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OSCE delegates stage walkout during Russian address

February 23, 2023

The meeting — which coincides with the one year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine — won't be used as a platform for Kremlin propaganda, the OSCE's president has said.

Photo from 2022 showing a Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) sign in Vienna
Involvement from Moscow at the OSCE session in Vienna has led to protests from some member statesImage: Lisa Leutner/AP Photo/picture alliance

A large number of delegates staged a walkout at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) parliamentary session in Vienna on Thursday.

The session — which falls on the one year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine — has caused controversy due to the  attendance of a Russian delegation.

As deputy head of Russia's delegation Vladimir Dzhabarov prepared to address the meeting, a large number of those gathered stood up and left the room, while others held up Ukrainian flags.

When it was time for Belarusian representative, Andrei Savinykh to speak, two protesting delegates stood behind him with a Ukrainian flag until he had finished speaking.  

How OSCE member states reacted to Russian delegates attending the meeting

Involvement from Moscow has led to Ukrainian and Lithuanian lawmakers deciding to boycott meetings in protest.

"They (Russians) are not interested in discussion, dialogue. They are coming only for propaganda," Ukraine delegation head Mykyta Poturaiev told reporters on Wednesday.

"It is unacceptable to have in common meetings people who are responsible, who voted for this war," he added.

A Slovak delegate read out a statement from the Ukrainian delegation, which said that "the presence of these warmongers in
Vienna is an affront to everything that the OSCE stands for."

Lithuania’s permanent representative for international organisations, including the OSCE, Vaidotas Verba, told DW that the parliamentarians deem the meeting to be “morally and politically inappropriate”. 

He said: "Our members of parliament consider it to be morally and politically inappropriate to sit in the same room with the people who helped to start this war, promoting (it) and now supporting the harsh measures against defenders of Ukraine."

The Russian delegation should not be "discussing Ukraine and the first anniversary of this terrible war," added Verba, whose role is separate from the decision met by the Lithuanian delegation. 

Nineteen other countries protested the attendance of the Russian lawmakers in a letter sent to the Austrian government in early February.

Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy
Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy is heading up the delegation from MoscowImage: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS/IMAGO

Why Austria allowed the Russian delegates to enter the country

Austria said it would not bar the Russian delegation due to its obligations "under international law," as the OSCE has its headquarters in Vienna.

"The date is very unfortunate," Austria's Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg conceded in an interview with broadcaster ORF.

"But at the same time, we must not disregard the fact that we need platforms. The OSCE has never been an organisation of like-minded people," he added.

The Russian delegation is being led by deputy chair of the Russian Duma's lower house, Pyotr Tolstoy, who is currently under international sanctions.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer is among the few Western leaders who has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the invasion, which he said has been an attempt to push for an end to the conflict.

What the OSCE has said about Russian participation

Ahead of the session, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Margareta Cederfelt, said the meeting would not become a platform for Russian propaganda.

During her opening address Cedefelt said: "Today some parliamentarians are aiding and abetting the crime of aggression."

The Swedish lawmaker also accused the Russian delegation of undermining civil rights, the media and elections.

"For the privilege of having a few minutes to spout their lies, the Russian delegates will have to sit through hours upon hours of vocal denunciations of their actions," Cedarfelt said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

Previously, the UK and Poland refused to issue visas to the Russian delegation when they hosted sessions last year, with the pair being among Europe's toughest critics of Moscow since the Russian invasion of Ukraine .

OSCE Ministerial Council meets without Russian FM Lavrov

kb/rt (dpa, AFP)