Michael Carpenter, US Permanent Representative to OSCE
Helping Ukraine build an army that will deter Russia from even thinking about attacking
08.08.2023 13:04

Michael Carpenter, the US Permanent Representative to the OSCE, is convinced that the Organization, given Russia's obsession with aggression against Ukraine, had no way to prevent a full-scale war. At the same time, on the eve of the invasion, the OSCE used all mechanisms to show that it was Russia that was responsible and deliberately sought war.

In his opinion, the Organization continues to play an important role even during the war, despite all Russia's efforts to block its work. First of all, it concerns the use of available tools to expose the scale of Russia's atrocities in Ukraine. But also important is the establishment of the Support Program for Ukraine, the first field mission in the history of the OSCE that was created without consensus and, therefore, without any Russian influence. The launch of this mission is one of the examples of circumventing Russia's destructive role in the OSCE and, in fact, reforming the Organization itself.

Carpenter is convinced that international support for Ukraine will continue, and Ukrainians will ultimately win the war waged against them by Russia, as it is about their survival as a nation. Over time, the United States and its partners intend to help Ukraine build an armed force whose strength will deter Moscow from even thinking about attacking again.

The role of the OSCE, its "added value" now and whether it can become a platform for peace talks, the US support for Ukraine, including the possibility of transferring F-16 fighters and long-range ATACMS missile systems, as well as security guarantees for Ukraine, Medvedev's nuclear threats and holding Russia accountable for crimes in Ukraine - in an interview with US Permanent Representative to the OSCE Michael Carpenter for Ukrinform.


- Mr. Ambassador, I would start with the OSCE. You have been heading the U.S. mission to the OSCE for a long time and have a very good understanding of this Organisation. In your assessment, had the OSCE been effective in preventing Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine? What do you think is the OSCE's added value in current international efforts to stop this war?

- The OSCE is not a military organization like NATO, so it doesn't have any military forces. It doesn't have any military capabilities. It is not able to act as a deterrent for aggression. What the OSCE has done since its inception is to provide tools and instruments, to provide military transparency and to build trust and confidence.

Now, when you've got a country like Russia, which has shredded all elements of trust and confidence with any of its neighbors or partners, and where it is hell bent on pursuing aggression of a type that we have not seen since World War II, there is little that an organization like the OSCE can do to prevent that from happening.

What we did do, and what I'm happy that we did in retrospect, is that we launched the Renewed OSCE European Security Dialogue where we invited Russia to come to the table. This is prior to February of 2022 – and they declined. And so we were able to show both that we were willing to discuss the issues that they purportedly had concerns about regarding European security architecture. But also, we proved that their supposed interest in diplomacy and dialogue was a lie and that they had intended to pursue war all along.

I think that was useful with some of our participating States to be able to show that, yes, in fact, we did everything possible to try to engage in dialogue and to avert war prior to February of 2022, and that it was only one party, or one side, that wished to engage in warfare, and that was Russia. So it helped us to be able to point the finger.

Similarly, we used the Vienna Document to both call Russia to account and Belarus to account. And again, Russia failed to show up and Belarus came with lies. And so for all of the participating States who sit in the organization, it was a very clear indication that both states were interested only in aggression and that therefore dialogue after the start of the war was not going to be a sincere dialogue.

- And about the added value of the OSCE now?

- The added value now is that we have used instruments, primarily nonconsensual instruments like the Moscow Mechanism, to expose the degree of Russia's atrocities inside Ukraine.

And so we were the first international organization to definitively declare – through one of these fact finding missions that was launched via the Moscow Mechanism – that war crimes had occurred in Ukraine. This was back in the spring of 2022. And then again, that crimes against humanity had been committed in Ukraine. And then we were one of the first international organizations also to look specifically at the issue of children who had been ripped away from their families and forcibly taken either across the front lines or across the border into Russia.

To shine a light both on the atrocities for the sake of the historical record and for bearing witness to what we're seeing, but also for the sake of future accountability mechanisms, which will come from a variety of different organizations and institutions. But the OSCE has been useful in that endeavor.

And then finally, last but not least, although very important, we have, as a result of this war, as a result of Russia's aggression and, as I said, their complete disregard and trampling of all international norms during this conflict, we have established the first ever nonconsensual OSCE field mission in Ukraine, which is called the Support Program for Ukraine, which now has about 70 staff up and running in Kyiv. And that will be dedicated to addressing not the military needs, but some of the wartime needs that Ukraine has in fields like humanitarian demining, psychosocial support for children particularly, but also for family members who have been affected by the war, mitigating and exposing and cataloging some of the environmental impacts of the war to include the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam and things of that nature.

