Ensuring accountability for Russia’s war against Ukraine requires a strong and inclusive OSCE

Originally published at Medium.com

9 December 2022

By Reinhold Lopatka, OSCE PA Vice-President and Special Representative for Parliamentary Dialogue on Ukraine

As Russian military forces crossed the Ukrainian border on 24 February 2022, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly was gathering in Vienna for the first day of its 21st Winter Meeting. Although tensions had been rising and warnings had been mounting of an imminent invasion for quite some time, the fact that Moscow actually carried out the attack came as a shock to us all. After all the diplomatic efforts that had been expended and all the attempts that had been made to step back from the precipice, war had once again descended upon Europe.

The horror of watching the invasion unfold was compounded by the reality which began to sink in that perhaps nothing could be done to stop it. This sense of helplessness was palpable among the dozens of parliamentarians gathered at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna voicing outrage and disgust at the violence being unleashed against the people of Ukraine. Statement after statement denounced the incursion and expressed deep concern for the lives of civilians. My fellow parliamentarians and I decried the military operation as “indefensible” and a “gross violation of international law,” and reiterated the role of the OSCE in facilitating dialogue and building confidence.

But the response from OSCE parliamentarians on the morning of 24 February was not the first time that PA had taken up the issue of the crisis in and around Ukraine. In fact, eight years earlier, a week before Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country amid violent protests in February 2014, more than 250 parliamentarians held a spirited debate at the OSCE PA’s 13th Winter Meeting. Parliamentarians considered how the Assembly could best support a peaceful resolution to the volatile situation unfolding in Kyiv, urging respect for OSCE commitments and a resolution of the standoff through democratic channels.

091222 eastern UkraineThe OSCE PA’s delegation to eastern Ukraine, including Vice-President Ilkka Kanerva (left) and Kent Harstedt, visit a checkpoint in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, 29 April 2014.Following Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea and the unrest that took hold in the Donbas region, the Assembly carried out shuttle diplomacy and initiated some of the only direct meetings between Ukrainian and Russian parliamentarians since the crisis began. Field activities during this period included a senior OSCE PA delegation visiting the Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhya oblasts in eastern Ukraine, a visit to Odessa following violent clashes between pro-Maidan and anti-Maidan demonstrators and a massacre at the Trade Unions Building that left some 50 people dead, and meetings in the capital with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and other senior officials.

A delegation of senior OSCE parliamentarians completed a multi-day visit to Ukraine on 28 March 2014, which included discussions with Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov. On 31 March, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Ranko Krivokapic met in Moscow with Valentina Matviyenko, Chair of Russia’s Federation Council, and Sergey Naryshkin, Chair of the Russian State Duma, for talks that focused on the need to de-escalate the situation. Krivokapic stressed that a solution to the crisis would only be possible when Russia plays a constructive role, and suggested a meeting in the coming weeks of the Russian and Ukrainian Delegations to the OSCE PA.

Following up on this proposal, in April 2014, Members of the Russian and Ukrainian Delegations to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly met in Vienna and held a subsequent meeting three months later on the sidelines of the OSCE PA’s 23rd Annual Session in Baku. The participants agreed to continue open dialogue through an international parliamentary liaison group. This group, established on the initiative of the Head of the Russian Delegation, Speaker of the State Duma Sergey Naryshkin, aimed to bring together lawmakers from Ukraine, Russia and other OSCE participating States to promote dialogue and de-escalation.

But even while engaging all sides of the conflict through parliamentary dialogue, the OSCE PA was crystal clear in its messaging. In fact, at the same Baku Annual Session in which Russians and Ukrainians launched the liaison group, the OSCE PA adopted a resolution authored by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin condemning Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea as a clear breach of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. The OSCE PA “condemn[ed] the clear, gross and uncorrected violation of the Helsinki principles by the Russian Federation with respect to Ukraine, including the particularly egregious violation of that country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The PA also undertook some of its most ambitious election observation work ever for the 2014 presidential and parliamentary votes in Ukraine. During the election observation mission in May 2014, former PA President and Special Co-ordinator of the OSCE short-term observers Joao Soares led a team to war-torn Donetsk on the eve of the election. This turned out to be the most difficult area for the vote, with separatists preventing all polling stations from opening on election day.

091222 meeting with PoroshenkoUkrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) with OSCE PA President Ilkka Kanerva (right), Kyiv, 16 June 2016. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the President of Ukraine.)After the OSCE-brokered Minsk Agreements were signed in 2014 and 2015, the PA focused on pressing for their full implementation. In a June 2016 meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, OSCE PA President Ilkka Kanerva expressed the PA’s solidarity with Ukraine and noted his concern that six months after the deadlines for the Minsk II agreement had passed, the international community was still calling for a real ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons. Other unfulfilled goals, Kanerva recalled, included legitimate local elections in the Donbas and the restoration of Ukrainian control over its eastern border.

In the ensuing years, the PA continued to repeatedly emphasize that the Minsk Agreements were the best path forward for Ukraine and the region. In the OSCE PA’s Luxembourg Declaration of 2019, parliamentarians expressed support for the OSCE’s efforts in achieving this objective, particularly the work carried out by the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, and called for “a comprehensive settlement of the conflict based on full implementation of the Minsk Agreements.”

In all of these debates in which the PA has criticized Russia’s actions, including its illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea, the value of the dialogue has been enhanced by having Russian parliamentarians in the room and at the table. But since 24 February 2022, perhaps understandably, a new call has arisen in the Assembly to expel Russians from our meetings. While I can certainly sympathize with the sentiments behind this call, considering the fact that Russia is currently carrying out a brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, I must question whether it is the best way to promote conflict resolution and ensure that countries are held accountable for gross violations of their OSCE commitments. As the Assembly’s Special Representative for Parliamentary Dialogue on Ukraine, I continue to advocate for the OSCE’s comprehensive, inclusive and indivisible security approach to build a peaceful and prosperous Ukraine.

091222 prosperous ukraineOSCE PA delegation visits the contact line in eastern Ukraine, 1 June 2019How to best support Ukraine while we engage with the Russian Federation and ensure that they answer for their wholesale violations is a topic of intense debate both within our national parliaments and in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The PA is unique within the OSCE in that our democratic processes and open debates enable a truly diverse plurality of views to be heard, based on nuanced and principled arguments. Our members speak from the heart and as elected representatives, the views they express closely reflect the diversity of opinion throughout the OSCE area.

But as parliamentarians, we should make full use of our roles as leaders of opinion rather than just following what our loudest constituents are shouting for. In this regard, we should consider how to begin preparing our populations for peace – a peace based on justice and accountability. At the same time, we must ensure that the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly remains a forum for dialogue.

In this respect, I echo the words of OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid, who noted in a recent interview that “excluding Russia from the organization now would not remedy the situation.” The founders of the OSCE, she recalled, did not provide for an expulsion mechanism because the OSCE is by definition an inclusive organization. While we cannot ignore violations of international law, the OSCE’s toolbox requires open dialogue and a comprehensive approach to security, and this is only possible with Russia, North America, Europe and Central Asia sitting together at the same table. As difficult as this may be in the current climate, it is what makes the OSCE unique and indispensable.

Needless to say, the OSCE PA will continue to debate these issues and will strive to strike the right balance between punishing those who attack their neighbors and flagrantly breach their commitments while pursuing solutions through open parliamentary dialogue – whenever the time may be ripe for that.

We should never lose sight of the ambitious vision of a common, co-operative security in a zone of peace and democracy stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok.



Nat Parry

Head of Communications and Press

Office: +45 33 37 80 55
Mobile: +45 60 10 81 77
Email: [email protected]

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