Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk, Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to international organizations in Vienna
We count on both political and practical involvement of the OSCE in the Peace Formula
27.01.2023 17:44

With its aggression against Ukraine, Russia violated, among other things, the fundamental documents and principles of the OSCE. Despite this, the Russian Federation continues to remain a member of the Organization. What's more, it is blocking its activities – not only as regards Ukraine, but also in general. It doesn’t seem possible to expel the violator from the OSCE at the moment – there is simply no legal mechanism to this end.

At the same time, the Russian delegation to the OSCE is practically isolated as the absolute majority of participating countries strongly condemn the Russian war and stand by Ukraine. The role of Russian diplomats at the meetings is actually reduced to reading out propaganda statements – so ridiculous that no one even tries to respond. Moreover, the leadership of the Organization and the participating states found the will and a way to overcome the Russian blockade, as evidenced by the launch of the Support Program for Ukraine. This is developing despite the fact that in 2022, the OSCE operated without an approved annual budget, which was due to Russian blackmail.

In an interview with Ukrinform, Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to international organizations in Vienna, Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk, said that Ukraine and its partners are currently directing efforts to further isolate the Russian Federation in the OSCE and limit its influence on any processes. According to the diplomat, even under the current conditions, the OSCE continues to play a significant role for Ukraine and remains relevant, while Kyiv considers the Support Program as a practical element of the OSCE's involvement in the implementation of the Peace Formula.


- I will start with a simple, but at the same time important question – what does the OSCE offer us and does Ukraine see this Organization as relevant in its current form?

- Even in today's conditions, the OSCE continues to play a significant role for Ukraine – both in political and practical aspects.

As a multilateral forum for constant communication, the organization remains important from the point of view of coordinating positions and attracting support for our state, in particular, regarding the formation of a positive stance of governments on providing weapons to Ukraine, establishing the responsibility of the Russian Federation, Ukraine's peace initiative, etc.

Limiting Russia's influence in the OSCE is also an important area of our work. And now we can already say that the Russian delegation is practically isolated – during meetings, they only utter their propaganda monologues but no one believes them, no one engages in discussions with them, and no one listens to them. The political role of the Russian delegation in the OSCE is currently practically non-existent. The only thing is that, given the existing formats and rules of procedure, they can still block decisions of the Organization that require the consensus of member states – and they do this all the time.

In addition, we expect that with the assistance of chairmanship, secretary general, and partner countries, the OSCE will be able to play a leading role in terms of supporting the Peace Formula put forward by the President of Ukraine – and not only in terms of political consolidation. We consider the recently established OSCE Support Program for Ukraine precisely as a practical element of the implementation of the Ukrainian peace plan.


- Please tell us more about the Program and how it relates to the Peace Formula.

- As you know, Russia has blocked all field missions of the Organization that were related to Ukraine. This also applies to the OSCE project coordinator. But Ukraine's need to continue project activities of the OSCE remained in place, as did the readiness of chairmanship, participating countries, and the secretariat to help us and finance this activity. Therefore, the issue was resolved through the creation of the Support Program for Ukraine at the OSCE Secretariat and the introduction of the position of Special Representative of the OSCE Chairmanship – project coordinator in Ukraine. We are glad that Henrik Willadsen, who had previously managed the Organization's project activities in Ukraine, was reassigned to this position, and managed the office effectively.

Formally, his office is not about the OSCE field presence in Ukraine. He is considered only a representative of the chairmanship. But in essence, this does not change practically anything for Ukraine – the Memorandum of Understanding of 1999 between Ukraine and the OSCE remains valid, although, of course, we are ready for some updating.

By the way, now, as i defined in the Memorandum, only those projects that Ukraine will designate and need are implemented. There is no such thing as a country allocating funds and dictating which project will be pursued in Ukraine. Projects are carried out only with our approval. In addition, all of them are discussed at the newly created advisory council, in which the donor countries, secretariat, representative of chairmanship, and Ukraine take part, and our position there is decisive.

