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Russia bristles as OSCE convenes without Lavrov in Poland

December 1, 2022

OSCE foreign ministers are meeting in Poland, which did not invite Russia's Sergey Lavrov in light of the war in Ukraine. Moscow railed against this step, Western countries argued the Kremlin only had itself to blame.

Opening of the OSCE ministers' summit in Lodz, Poland. Photo of entire meeting hall, taken from high vantage point. December 1, 2022.
Russia's delegation at the OSCE meeting was reduced in size after Sergey Lavrov was refused entry to PolandImage: Thomas Koehler/photothek/IMAGO

Foreign ministers from 56 of the 57 members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are meeting in the Polish city of Lodz, with talks set to conclude on Friday. 

Russia, meanwhile, was represented only by its permanent representative to the OSCE, after Poland refused Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a delegation entry for the talks. 

Given that all the group's major decisions require consensus, the chances seem high that agenda issues, like setting a 2023 budget for the organization, will not be resolved this week.

Poland has been among Europe's toughest critics of Moscow since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which puts the OSCE in a challenging position as the group that's supposed to breach the old dividing lines of the Cold War.

Russia says Lavrov exclusion 'devaluing the tools of diplomacy'

Lavrov held a press conference from Moscow on Thursday timed to coincide with the meeting in Poland, blaming Western countries and the "reckless enlargement" of NATO for devaluing the founding principles of the European security and rights watchdog. 

"Taking advantage of its numerical superiority in this organisation, the West has been trying for many years to, if you like, privatize it. Or perhaps it's more correct to say it is trying to carry out a takeover raid on the OSCE, to subjugate this last platform for regional dialogue," Lavrov said.

Lavrov also called out Poland by name, saying that its "anti-chairmanship" of the OSCE was steering the group towards the "most miserable place ever in this organization's history."

In this handout photo released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, meets with Cuba's President of the Council of State Esteban Lazo Hernandez, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022.
Unable to travel to Poland, Lavrov had appointments in Moscow on Thursday, including with Cuba's Esteban Lazo HernandezImage: Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/AP/picture alliance

The comments drew considerable attention in Russia. Later in the day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked whether Russia might leave the pan-European body. 

"By virtue of the position that the OSCE takes, the organization automatically loses its effectiveness. And the organization loses the opportunity, not in words but in deeds, to address issues of security and cooperation in Europe," Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

Russia's OSCE representative, Alexander Lukashevic, similarly told delegates in Lodz that "the West is consciously devaluing the tools of diplomacy, firmly embarking on the path of confrontation."

The Russian delegate used phrases extremely close to Lavrov's, also talking about the privatization or takeover of the organization.

"The OSCE missed a historic chance to promote an inclusive national dialogue in Ukraine, to prevent the unrestrained militarization of the territory," Lukashevic said. 

War in Ukraine dominates OSCE meeting in Poland: DW's Teri Schultz

Germany's Baerbock says 'you cannot look away' from situation

Lukashevic's speech to the forum had followed a series of statements from other members condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February this year. 

Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said Russia was trying to shift blame when it was at fault both for Lavrov's exclusion and for the likely lack of progress at the talks in his absence. 

"I would say it's outrageous to hear Russia accusing the chairmanship of pushing the OSCE into the abyss, destroying its foundations and breaking its procedural rules," said Rau, who oversees Poland's chairing of the organization.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the summit, arguing that unity within the OSCE — a group that was always designed to bring some very disparate governments together — had probably never been greater.

"But in this moment, where it's all about making clear what side you are on, 56 countries have decided to stand on the side of peace, freedom and the OSCE, and one country has, sadly. decided, for more than nine months now, to withdraw itself from this circle of collective cooperation towards security and freedom," she said. 

Annalena Baerbock giving a statement to media at the OSCE meeting in Lodz, Poland: December 1, 2022.
Baerbock held Russia responsible for Lavrov's absence in LodzImage: Thomas Koehler/photothek/IMAGO

Baerbock also criticized Russia for holding up talks on issues like an OSCE budget, saying Germany had decided to submit an increased contribution of €10 million (roughly $10.5 million) voluntarily for 2023, without signing off on a budget. 

The OSCE has several active monitoring missions within its territory, most notably a group of observers in Ukraine, dispatched when the conflict first broke out in 2014. 

"That's why it is so important that these 14 missions led by the OSCE can be continued, particularly in the coming year," she said, adding that the "one special mission in Ukraine" needed to continue "to be able to somehow support people in Ukraine amid this brutality."

Russian, even Soviet, involvement a historical OSCE cornerstone

The reason for Russia's particular displeasure can be traced all the way back to the OSCE's formation. 

The group was set up during the Cold War, specifically to serve as a rare platform for discussion between the Western nations and Eastern bloc countries. 

Its 57 members comprise almost all of the former Soviet Union and Europe, whether EU members or not, as well as the United States and Canada and some Asian states. 

The OSCE traces its roots back to a 1975 summit in Finland, neutral during the Cold War but now planning to join NATO following the invasion of Ukraine, and its headquarters were set up in Austria, a relatively rare non-NATO member in Western Europe. 

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, whose country is in the tricky position of being an ally of Poland that also maintains close ties with Russia, perhaps came closest to criticizing Lavrov's exclusion, saying "channels of communication must be maintained." 

Ukraine repeats call for Russia's exclusion from the group

Ukraine, meanwhile, has called for Russia to be kicked out of the OSCE altogether. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba took issue with the title for this year's gathering, which says the organization is at a crossroads. 

"I dared to disagree with the title. OSCE is on a highway to hell because Russia abuses its rules and principles," Kuleba wrote on Twitter. "Everything has been tried in regards to Russia: to please, to appease, to be nice, to be neutral, to engage, not to call a spade a spade. The bottom line: It would be better for OSCE to carry on without Russia."

Kuleba also thanked Germany's Baerbock during a bilateral meeting in Lodz, a day after the Bundestag parliament voted to recognize the Stalin-era "Holodomor" famine in Soviet-ruled Ukraine as a genocide

Speaking in Lodz, US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said Russia had "failed demonstrably to break the OSCE."

"On the contrary, this organization, like the UN, has said 'no' to Moscow's efforts to divide it, to paralyze it, to destroy it," she said.

German Parliament Recognizes Holodomor as Genocide

msh/sms (AP, dpa, Reuters)