The two-day annual meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) opened in Skopje on Thursday in the spirit of disintegrating European unity over the Ukraine issue. While Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States boycotted the meeting in protest at the participation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Lavrov met with several EU counterparts, including Alexander Schallenberg (ÖVP), who harshly criticized other OSCE countries.
The Russian Foreign Ministry aggressively distributed photographs of Lavrov’s meetings with other foreign ministers; one of them showed Lavrov and Schallenberg having an informal conversation outside the event centre. Schallenberg’s spokesman told APA that the meeting took place “at the request of the OSCE and in consultation with the Presidency.” The spokesman said Schallenberg spoke with Lavrov “about the extraordinary personnel package for OSCE leadership positions.” “Austria, hosting the OSCE, has a special responsibility, so Foreign Minister Schallenberg complied with this request.”
Schallenberg had previously welcomed the decision of the North Macedonian OSCE Presidency to allow Lavrov’s participation. Last year, Poland did not invite the Russian top diplomat to the annual meeting, which Schallenberg publicly criticized. In a recent interview with a newspaper, he did not rule out talking to the Russian Foreign Minister “if the opportunity arises.” Schallenberg told Austrian journalists in Skopje that Russia is a difficult partner but is geographically part of Europe. “We cannot overshadow or cancel them, and we must talk to them, especially in difficult times,” he stressed.
In his speech at the plenary session, Schallenberg blamed his colleagues for the decline of the Vienna-based OSCE: “Dear colleagues, most of us behave like construction workers on the construction site, folding our arms and looking at what is needed. Schallenberg warned about the “negligent murder” of the organization: “Almost no one is able to get the job done in the end.” does not feel responsible for its completion”.
Schallenberg paid tribute to North Macedonia, the country whose presidency ended, and its successor, Malta. Malta stepped in because Moscow vetoed official candidate Estonia. As the Foreign Minister reported before his return flight to Vienna, in Skopje the future OSCE Chairman also met with Maltese Foreign Minister Ian Borg. He offered him support with two specialists in Vienna and one in Valletta.
Schallenberg also made serious allegations against Russia in his speech. The fact that the OSCE is now “in ruins” is the result of the “brutal and unprovoked attack” on Ukraine. The only person responsible for this war is Russian President Vladimir Putin. He acknowledged the accession boycotts of many EU countries, legitimized by Lavrov’s presence, with the following words: “We all know that the OSCE has never been an organization of like-minded countries or peer groups. But everyone here in this hall is. The survival of this organization is a promise.” “(…) The existential crisis of the OSCE is very threatening and must end.”
In his speech, Lavrov leveled well-known accusations against NATO and the “neo-Nazi regime in Kiev” whose efforts to “destroy everything Russian” eclipse even the Baltic states. As in previous OSCE meetings, it went too far historically, calling for the “reckless expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe”, the secession of Kosovo from Serbia “without a referendum”, as well as the “Western-supported Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003 He criticized . As acts of aggression against Russia. He accused the West of “killing” the OSCE. “There is no reason to be optimistic. The OSCE is on the brink.”
The opposition of European states was reflected not only in the boycott of a few foreign ministers, but also in the statements of the remaining ones. While most countries strongly condemned Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó did not make a single criticism of Moscow. Instead, he condemned steep price increases as a result of a war “that is not ours” and complained that the Ukrainian leadership had also sent members of the country’s Hungarian ethnic group to die at the front. The representative of the NATO state, who also met with Lavrov on Thursday, emphasized, “The solution is peace. There is no solution on the battlefield.”
Luxembourg’s new Foreign Minister, Xavier Bettel, made a completely different statement, making a personal appeal to his Russian counterpart, who was not present at the time, to end the war in Ukraine. Beginning his speech, the former prime minister said, “It is never too late to realize that you have made a big mistake. Being strong is not about showing that you are stronger, but about ending the suffering of millions of people.” one of her grandmothers mentioned her Russian roots. Russian President Vladimir Putin “destroyed everything we built” with his behavior. Its closest friends today are North Korea, Syria and Eritrea. Stating that he “does not have any rights” as a gay man in some OSCE countries, Bettel emphasized, “We see that their side’s narrative is not correct.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken avoided the Russian chief diplomat. He only attended an unofficial dinner attended by foreign ministers on Wednesday evening, to which Lavrov was not invited. Secretary of State James O’Brien, speaking on behalf of the United States, put the stick in the window of the aggressor state. Without directly naming Moscow, he called for the removal of blockades within the OSCE. “The OSCE will be successful in any case. They (obstructing states, note) have to decide whether they want to be there,” he said.
In her statement, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called for a three-year extension of the term of office of OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid. The German diplomat’s term ends on Sunday. Germany is ready to compromise on this issue. He criticized Russia’s blockade on this issue, saying, “What is not possible is to compromise without compromise.”
In his opening speech, OSCE Deputy Chairman Bujar Osmani harshly criticized Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine, saying it was “a slap in the face to this organization and everything it values.” North Macedonia’s OSCE Presidency took place in an “extremely difficult context”. Referring to the 13 missions of the world’s largest regional security organization, Osmani said, “Despite all the resistance, the OSCE can continue to carry out its work.” said. Osmani was also pleased that a solution could be found to the months-long dispute over the OSCE chairmanship in 2024. Although the decision will not be officially confirmed until Friday, it places his Maltese counterpart Ian Borg to his right as future leader.
Schallenberg has been in Skopje since Wednesday and completed a series of bilateral meetings, including with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. Cohen came as an observer; Israel is not a member of the OSCE. Schallenberg spoke briefly with Blinken, among others, over dinner, according to his spokesman. Before leaving on Thursday afternoon, Schallenberg also spoke with his counterparts from Moldova and Georgia about rapprochement with the EU.