And that's why now we have the opportunity to practically implement exactly those projects that we need in view of the Peace Formula. And almost all its components are more or less important for the activities that the OSCE usually carries out in member states. In particular, this concerns food, energy, and environmental security, the release of prisoners and deportees, restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and world order, cessation of hostilities, prevention of future escalation, and return of justice.

Important for us are projects of humanitarian demining, rehabilitation of veterans and persons affected by war, combating environmental pollution, addressing humanitarian needs, increasing the potential of the national police, improving cyber security, and combating human trafficking.

As for the latter point, now, as you know, the issue of the abduction of Ukrainian children and their removal to the territory of Russia under false pretenses is really acute. The OSCE can and will make its contribution here, too, from the point of view of both preventing this crime and documenting it. This is important for the return of our people and for further prosecution of all those involved in these crimes. This includes the work of the Bureau of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which also carries out its work in the field of human rights protection and participates in recording and documenting crimes, supplementing the work of our legal system, and the OSCE Representative on Media Freedom, which defends journalists, including those detained by the Russian occupation administrations.

I would like to note separately that the projects within the Program, together with the priority of bringing peace closer, correspond to the European integration strategy of Ukraine and our progress along this path.

In total, there are about 25 projects: some of them have already been approved, some have not, yet.

But a number of countries have already invested their first millions, and this allowed for starting this work.

- How many countries have joined the Program as donors and what is the total estimate of all projects?

- Many countries joined at the moment when Russia tried to veto the OSCE project activities in Ukraine. The contribution of some states is rather symbolic, but it clearly demonstrates the positions of these countries that such blocking by Russia is unacceptable. In general, there are several major donors – these are the countries that help us in everything, our closest partners.

Contributions have only just begun, so if some country has not yet contributed, I am sure they will in due course. After all, there’s total political support for continued OSCE project activities in Ukraine.


- Does Ukraine expect that the OSCE involvement in the implementation of the Peace Formula will be through this new Support Program or also in some other form?

- Both the current Chairman of the OSCE, who visited Ukraine on January 16, and the Secretary General are very well aware of our priorities and Ukraine's appeal to them regarding the implementation of the Peace Formula. Additionally, our delegation, at its level, during meetings with the leadership of the Organization, conveys the detailed possible elements of OSCE involvement.

We see this engagement as twofold: practical – through project activity in Ukraine – and also in a political plane. And when I talk about political involvement, I mean not only appeals during meetings or the creation of a coalition of states in support of Ukraine, although all of this is also the case.

We expect that our visions of the Peace Formula will be reflected in the daily activities of the Organization, in different formats and in different forums. First of all, we are talking about the work of all three committees of the Permanent Council – security, economic and environmental, and human rights, whose sphere of activity is directly related to certain elements of Ukraine’s peace plan. In view of this, we place quite high hopes on the chairmanship, which determines the agenda and activities of these committees.

I could note that the chairmanship of North Macedonia in this regard goes meets our aspirations and wishes, forming the appropriate agenda.

Of course, the Russian side is unhappy about this and they even resort to outright threats. They have already claimed that North Macedonia failed to learn the lesson of the allegedly "unsuccessful" Polish presidency and that they are following in their footsteps.

In fact, Poland's chairmanship of the OSCE was really successful! It was unsuccessful for Russia only. After all, the Polish chairmanship clearly put everything in its place, saying that there is Russian aggression, and that Ukraine is a victim of this aggression.


- Reacting to this clear position of the Polish presidency, Russia blocked the adoption of the OSCE budget for 2022 and will obviously continue this blackmail now with North Macedonia. What is the financial situation now?

- For the OSCE, it was a common situation where a year began without an available budget. As a rule, within a short period it was eventually approved. The year before last there was a record when the budget was adopted only in August. And this was an emergency. Although, as it turned out, the emergency was actually last year, when the annual budget was never approved due to Russia's position.

At the same time, when the Organization does not have an annual budget, its activities are financed on a monthly basis. This limits planning, but it is impossible to say that the Organization died because of it. Last year, the OSCE fulfilled all its main tasks: not only scheduled meetings were held, but also additional special meetings of the Permanent Council initiated by Ukraine to consider Russian aggression took place, too.

