that making a difference on the ground, respecting commitments and pursuing dialogue are hallmarks of its approach to addressing tensions in Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transdniestria.
Edi Rama said the crisis in and around Ukraine is the most pressing security challenge in Europe, making efforts by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to reduce tensions essential. In his first meeting with Ukraine President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky two weeks ago, he urged full implementation of the Minsk agreements and called for safe, secure access by the sides for the Mission.
More broadly, he said the organization supports efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, noting that talks last week in Geneva centred on elements that could form the basis for a settlement. OSCE also supports the result-oriented approach to the “5+2 talks” on the Transdniestrian Settlement Process.
“Some might say that dialogue is the OSCE’s ultimate purpose,” he said. “The divisions in our region show how badly we need it.” At the same time, the basic principles of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act — respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and human rights — are still a simple recipe for security, prosperity and a future of peace. “Our task for the year ahead will be to guard these principles.”
In the ensuing discussion, delegates acknowledged OSCE as an indispensable platform for dialogue and cooperation, with Belgium’s delegate calling for its expanded cooperation with the United Nations. He nonetheless voiced concern over the deterioration of human rights in regions where OSCE is active.
For most delegates, that meant eastern Ukraine. Many welcomed discussions within the Trilateral Contact Group — comprised of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and OSCE — and under the Normandy format, which involves France, Germany, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Germany’s delegate was among those denouncing attempts to intimidate the Special Monitoring Mission’s work. He called on both sides to ensure free and safe access for the team — a fact which France’s delegate said must include the border with the Russian Federation. Noting that France and Germany co-organized the first Heads of State summit within the Normandy format since 2016, he likewise said the illegal annexation of Crimea is a violation of Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and must be forcefully condemned.
The United Kingdom’s representative agreed with the priority placed on the eastern Ukraine conflict. She called on the Russian Federation to release the 89 or more political prisoners — in that country and in Crimea — recalling that Ukraine’s confidence-building measures led to the holding of the Normandy format summit in Paris.
To those concerns, the Russian Federation’s delegate questioned whether Western colleagues had even read the Minsk agreements. Resolving the situation will be impossible without the direct participation of people in the eastern regions, and he called for dialogue among Kyiv, Donetsk and Luhansk. He also pressed the Council to react to statements made in Kyiv for the revision of the Minsk agreements, recalling that it had expressed its full support for those accords in resolution 2202 (2015).
Addressing questions raised by Council members, the OSCE Chair likened eastern Ukraine to a post-apocalyptic landscape with thousands of people — many elderly and sick — in search of medical help. A peacekeeping mission should be considered as a tool to “bring more substance” to those who guarantee compliance with the ceasefire — and to achieve more results for “normal people” who are living “a hell of a life”.
Also speaking today were representatives of Viet Nam, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia, Estonia, Niger, United States, China, Indonesia, South Africa and the Dominican Republic.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 11:53 a.m.
EDI RAMA, Prime Minister and Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, speaking in his capacity as Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Chairperson-in-Office, said its work directly supports implementation of the United Nations mandate and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. OSCE’s work will revolve around three priorities under Albania’s chairmanship, first and foremost making a difference on the ground. OSCE has proven time and again that it can deploy in conflict and post-conflict settings, he said, and thus, conflict resolution is at the top of the agenda.
Turning to the crisis in and around Ukraine, he said the work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission is essential, noting that he had met President Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky two weeks ago, assuring him of OSCE’s determination to advance peace and urging full implementation of the Minsk agreements. OSCE will also support efforts by the Trilateral Contact Group and Normandy format. “What I heard was a request for further OSCE monitoring in eastern Ukraine,” he said, and OSCE will support the Special Monitoring Mission in fully implementing its mandate. To do so, there is a need to ensure safe and secure access for its staff on the ground, which in turn, requires political will by the sides. “I will not stop calling for it,” he asserted.