So already we have 30 participating States that have supported this new field mission. We have been one of the most generous donors, and we'll continue to fund projects through this mission that support Ukraine. It's at the behest of the host government and with zero Russian influence and zero ability for Russia to veto what we're doing, which drives them crazy, by the way. But we're going to continue. I want to make that very clear. We don't care. We're going to continue because it's the right thing to.


- And what do you think about the OSCE as a platform for future peace negotiations on Ukraine?

The OSCE does provide a unique platform with its inclusive membership. There may be a role for the OSCE once we have a peace negotiation underway. I would be hesitant to say at this point in time that the OSCE would be where that negotiation would take place. However, I do see potentially an OSCE role after a ceasefire is agreed.

And when we talk about a ceasefire, it has to be a just and lasting peace that is on Ukraine's terms. So that's a very important piece to this. But once we have that, at some point in the future, then, yes, OSCE instruments and tools could be brought to bear.

- Something like the Special Monitoring Mission?

- Of course, there's the model of the SMM which could be drawn from in the future. Whether that is going to be valuable or whether it's some other sort of arrangement that helps Ukraine with rebuilding its economy, reconstituting its infrastructure, supporting civil society. I think it's more in that space than it is with monitoring. But I think at this point it's a little too early to say exactly what that future input from the OSCE could look like.

Certainly, there could be a monitoring element to it. But again, the U.S.' desire is to see Ukraine win this war and liberate its territory. So if we operate from that presumption, then there may or may not be a utility to having some sort of a monitoring presence. We may be in a very different role.


-Russia's aggression undermined the core principles and commitments of the OSCE. Russia has unlawfully detained OSCE staff and seized the vehicles of the OSCE Mission. Russia is blocking the very work of the Organisation, including the adoption of the budget and the approval of the next Chairmanship. It seems that the OSCE is helpless in responding to such violation from one of its participating states. How should the Organisation respond to all this? Is it possible to exclude Russia from the OSCE at all?

-  That's a lot of questions. Let's try to unpack this.

As I said at the beginning, Russia has been violating every possible sort of commitment or norm or principle that they have ever signed up to. You can start with formal treaties like the INF Treaty or the CFE Treaty, from which they're now withdrawing, their violation of political agreements like the Vienna Document. And then you have their violation of sort of very core principles of international relations, like the Geneva Conventions, which dictate how combatant powers treat civilians, for example, or basic standards of human rights. Russia is violating all of it from treaties to commitments and fundamental norms enshrined in the U.N. Charter, in the Helsinki Final Act. They're violating everything.

So when you talk about them violating aspects of the OSCE's internal rules, those violations pale in comparison to what we see with in terms of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, it is significant.

So what should the OSCE do in this context? Well, we have an organization that is built the way it is. It was built during a different time when the West expected to have a more cooperative relationship with Russia. At the current time, I am an advocate for using mechanisms that work around Russia's obstructionism, like the Support Program in Ukraine.

Or to give you another example, when Russia declared that it would not support our signature human rights conference that takes place every year in Warsaw, it's called the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. Last year, the Polish Chair in Office just decided that we would hold it anyway as a Chair's conference, and it was the same exact meeting over the same time period with 1400 civil society activists who came to Warsaw. It was hugely successful. We achieved our aims without having to placate Russia's demands.

And so the more issues that we can just simply work around and decide amongst a consensus – a core majority of the OSCE participating States, the better, because we can't really allow Russia to hold the entire organization hostage simply because we have these rules of consensus. But it's tricky because there are these rules. And so it just means that we have to think creatively.

- So we could say that there is now a kind of "parallel OSCE", which was formed as a result of attempts by like-minded countries –and this is the majority of participating states – to circumvent Russia's blocking veto?

-You could put it that way, or you could also look at it as reforming the OSCE and finding a way to do business in light of the current geopolitical realities.


- So let's turn to U.S. assistance, which is much more effective as work of the OSCE. The multi-billion aid package for Ukraine, approved by the U.S. Congress in December, is almost run out. Does the U.S. administration plan to ask Congress for extra Ukraine funding? If so, the question is when and what numbers we are talking about?

- I'm not going to preview any future requests that the administration might make. What I will flag for you is that since the war began in February of 2022, we have provided $70 billion in assistance to Ukraine, which is a huge figure. It's an astronomical figure. And now over $43 billion of military assistance.

