April 2024 Monthly Forecast


Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

Expected Council Action

In April, Malta’s Minister for Foreign, Trade and European Affairs, Ian Borg, in his capacity as the current Chairperson-in-Office (CiO) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), is expected to brief the Security Council on the organisation’s activities.

Background and Key Recent Developments

The Council has received annual briefings from the OSCE CiO since 2004. The chairmanship of the OSCE rotates yearly, and on 1 January, Malta succeeded North Macedonia in this function. April’s briefing will give Borg an opportunity to inform the Council about Malta’s main priorities as chair and discuss possible avenues to strengthen OSCE-UN cooperation.

Malta outlined its priorities as OSCE chair at a 25 January session of the OSCE Permanent Council. At that meeting, Borg said that the war in Ukraine would remain the chairmanship’s top priority, while addressing instability in other crisis settings across the OSCE region would also require the organisation’s continued attention.

Since Malta’s OSCE chairmanship coincides with its membership as an elected member of the Security Council, Borg noted that Malta had a unique opportunity to identify constructive synergies between the two bodies in the realm of peace and security. In this regard, he noted Malta’s intention to advance discussions on Women, Peace and Security; cybersecurity; transnational challenges; and arms control.

The OSCE has come under significant stress since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Ukraine has been a major focus of the organisation’s work since the outbreak of hostilities in 2014, which saw fighting between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. In line with the OSCE’s responsibility for monitoring the 2015 Minsk II agreement—which outlined steps for ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine through a political settlement—its Special Monitoring Mission had gathered daily information related to ceasefire violations and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the Donbas region.

In 2022, 45 participating states twice invoked the OSCE Moscow Mechanism to create an independent fact-finding mission to investigate abuses of international human rights law (IHRL) and international humanitarian law (IHL) in Ukraine. (The mechanism, which was created in 1991, allows participating states to initiate an investigation into human rights violations over the opposition of the state under scrutiny.) The fact-finding missions presented their findings in reports dated 12 April and 11 July 2022. The report of 12 April 2022 documented “clear patterns of [international humanitarian law] violations by the Russian forces in their conduct of hostilities”, citing evidence of the deliberate targeting of civilians, attacks on medical facilities, rape, and executions.

On 30 March 2023, the same 45 participating states invoked the Moscow Mechanism again, requesting the establishment of a fact-finding mission to investigate possible violations of IHRL and IHL, as well as possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity associated with “the forcible transfer of children within parts of Ukraine’s territory temporarily controlled or occupied by Russia and/or their deportation to the Russian Federation”.

More recently, on 29 February, 45 participating states invoked the Moscow Mechanism to investigate violations of IHL and IHRL associated with or resulting from “the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Ukrainian civilians by the Russian Federation”. Ukraine selected the three experts to be part of the mission on 15 March.

Objections by Russia have prevented unanimity on broader decisions crucial to the OSCE’s work. The organisation has been unable to agree on its annual budget; as a result, the OSCE has had to rely on monthly allotments. At the 25 January session of the OSCE Permanent Council, Borg highlighted that another priority for Malta would be to safeguard the OSCE’s functionality, calling on OSCE participating states to “demonstrate the necessary political will to give [the OSCE] the foundations it needs for a secure and resilient future” and “reach a consensus on a Unified Budget”.

Additionally, the organisation overcame a significant hurdle when its Ministerial Council unanimously agreed on 1 December 2023 to select Malta as the 2024 OSCE Chairperson and to extend the tenure of senior officials, including OSCE Secretary-General Helga Maria Schmid, until September 2024. Prior to this decision, Russia had opposed the anticipated selection of Estonia, a NATO member, as CiO for 2024. Without an agreement, the OSCE would have faced the first instance in nearly five decades of failing to reach consensus on the CiO selection.

In addition to the situation in Ukraine, the briefers and Council members may address other conflict situations in the OSCE’s area of operations. For example, the OSCE plays a role in international efforts towards a comprehensive and lasting political settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict. Given that this and other conflicts in the OSCE region are not regularly discussed by the Security Council, some members might want to use the briefing to hear more about the OSCE’s mediation efforts in these situations.

Council and Wider Dynamics

Over the years, Council members have expressed sharply diverging positions on issues within the OSCE’s purview, most notably Ukraine, and on the broader European security architecture. These divisions have become more pronounced following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Several Council members—including the P3 (France, the UK, and the US)—have argued that Russia ignored the efforts of the OSCE’s then-CiO, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Zbigniew Rau, to prevent the war in Ukraine by addressing Russia’s security concerns through his Renewed European Security Dialogue initiative. Russia has dismissed this argument and has said that such a dialogue would not have been successful because of the Western countries’ position on the principle of “indivisible security” as set out in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long argued that the enlargement of NATO poses an existential threat to Russia. In a 1 February 2022 letter to Canada, the US, and several European countries, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov criticised OSCE participating states for selectively interpreting the principle of indivisible security, noting that “either there is security for all or there is no security for anyone”. Western countries and former Soviet satellite states have typically associated the principle of indivisible security with the right of sovereign states to determine their own security alliances.

Given the growing calls for a peaceful settlement to the war in Ukraine, Council members might stress the need for the OSCE to reassert itself as a credible interlocutor for finding a lasting solution to the conflict and in the wider discussion of the future of Europe’s security architecture. Members might also suggest a possible role for the OSCE in monitoring potential future interim agreements, for example on securing the safety of nuclear sites—which has been discussed at the Council on multiple occasions.

At the Council’s last meeting on OSCE-UN cooperation, held on 4 May 2023, Russia argued that the OSCE failed in its primary task to achieve peace through good faith implementation of the Minsk agreements. It also accused the OSCE of becoming a “platform for Russophobic invective”. Nevertheless, Russia expressed its continued faith “in the potential of the OSCE”, saying that Moscow “will not give up” on attempts to hold a dialogue at the OSCE.

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Security Council Meeting Records
4 May 2023S/PV.9316 This was a briefing by the Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE.

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