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OSCE meeting sparks disagreement over whether to share stage with Russia’s Lavrov

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BRUSSELS/VIENNA (Reuters) – The annual meeting of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe foreign ministers on Thursday divided member states, with the Baltics and Ukraine refusing to attend due to of the presence of Russian Sergei Lavrov and urging others to do so as well.

The OSCE is the successor to an organization created during the Cold War as a forum for dialogue between Soviet and Western powers, but it is now largely paralyzed as Russia continues to use what is effectively a veto that each country has within the security and rights body. Field missions in the Balkans and Central Asia continue.

The United States and its allies simultaneously seek to keep the OSCE alive and hold Russia accountable for its invasion of Ukraine. They are present while making a point of denouncing Moscow’s actions – a position to which some of Ukraine’s closest allies hardly adhere.

“How can we speak with an aggressor who is committing genocide, total aggression against another member state, Ukraine?” Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna told reporters during a meeting with his counterparts from other NATO member states.

Estonia was to take over the annual rotating OSCE presidency, but Russia spent months blocking it. A last-minute deal allowing neutral Malta to take over the presidency must also be formally approved at Thursday and Friday’s OSCE meeting in Skopje, hosted by the current president of North Macedonia.

Poland, which hosted the last such ministerial council a year ago, nine months after Russia invaded Ukraine, did not invite Lavrov then.

“So I decided, together with my Latvian and Lithuanian colleagues, as well as the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, not to participate in the meeting in Skopje, because I think that instead of sitting around the table with Lavrov, Lavrov should be tried for war crimes,” Tsahkna said.


The situation in the OSCE currently tends to reflect the broader diplomatic reality regarding Ukraine. While only Belarus regularly sides with Russia at OSCE meetings, those absent this week fear that Western powers’ commitment to supporting Ukraine is faltering.

The United States has sought to reassure them while asserting that the OSCE, given the various standards it upholds and which Russia has also adhered to, is the ideal place to hold Moscow accountable.

“First of all…we have no planned interactions with Russia. Nor will we accept a return to business as usual in the midst of this aggression, which has resulted in the largest ground war on the European continent since the Second World War,” he added. ” US Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter told reporters.

“Much has been done to denounce Russian atrocities, and I hope this will be the theme of condemnation of Russian aggression against Ukraine, in all its forms.”

It later became clear, however, that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would only attend meetings with his North Macedonian counterpart and like-minded countries on Wednesday, and would leave before the start of the Ministerial Council on Thursday.

The OSCE is not the only international body where the West and Russia meet. Lavrov still participates in Group of 20 events around the world and at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin used a virtual G20 meeting to deliver an eight-minute speech in which he called the war in Ukraine a “tragedy” that must end soon.

Fundamentally, the stakes in Skopje are low. With the presidency settled, the main outstanding question is whether four senior OSCE officials, including Secretary General Helga Schmid, will have their terms extended.

The absent countries, however, fear that Lavrov will use the meeting as a platform, and any meeting with countries other than Belarus, his staunch ally, will be closely monitored.

“It turns out that the aggressor country has a veto and is, in a way, trying to hijack the OSCE agenda. I think this is simply wrong,” Latvian Affairs Minister said Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins to journalists at the NATO meeting.

“Through our action, we are also drawing attention to what we believe is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed,” he added.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; writing by François Murphy, editing by William Maclean)

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