More broadly, he said OSCE supports efforts by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, where talks last week in Geneva saw exploration of the possible next steps to prepare people for peace, and discussion of elements that could form the basis of a settlement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In Georgia, OSCE is a co-chair of the Geneva International Discussions, along with the United Nations and the European Union, and supports the Transdniestrian Settlement Process, standing by the result-oriented approach to the “5+2 talks” to promote progress. Confidence-building measures in the economic, social, educational and health fields brings people on both banks closer together, and eventually, will foster comprehensive settlement based on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, within its internationally recognized borders, with a special status for Transdniestria.
Across the region, OSCE plays a key role in early warning and along all phases of the conflict cycle, he said, thanks in part to its field operations, whose action is crucial in preventing re-emergence of conflict and in strengthening institutions. Albania’s second priority is implementing commitments. The OSCE instruments and institutions are essential safeguards for human rights, he said, and promoting freedom of expression and media, safeguarding the rights of national minorities and combating violence against women are its immediate priorities. As advancing good governance is another challenge, Albania will promote OSCE efforts to fight the phenomenon and host a high-level conference in Tirana. To fight human trafficking, another area where OSCE is becoming a global player, it will maximize action in partnership with the United Nations, marking 20 years since the adoption of the Palermo Protocols.
Turning to dialogue, which is the third priority, he observed: “Some might say that dialogue is the OSCE’s ultimate purpose. And the divisions in our region show how badly we need it.” To promote the legacy of the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, he will make it his personal commitment to advance dialogue between OSCE States and among and within its societies — more than 1 billion people. Issues, such as risk reduction, incident prevention and environmental protection, will feature in debates between OSCE States, international organizations and civil society. Yet, intolerance, hate crimes and hate speech constitute a major obstacle to dialogue. To reverse these trends, OSCE will redouble efforts to promote tolerance and non-discrimination, he said, noting that he recently opened the Tirana Conference on Combating anti-Semitism, and that collectively, the world remembered the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. “In our work as honest brokers and chairs of the OSCE, we will be inspired by our tradition of tolerance, openness and respect,” he assured.
With today’s broad range of challenges, he said global action must draw on and coordinate the work of regional organizations. OSCE is an effective partner of the United Nations — and a venue to promote the idea that great power competition must give way to great power cooperation. The basic principles of the Helsinki Final Act — respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and human rights — are still a simple recipe for security, prosperity and a future of peace, he said. “Our task for the year ahead will be to guard these principles.”
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said OSCE continues to be an indispensable platform for dialogue and cooperation, sharing many of the same values with the United Nations. Commending the multiple issues at hand, from cybersecurity to the role of women, he said Germany remains committed to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and calls for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, which remain the basis for a ceasefire, he said, calling on the Russian Federation to fully assume its responsibility. Highlighting the important role played by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, he said his delegation deplored attempts to harass and intimidate its work, calling on both sides to ensure free access of the team.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), noting the crucial role played by regional organizations, said efforts must abide by the Charter of the United Nations, including its purposes and principles. Regarding cooperation with the Security Council, OSCE can further promote women, peace and security, as females are still underrepresented in these processes. Highlighting OSCE efforts in monitoring the implementation of the Minsk agreements, he called on all parties to support its work with a view to finding a peaceful solution.