And as Ukraine's war fighters have proven themselves more and more capable on the battlefield, and as the situation has shifted to now an entrenched artillery warfare battle in the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine, we have dramatically stepped up the types of military capabilities that we've provided over time as well, going from Stingers and Javelins to HIMARS and NASAMS and Patriot air defense systems and now training for Ukrainians on the F-16 – fourth generation multi-role fighter aircraft. So there's been huge evolution and I expect that it will continue.

I mean, President Biden has been very clear that we're going to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, which means seeking additional sources of funding to be able to continue this assistance as we move forward and looking very carefully at our own stocks, but also the stocks that are out there in the world amongst our allies and partners, and finding a way really to tap into the capabilities that are out there to help Ukraine as effectively as we possibly can to meet the needs on the battlefield.

But that's the military assistance piece. And then, of course, there's also the macro-financial assistance piece, the humanitarian assistance piece, the technical assistance piece with energy infrastructure, pipelines, electrical grid, all those sorts of things. All of that is happening as well.


- Thanks to the support already provided by the United States and other allies, Ukraine was able to stop the Russian offensive and has moved on to liberate the occupied territories. The strategic counter-offensive has been underway since June, and many in the West are quite sceptical about its first results. What are your thoughts on this?

- My assessment is that it's early days, as we say in colloquial English, which means that we have a lot of time left to see how the counteroffensive shapes up. There's no doubt that it's going to be very difficult that engaging in offensive warfare requires more, especially manpower resources, than defense, and that the Russians have mined a great deal of territory on the front lines. And so it's not easy. It's going to be, in fact, very, very difficult.

But at this stage, I wouldn't want to prognosticate too much because there is certainly potential there for Ukraine to make advances. And if there is an opening, things could move quickly. So let's see how this shapes up over the next few months.

- What do you think Ukraine needs most to make the counter-offensive more successful?

-You'd have to ask military experts.

It continues to be a range of systems. There's no one single platform or capability that is essential – without looking at the picture holistically. But clearly, long range fires, air defense, artillery. And that's why the recent U.S. decision to provide what we call dual-purpose improved conventional munitions, or DPICMs as they're called, is essential because this provides that artillery capability that Ukraine needs, given the expenditure of artillery rounds on the battlefield.

But it's all of these things together. There's no one element that is sort of the silver bullet here. It's putting all of the capabilities together.

But I will say this. Ukrainian forces are extraordinarily well-trained and they have the advantage of determination and morale on their side. I mean, Ukrainians are obviously liberating their land. They are protecting their families and their towns and their neighborhoods from a relentless and vicious attack from the Russian side. The Russians are in this only for territorial aggrandizement, for imperialistic reasons. I wouldn't discount that motivation, but I think it's on that – in terms of determination, morale, I think the clear advantage is on the Ukrainian side. And so if we continue to provide the equipment that Ukraine needs, I think Ukraine can be decisive on the battlefield.


- Ukraine says it also needs Western fighter jets, in particular American-made F-16s, both for the counter-offensive and for more effective air defence. A number of Ukraine's partners have expressed their readiness to provide Ukraine with F-16s after Ukrainian pilots are trained. Will the White House ultimately approve the transfer of these fighter jets to Ukraine?

- Again, I'm not going to preview any future decisions other than to say, and this is actually quite important, that we have launched the process of this training of Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 and then potentially other fourth generation aircraft. At this point, Romania and Denmark have stepped up to host that training. Could be other countries in the future that also step up. But this is a critical first step – is having the pilots trained on these very complex systems.

I don't doubt that they would be useful for Ukraine, but as with every capability, we have to look very carefully at the added value and the cost. Is this the biggest, as we say, again, in colloquial English, bang for buck? It may be. It may be.

But there are also other systems out there that are very important, that also provide for air defense coverage. And the goal for the Western community of nations that supports Ukraine – the Contact Group, if you will – has to be to provide a layered air defense, meaning sort of point-to-point short-range air defense, a more medium capability and then a longer-range capability. You have to integrate all of that together so that we don't witness these vicious attacks that we've seen recently on Odessa's historic town center, or as far away as we are on the other side of Ukraine, where cruise missiles have also been launched from far away, that target critical infrastructure there.

- Other US-made systems ATACMS could also be crucial to the success of a Ukrainian counter-offensive, allowing Ukrainian forces to strike at Russian-held rear areas. We know that the White House is considering supplying these long-range systems to Ukraine.  Is there a high probability that ATACMS will be delivered to Ukraine and that this will happen this year, at this very critical moment?

- I would say all capabilities are important and it's important for Ukraine to be able to target those command and control nodes that are used by the Russian Federation to attack Ukraine and to target civilian infrastructure, apartment buildings, hospitals, schools. I mean, it's just been barbaric what we've seen over the course of these last 18 months. And so it's – for Ukraine as a fighting force, it is important to be able to push back.