That is, the money was found, and Russia’s blackmail didn’t work. The secretariat and chairmanship continue to proceed from the principled positions reflected in the founding documents of the OSCE, and this is not subject to any compromise.

Now we assume that the year 2022 has ended and we just need to put a full stop and close this page, having recorded the formally incurred expenses in one form or another.

But, of course, the Organization cannot work in this mode forever. And currently, the next problem before us is the 2023 budget. Negotiations on this matter are already being conducted by the North Macedonia presidency.


- It turns out that Russia is blocking not only the entire activity of the OSCE in Ukraine, but also the work of the Organization in general – as regards the budget approval, appointment of the chairmanship for 2024, which Estonia sought to take over. What are the ways to resolve this "Russia crisis in the OSCE," as you repeatedly referred to it during the meetings of the Permanent Council? Why would the OSCE need Russia at all?

- If you ask me why, my answer will be that they actually don’t need it. Russia’s destructive role in the OSCE is manifested in everything – whatever the Russian hand touches dries up and dies. Because this hand carries no desire for cooperation or dialogue, only a desire to strengthen its own positions through the Organization, a claim to return to the "imperial zone of special interests."

At the same time, their position of blackmail over the last 10 months has become obvious to almost everyone in the OSCE: no one believes them and no one is playing their game.

Indeed, right now there are no mechanisms by which Russia can be excluded from the Organization. We are in search of such mechanisms. But we can direct efforts to further isolate the Russian Federation in the OSCE and limit its influence on processes within the Organization. For example, as it happened with the removal of Moscow's influence on the project activities of the OSCE in Ukraine.

When it is said that Russia poses a problem in the adoption of new decisions, it should be pointed out that the main decisions – the Helsinki Final Act, the principles and strategies of the OSCE in the main areas – have long been adopted. Therefore, we can work on their implementation, and this can be done within the framework of the existing mandate.

- Did I understand you correctly that there is no legal mechanism for excluding Russia or any other participating country from the OSCE, and that it does not seem possible to create one under the existing principle of consensus?

- I would not operate such categorical terms. Currently, there is no such mechanism. But we, together with our partners, are trying to creatively move forward along the path of further limiting Russia's non-constructive participation in the OSCE.


- What can this limitation manifest itself in? Can we cite the conference on the human dimension in Warsaw, the holding of which was blocked by Russia, but it was still held by the Polish presidency, albeit under a different name?

- You are absolutely correct in offering this example. Previously, it was Moscow putting forward its position and not even trying to explain it: “This is our position and you either accept it, or the decision will not be made.” Now Russia’s ultimatums are no longer mandatory to be taken into account. If the Russians take a non-constructive position, then the decision-making can move to another plane – as happened with the holding of the conference on the human dimension in Warsaw.

The Russians blocked this OSCE conference, not agreeing with the topics and modalities. Then a separate conference of the chairmanship was held in Poland. Yes, it had a slightly different formal name, but it still allowed the participating states and non-governmental organizations to have discussions according to the agenda that had been planned and established by all partners.

So, with its non-constructive position, Russia excluded itself from the process and deprived itself of the possibility to exert any influence. And now the Russians will be forced to take this example into account in the future.

Preparations for the OSCE Annual Security Review Conference will start soon. And if Russia takes a non-constructive stance and insists on some unrealistic things, then a conference of the chairmanship can be held, at which proper, truly relevant problems will be discussed – the Russian Federation's war against Ukraine and related issues. Russians will be excluded from the general process – this is about depriving Russia of its influence on decision-making.


- OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid says that it makes sense for Russia to remain a member of the OSCE because it is necessary to keep diplomatic channels open. Austria’s top diplomat Alexander Schallenberg also stated the need to maintain Russia's presence in the Organization, as it supposedly makes it possible to convey arguments and criticism to Russian diplomats. What would you say to this?

- When someone says that dialogue is needed and that the OSCE is an organization that was created during the Cold War to present different positions, I answer very simply: back then, there was a Cold War, and now there’s not, and therefore the situations are incomparable. As for the dialogue within the OSCE, we fully support it, but not the monologues of the Russian delegation voiced with propaganda purposes. As for the presentation of arguments, this happens in different ways.