HALIMAH AMIRAH FARIDAH DESHONG (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said existing threats to international peace and security require political strategies that address the root causes of conflict, and the OSCE mandate exemplifies the nexus approach. As a small island developing State on the frontlines of combating climate change, she said her country must raise the issue related to insecurity, a complex challenge requiring multifaceted solutions. She welcomed the OSCE multi-agency initiative on climate change and also efforts related to promote women’s involvement in peace processes. Turning to security concerns, she welcomed efforts to settle the crisis in Ukraine and reiterated the Charter’s guiding principles of territorial integrity with regard to the situations in Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), noting that OSCE priorities are aligned with those of the United Nations, stressed the importance of their partnership in order to consolidate efforts on preventive diplomacy, while respecting the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in State affairs. Indeed, multilateral action is the best way to settle and prevent conflicts, a noble mission which cannot be achieved without building the capacity of regional and subregional organizations. He stressed OSCE’s role in resolving the eastern Ukraine crisis and reaching a balanced solution based on the 2015 Minsk agreements, especially within the Normandy format and the Trilateral Contact Group framework. There is a need to confront joint security challenges in the Mediterranean — terrorism, extremism and cybersecurity among them — and he called for cooperation between OSCE and its partners. He looked forward to OSCE’s continued work with regional organizations in Africa, expressing support for its efforts to promote good governance, tolerance and non-discrimination.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said the conflict in eastern Ukraine must be the first priority, as it is among the most serious violations of the Helsinki principles. Welcoming efforts by the Special Monitoring Mission, which ensures precise observation of security across the region and implementation of the Minsk agreements, he said its mandate must be implemented throughout Ukraine, notably near the border with the Russian Federation. Noting that France and Germany co-organized the first Heads of State summit within the Normandy format since 2016, he said the illegal annexation of Crimea is a violation of Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders. That violation must be forcefully condemned. He also denounced the growing militarization of the Crimean Peninsula and violations against the Tatars. More broadly, he welcomed the Chairperson’s recent visit to settle the Transdniestrian conflict, and on the Nagorno-Karabakh situation, characterized the 29-30 January meeting between the two foreign ministers organized by the Minsk Group co-presidents as encouraging and demonstrating the will for dialogue. Regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Geneva International Discussions must produce results, he said, stressing respect for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) agreed with the priority placed on responding to the eastern Ukraine conflict and with the push for full, safe and unimpeded access for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. She expressed deep concern over the deterioration of rights in Crimea since the illegal annexation, including torture and intimidation against minorities, and the denial of religious rights. She called on the Russian Federation to release the 89 or more political prisoners — in that country and in Crimea — stressing that Ukraine’s recent confidence-building measures led to the holding of the Normandy format summit in Paris. Pressing the Russian Federation to abide by the Minsk agreements and to use its influence to ensure that the separatists do the same, she said Moscow likewise must ensure that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has access to non-Government-controlled areas. It must also respect Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, she said, condemning its occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol. She welcomed OSCE’s work with the Council’s counter-terrorism bodies, noting that its unique value lies in its consensus approach. She wished to see its enhanced delivery of existing competencies, including the Open Skies Treaty and the Vienna document.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) called for more political support for the free and independent work of all the OSCE’s mechanisms and institutions. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine remains the most reliable source of information on the situation there, and it is regrettable that restrictions have been imposed on its freedom of movement in non-Government-controlled areas in the east of the country. Deploring attempts to threaten, intimidate and harass the Mission’s personnel and damage their assets, he condemned the illegal annexation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as well as the broader military aggression in eastern Ukraine. He voiced concern that the security situation in Donbass has become more volatile, calling on the Russian Federation as a party to the conflict to fully comply with the Minsk Agreements, including a full and comprehensive ceasefire. As the de-occupation and effective return of Ukraine’s territories is the most efficient way to restore regional security, he urged the Council and the OSCE to practically assist in pushing forward steps needed to resolve the conflict. He expressed deep concern about Moscow’s military build-up in Georgia’s occupied regions as well as its military exercises, infrastructure reinforcement and borderization activities in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Calling for an end to such destabilizing acts, he underlined the urgent need for a meaningful cross-dimensional OSCE presence throughout Georgia’s territory and called for a peaceful, lasting settlement to the Transnistrian conflict in the Republic of Moldova which respects the country’s sovereignty.
