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OSCE should find diplomatic solution to Belarus crisis

Goncharenko Roman
Roman Goncharenko
November 16, 2021

The migrant crisis unfolding along the EU's external frontier has been accompanied by belligerent rhetoric and threats against Belarus. It's time for the OSCE to take action, says Roman Goncharenko.

The building of the OSCE in Minsk
Can the OSCE make a difference or is just another paper tiger?Image: Tatyana Zenkovich/dpa/picture alliance

Threats, sanctions and even troop deployments have accompanied the intensifying migrant crisis unfolding along the Poland-Belarus border. For this, Belarus is to blame, which is cynically instrumentalizing migrants against the EU. Yet Poland and the Baltic states are not helping either. They, too, have ramped up tensions by flexing their muscles and calling for NATO to step in.

Some fear armed conflict could erupt. Indeed, Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko recently claimed migrants were receiving arms from eastern Ukraine.

Time for diplomacy

With tensions escalating, it makes you wonder why on earth nobody is engaging in talks. Is it not, after all, standard protocol to first exhaust all diplomatic means possible to resolve a crisis, and only then resort to military threats?

Of course, efforts have been made to talk sense into Lukashenko through various different channels. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has, for instance, spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin — to no avail. Then on Monday, in a bit of a U-turn, she spoke to Lukashenko, who remains isolated in the West, on the phone, thus enhancing his position somewhat. Whether those talks have made any inroads to defuse the crisis is anyone's guess.

DW editor Roman Goncharenko
DW's Roman GoncharenkoImage: DW

But more can and must be done. It's high time for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to step up, which has been conspicuously silent of late, even though it was created specifically for resolving crises like these.

OSCE fits the bill perfectly

Belarus was never a fully-fledged member of the Council of Europe. It is, however, a member of the OSCE, along with all other states currently tied up in the migrant conflict. This makes it the only international organization suited to mediate in this situation.

With every day that the crisis drags on, the more deafening the OSCE's silence has become. It makes you wonder what the organization is even good for. Granted, the OSCE is limited in its remit to what its member states deem appropriate. Still, it should try and get involved. With the body's Ministerial Council convening in early December, conditions look promising.

The Vienna-based organization is tailor-made for handling the Belarus crisis. It has been led by Secretary-General Helga Schmid, a veteran diplomat, since late 2020. Schmid previously served as chief of staff under former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and until recently held a leading position within the European External Action Service (EEAS). In 2015, she met Lukaschenko in Belarus. The OSCE has maintained a close relationship with Minsk. In 2014, OSCE talks were held there aiming to pacify the conflict in eastern Ukraine. In addition, the OSCE has a dedicated special representative to help tackle people trafficking — the very crime the West accuses Lukashenko of perpetrating.

Germany's Olaf Scholz should take action

Which steps could the OSCE take, specifically? Initially, the body should appoint a highly-respected diplomat as chief Belarus envoy. This person would then approach Lukashenko and pave the way for talks. The OSCE could then stage an international conference to discuss potential ways out of this crisis. In the medium-term, observers could be dispatched to Belarus, provided Lukashenko agrees. Indeed, the OSCE may succeed in brokering observer missions to both Poland, which is reluctant to accept outsiders monitoring the situation, and Belarus.

Germany should play a bigger role in OSCE negotiations, too. Olaf Scholz of Germany's Social Democratic Party, which is set to lead the country's next government, promised during the election campaign to engage in a "new eastern policy in the spirit of the [Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe] CSCE and OSCE."

What better time to make good on his pledge, now that the migrant crisis is worsening by the day.

This article was adapted from German by Benjamin Restle.