Again, I will not make any announcements. That's not that's not my role. But I think all these capabilities have to be carefully analyzed going forward, to give Ukraine the maximal wherewithal to repel this vicious attack and to liberate its territory.


- Kyiv and Washington announced starting negotiations on security guarantees for Ukraine. What is the initial position of the United States on this issue?

- There's two discussions here. One discussion in the so-called Ramstein Format or the Contact Group is about canvassing our inventories to give you what Ukraine needs right now to prosecute this war and to win. Separate issue, quite apart from that, is building up over the long term the sort of military that Ukraine needs to deter future aggression. It needs to be a highly capable, effective, well-trained, interoperable military that is so formidable that it will deter Russia from thinking about a future strike or attack on Ukraine. And that is a conversation that is already happening and it will be happening.

The G-7 have already agreed on this, and there's now 12 countries that have come into this conversation on the sorts of commitments that we will provide to Ukraine, and hopefully that coalition of countries will expand to support these sorts of deterrence capabilities that will be critical to prevent what we think Putin currently plans. You know, he currently plans to try to erase Ukraine as a sovereign nation state from the map. And that means if it requires waiting, waiting and then resting, refitting and re- attacking. If Ukraine has a formidable military that can be built up over time, then that equation shifts and it may not be quite so viable for the Kremlin to re-attack Ukraine in the future.

- But could you clarify, because I do not understand how these assurances, the guarantees could look like in practice.

- That's the subject of the conversation right now that will be taking place. But as I mentioned to you earlier, what we're looking at is building up the capabilities and the sort of military – and you look at, for example, what the United States has done with our partner, Israel, over the years in terms of giving Israel this qualitative military edge. It is building up the sort of military in Ukraine that will deter future aggression. Deterrence is premised on the political will to act, and it's premised on capabilities above all. So it's building up those capabilities over time.

- The Russian side often threatens to use nuclear weapons. How seriously does the US take such threats, for example, from former President Medvedev?

-Yeah, this rhetoric is just deeply, deeply irresponsible. But, at the end of the day, we don't see anything that necessitates change in our force posture. But it is a fact that this sort of highly irresponsible, reckless rhetoric from a government official in a nuclear power is very unfortunate. But again, we don't see any need to change our force posture at this point in time. We'll be monitoring the situation, of course.


- According to media reports, President Joseph Biden has ordered the U.S. government to begin sharing evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine with the International Criminal Court. Could you confirm this information? What evidence are we talking about?

- Yes, I can confirm the President has decided that it is very important for us to be able to have accountability for the various war crimes and other atrocities that Russia has perpetrated in Ukraine. And our approach has been to support all the various actors that are involved in in the accountability process.

The OSCE has been documenting cases of crimes also through the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, by the way, which I failed to mention earlier. That's important. But the ICC is clearly a player here. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General is another very important player. We very much support the creation of an internationalized tribunal to try the crime of aggression.

So there are different efforts in various different baskets. And the fact that we have supported the ICC has made it incumbent on us to also share information with the ICC. And I think President Biden decided that it was critical that we do that, that we don't just support the ICC rhetorically, but with actual information that we have in our possession.

- It's also some sensitive/secret information?

- I'm not going to get into the details of the modalities with which we will share this information. And requests from the ICC are always done on a confidential basis. So let's just leave that aside. But I think it's a testament to how important it is for President Biden to support accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, that he is taking this very important step towards cooperation with the ICC.


- Ambassador, thank you for answering my questions. Maybe the last one, the most difficult one. When and how will the Russian war against Ukraine end?

- I am not in the business of making predictions, but on this I'll make an exception. I'll make an exception by stating that I think that Ukraine will win this war for the reasons that I said earlier.

Because Ukraine was attacked for no reason by Russia. A peaceful neighbor living side by side, many family connections across the border, many economic connections between companies operating on both sides of the border, cultural, historical connections. And yet Russia launched this absolutely brutal assault that involves some just medieval forms of mistreatment and abuse, electroshock and torture, and just appalling things.

And so for Ukrainians – you know, I've visited Bucha, I've talked to some of the survivors there. For Ukrainians, this is existential. It's just –it's about their survival as a nation.

And so I do believe that Western support is there. I think the Western coalition that supports Ukraine will remain united. I think Russia is fairly isolated on the global stage, and I think that Ukraine will prevail.

I can't tell you when and I can't tell you how the battlefield will evolve over the coming months. But I'm confident that at the end of the day, Ukraine is going to win.

Vasyl Korotkyi, Vienna

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