By Padraig Purcell.
As part of the current East-West talks to reduce international tensions, the OSCE is scheduled to hold discussions with it troublesome member Russia on Jan. 13.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is tasked with maintaining political, military and economic security for about one billion people from 57 member in states in Europe, North America and Asia. Ukraine and the Russian Federation are member States.
Understanding commitments that nations agreed to when accepting OSCE membership is key to understanding the principles that secure peaceful and cooperative relationships between member nations.
Let’s look at these agreed principles in the run up to dialogue between the OSCE and the Russian Federation in Vienna this week.
Article1 of the Helsinki Final Act indicates that participating States have equal rights and duties under international law. States agree to respect the sovereign equality, territorial integrity, and political independence of other States. States have the right to decide their own associations, agreements, and alliances.
“Participating States will refrain from any acts constituting a threat of force or direct or indirect use of force against another participating State.“
relates Article 2.
States will respect the borders of other states and “refrain from any demand for, or act of, seizure and usurpation of part or all of the territory of any participating State,” says Article 3.
States shall “refrain from making each other’s territory the object of military occupation or other direct or indirect measures of force in contravention of international law, or the object of acquisition by means of such measures or the threat of them,” according to Article 4, adding that “No such occupation or acquisition will be recognized as legal”.
Article 5 declares that States “will settle disputes among themselves by peaceful means,” promptly and according to international law. “For this purpose, they will use such means as negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement or other peaceful means of their own choice including any settlement procedure agreed to in advance of disputes to which they are parties.”
The next Articles agree to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms in all states, and forbid interference in the internal affairs of sovereign States.
Article 9 declares that States shall cooperate “as equals, to promote mutual understanding and confidence, friendly and good-neighbourly relations among themselves, international peace, security and justice.”.
“Participating States will fulfil in good faith their obligations under international law, both those obligations arising from the generally recognized principles and rules of international law and those obligations arising from treaties or other agreements, in conformity with international law, to which they are parties” says article 10.
These fundamental principles are essential to note in the context that they are agreed foundations for peace, security and cooperation between member nations, including the Russian Federation.
What’s at stake
As talks continue this week between the U.S., NATO, OSCE, (and allied nations) with the Russian Federation it is revealing to observe the statements of officials on all sides that these talks were initiated by the Russian Federation in the form of a demand for ‘security guarantees’, under threat of unspecified military offensives, while a large unexplained build-up of Russian forces continues within and near the borders of Ukraine.
While some demands of the Russian Federation are possibly negotiable according to U.S. and NATO officials in statements, they point out that the Russian Federation has signed international agreements to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, including Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova that still partly illegally occupy.
Apparent contrary behavior by the Russian Federation opens up many evidence-based questions for the OSCE to apply to them in the Vienna meeting, along with listening attentively to whatever concerns Russia wishes to convey.
The OSCE is also a facilitator to the implementation of the Minsk Agreement and the Normandy Four process that seeks settlement between Ukraine and the Russian Federation in relation to the occupation of parts of Ukraine’s Donbas.
Statements from President Zelensky and various officials, observers and researchers have noted the reluctance of the Russian Federation to admit ordering the occupation of Donbas and their repeated dissimulation that a civil war occurs in Ukraine, as an impediment to reaching a sustainable peace settlement.
It can be noted that President Putin first denied the invasion of Crimea and later confirmed that he had ordered it personally. These are points of evidence that the OSCE may bring up in Vienna talks.
The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances was signed at the OSCE conference in Budapest, Hungary in Dec. 1994. In this agreement, Ukraine gave the third largest nuclear arsenal to Russia in return for a guarantee from Russia to respect and protect the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.
The OSCE has an opportunity to discuss reasons why the Russian Federation did not keep its security promise to Ukraine at the meeting.
Hundreds of statements over the last few weeks indicate that Western allies continue to act with unity according to their obligations under international law and established agreements.
In ongoing dialogues with the Russian Federation paths to sustainable peace are also essentially related to compliance with established agreements according to international law.