NIANDOU AOUGI (Niger), commending OSCE work in various fields, said combating violent extremism as a driver of terrorism is a task that concerns the international community. Highlighting the OSCE-United Nations memorandum of understanding in this regard, he encouraged further intensified cooperation in such areas as women, peace and security. Turning to the situation in Ukraine, he encouraged OSCE to continue working towards fully implementing the Minsk agreements. Cooperation with OSCE and other regional organizations can also be mutually beneficial in addressing terrorism, climate change and migration. As the security dynamic in sub-Saharan Africa has an impact on Europe, he reiterated a call for intensified OSCE-African Union cooperation, including with regard to the G5 Sahel (Group of Five for the Sahel) countries in resolving regional challenges.
Mr. BARKIN (United States) said his country, as a large donor to OSCE, welcomes its work and a greater focus on corruption and accountable governance. However, the situation in Ukraine poses the greatest threat to the region since the cold war. The Russian Federation continues to arm, train and fight alongside its proxies in Ukraine, and must fully comply with the Minsk agreements and allow OSCE to fulfil its mandate. The United States will never recognize Moscow’s purported annexation of Crimea, and focused sanctions will remain in place until the situation is resolved, he said, noting that the Russian Federation is also violating Georgia’s sovereignty and has used a protracted conflict in the Republic of Moldova to slow the region’s progress. As such, efforts must be made to resolve these and other conflicts.
YAO SHAOJUN (China) said that during an era of rising protectionism and threats to multilateralism, no country is immune to current challenges. In this regard, regional organizations must play their role to resolve hotspot issues and conduct preventive diplomacy to avoid conflict. At the same time, their actions must work towards safeguarding multilateralism in a manner that respects the rights of States, including territorial integrity.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said that regional and subregional organizations must be in line with international law and respect the principles of non-interference, national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In addition, preventive diplomacy with inclusive dialogue must be prioritized. Political will may not always be present, but can be nurtured with sustained dialogue, mutual respect and credible peace-making. The importance of regional arrangements is stipulated in Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, and political processes should be conducted on an ongoing basis. Citing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as an example, he said that no major conflict has emerged since the association’s inception in 1967, as its main purpose is to promote peace and stability.
MARTHINUS VAN SCHALKWYK (South Africa) said that cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations — relationships which strengthen multilateralism — is a priority for his delegation. Each regional organization is presented with a unique set of peace and security challenges, and their cooperation with the Security Council remains critical. “My delegation does not believe that efforts of regional organizations in maintaining international peace and security absolve this Council of its Charter-mandated responsibilities,” he said, pointing out that new and emerging security threats continue to undermine regional work to prevent and resolve challenges. Calling for stronger cooperation between regional bodies themselves, he said a deeper relationship between the OSCE and the African Union Peace and Security Council could contribute to regional and cross-regional peace and security objectives.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said OSCE priorities are consistent with work under way by the United Nations, and especially the Council, notably to improve security and strengthen dialogue. The Normandy format produced the release of 89 political prisoners, a good sign that “we’re moving towards new horizons”. He expressed hope that other confidence-building measures will be realized, such as the opening of crossing points and the holding of a summit. Noting that combating violence against women is among the urgent issues, he noted with interest OSCE efforts to promote dialogue to reduce hate crimes and speech, and to foster tolerance, as well as exchanges on environmental protection.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said OSCE must complement global efforts in Europe, expressing hope that Albania’s Chairmanship will follow the mandate, be an honest broker in promoting the collective interests of member States and maintain a neutral approach. There is room to strengthen cooperation, especially on such transnational threats as foreign terrorist fighters and terrorism financing. Stressing the importance of adhering to international guidelines in fighting terrorism, he said the promotion of non-consensus initiatives — such as the concept of countering terrorism — is moving in the wrong direction. He looked forward to a conference on the return of foreign terrorist fighters, to be organized by the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office and OSCE, welcoming also the Chairperson’s efforts to organize a traditional drug conference.