The problem is that there is still no dialogue in the OSCE with Russia. They don’t want to participate in the dialogue, only interfering with it. The Russian delegation exploits the podium of the Organization exclusively to read out yet another piece of propaganda and falsehood, such as the allegation that Ukraine is shelling itself.

Therefore, the OSCE today will only benefit if it has less influence from such a Russia. Indeed, it is not easy in terms of existing rules and procedures, but we are looking for additional opportunities.

An example can also be the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, where the issue of suspending Russia's participation is being discussed. Now that Russia is an aggressor violating all the rules and principles of the OSCE, hindering its work, it has no right to function as its part. the Russian Federation should be fenced off and kept in an isolated place until Moscow withdraws its troops from Ukraine and changes its course.


- Regarding the situation in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. In November, the Ukrainian delegation announced a boycott of the organization for as long as Russians are present there. What is the situation now?

- It is better to ask our parliamentary delegation directly about this. As far as I know, after the Birmingham Declaration adopted in the summer of last year, there is an ongoing process for the development of a certain annex to the rules of procedure of the OSCE PA, which would allow for suspending the membership of the aggressor state. The discussion is ongoing and we expect that it will lead to the adoption of new rules of procedure.

In Birmingham, the Russian delegation did not attend the meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly. Russians, as well as Belarusians, by the way, did not come to Poland (for the autumn meeting of the  OSCE PA - ed.) because they were refused visas. Therefore, our parliamentary delegation was not forced to sit at the same table with representatives of the aggressor state. But already on February 23-24 – the anniversary of the Russian Federation's full-scale invasion of Ukraine – the winter session of the OSCE PA will take place in Vienna. At the same time, the Austrian side currently believes that visas should be issued to all participants in Austria-based international organizations...

I am sure that our delegation will make the right decision, and it will also be supported by partners – in order to demonstrate that the presence of the Russian Federation is a key problem for the functioning of the OSCE PA.


- I’d also like to ask you about Russia seizing OSCE SMM vehicles and transporting them to the occupied areas of Donbas. At the latest Permanent Council, this saw sharp condemnation from the majority of participating countries, including Ukraine. Do you know how the Secretary General and Chairman of the OSCE reacted? Did they have reach out to the Russians? What did they say?

- At the meeting, we raised the issue not only of the vehicles, but also of Russia's continued illegal holding of the three members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. First of all, people are more important to us than cars.

And yes, you correctly noted that during the meeting there was a very sharp criticism of the Russian Federation regarding the seizure, or rather the theft, of OSCE property. The issue is under the general secretary's field of vision and her responsibility. She reported that even before this flagrant incident, eight official notes were sent to the Russian side with an appeal to return the SMM vehicles. In addition, there were other contacts during which the need to resolve the situation was emphasized. The chairmanship also stands for the protection of the OSCE property and emphasizes the unacceptability of Russia’s actions.

Russia's attempts to pretend that nothing happened and that it would later provide additional information about the status of these vehicles also sparked a wave of indignation from the participating states. They strongly emphasized that these vehicles are OSCE property, that their status is unchanged, and that therefore the Russian Federation must immediately return them.


- And finally, what role do you think the OSCE will play in the future? Could it be that it will once again, as in the times of the Cold War, become a platform, based on which new contours of European and global security will be formulated?

- Now there are many different discussions going on across different forums about the role and future of the OSCE. I can confidently state only one thing in this regard: no one will give Russia the opportunity to fixate its interests in the spirit of the Cold War.

It is also obvious that no matter what the strategic directions of the OSCE become in the future, the principles that have already been adopted by the Organization will remain inviolable. And this is the main point from which we all have to start.

There will be no way that the Russian Federation or anyone else will be able to change the principles of inviolability of borders and territorial integrity. There will be no such thing as allowing aggression and resolving disputes by force.

We can discuss what role and niche the OSCE will take, what will become of the UN, or the possibility of creating new organizations or structures, but the main thing is that the existing principles, which Ukrainians defend today up in arms, will be unbreakable and unshakable. And the world order, I am sure, will remain based on these principles.

Vasyl Korotkyi,Vienna

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