On cybersecurity, he said the priority must be to ensure continuous negotiations on information security under United Nations auspices with an aim of devising rules for responsible conduct. He expressed support for the Minsk Group in addressing the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, and on the Transdniestrian conflict, said his country is working to bring sides together. OSCE plays a positive role in resolving the internal Ukrainian crisis and he called for dialogue among Kyiv, Donestsk and Luhansk, expressing support for the Special Monitoring Mission, which must objectively report on the situation, including on civilians and damage to infrastructure. As such, it should be in contact with Donbass local authorities. The crisis in Ukraine is far from being resolved. He pressed the Council to react to statements made in Kyiv for the revision of the Minsk agreements, recalling that it had expressed its full support for those accords in resolution 2202 (2015). Kyiv has refrained from dialogue with its own citizens, claiming Russian aggression without proof. He questioned whether Western colleagues have even read the Minsk agreements, stressing that resolving the situation in the east will be impossible without the direct participation of people in those regions — a concept called inclusivity at the United Nations. OSCE should play a visible role in strengthening the multilateral system and its cooperation with the United Nations should be expanded.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity to stress that OSCE’s priorities will promote collective security, of which the 15-member organ is a guarantor. He welcomed the priority given to the Ukraine crisis, which is a flagrant violation of OSCE founding principles and the Charter of the United Nations, urging that safe, unobstructed access be granted to the Special Monitoring Mission, including along the border with the Russian Federation. Dialogue is crucial, both within the Normandy format and in the Trilateral Contact Group, and the ceasefire must be scrupulously enforced. He welcomed a focus on combating violence against women and girls, as well as OSCE commitments made in April 2019. He voiced concern over the deterioration of human rights in regions where OSCE is active and thus welcomed its efforts to end hate speech. Terrorism, transnational organized crime and human trafficking are priorities for Belgium, as seen in its holding of an Arria formula meeting in October 2019. With that, he expressed support for deepening the synergies between the United Nations and OSCE.
Taking the floor a second time, the representative of Germany said he had listened to the fairy tale recounted by his colleague from the Russian Federation. On the Minsk agreements, he expressed hope that the next time, the Russian Federation representative reacts to what actually happened after the signing of the accords in Minsk, where the most important provision was the ceasefire, which Moscow did not uphold. Instead, it continued to fight against the city of Debaltsevo, making it difficult to implement the Minsk agreements. His Russian colleague likewise missed a mention of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was brought down by Russian rockets, killing 298 people. “We all remember Russian rebels celebrating,” he said, recalling that no compensation has been paid.
In response, the representative of the Russian Federation said his counterpart from Germany seems to be unable to recall facts correctly. Moscow’s position is well known about the issue of the Malaysian airliner, he said, noting that the Russian Federation was not involved in the related investigation. While Germany is promoting some issues that the Russian Federation supports, including women, peace and security, he recalled that women and children in Donbas are dying from Ukrainian bullets.
Mr. RAMA, addressing questions raised by Council members, said that while high-level discussions continue, people are dying. More than 4 million people have benefited from the Special Monitoring Mission in facilitating the ceasefires, but there have been thousands of explosions and 69 people have been killed. Ukraine President Zelensky is offering a contribution to open more intense and fruitful dialogue. Regarding comments made that Ukraine is talking with proxies, he underlined the importance of having productive dialogue that can change the situation on the ground.
Having visited the area, he likened it to a post-apocalyptic landscape, with thousands of people, many elderly and sick in search of medical help, walking across a small bridge, as ambulances are prohibited from crossing to reach them. The principles of territorial integrity are still valid and the issue must be resolved. At the same time, a peacekeeping mission should be considered as a tool to bring more substance to those who must guarantee compliance with the ceasefire. While a monitoring mission has made important contributions, its activities occur during the day only. By nightfall, explosions and shootings resume. To address this, technology must be brought in, including video surveillance. Deeply impressed by the mention of a need to implement a provision made in 2008, he said efforts must be made to achieve more results for the “normal people” who are living “a hell of a life”. It is not very promising, as it can go on for ages, he concluded.