Briefing by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office
On Monday morning (29 February), German Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier will brief the Security Council in his capacity as the Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The chairpersonship rotates on a yearly basis, and Germany took over the role on 1 January, succeeding Serbia which held the position during 2015. The OSCE briefing to the Council is held annually, usually soon after the new chairperson assumes office.
Steinmeier is expected to use this opportunity to brief the Council about Germany’s main priorities as chair. Germany has defined its main priorities as: renewing dialogue, rebuilding trust, and restoring security. As was the case with the last two chairs, Germany’s agenda will be dominated by the conflict in Ukraine, since that remains the greatest security challenge for the organisation.
Together with France, Germany has played a key role in diplomatic efforts to mediate a ceasefire in Ukraine through activities within the “Normandy format”, which comprises France and Germany along with Russia and Ukraine. It was under the auspices of this group that the second Minsk agreement was reached on 12 February 2015. So far this agreement remains the most important mechanism to resolving the crisis in Ukraine. The Council acknowledged this when it unanimously adopted resolution 2202 endorsing the 12 February agreement.
The OSCE remains the most prominent regional organisation operating in Ukraine. Though it was present in Ukraine before hostilities erupted in 2014, its role in the country has evolved significantly. The Minsk agreement of 12 February gave the OSCE the responsibility of verification of the ceasefire regime, including monitoring withdrawal of heavy weapons and of foreign armed formations, military equipment and mercenaries from Ukraine. Together with the representatives of Ukraine and Russia, the OSCE is part of the Trilateral Contact Group for Ukraine. Under the Minsk agreement, the group is the main body for facilitating local elections in rebel-held regions of Ukraine. Another important aspect of the OSCE presence in Ukraine is its Special Monitoring Mission (SMM), which provides daily reporting on the situation on the ground, particularly in relation to ceasefire violations.
Given that the Council has not formally discussed Ukraine in over two months, the briefing by Steinmeier will provide an opportunity for Council members to get an update on the current state of the implementation of the Minsk agreement, amidst reports of an escalation in fighting in recent days. Council members may also be interested in information on local elections in rebel-held areas, and the status of constitutional reforms aimed at giving those territories greater autonomy within Ukraine.
Recognising the OSCE’s increasingly prominent role in Ukraine, the Council has sought briefings by OSCE representatives on several occasions. Most recently, on 11 December 2015, the Council was briefed on the implementation of the Minsk agreement by the Chief Monitor of the SMM Ertuğrul Apakan (S/PV.7576). The Council has requested a briefing in the past on the political process in Ukraine from the OSCE Special Representative who is a key member of the Trilateral Contact Group.
The discussion of Ukraine in the Council tends to be a polarising one, due to clear divisions between the positions of Russia and of other members. In the last two briefings by the OSCE chairperson, Russia specifically accused other members, most notably the US and the UK, of politicising the meetings and using them for the purpose of presenting a distorted picture of conditions on the ground in Ukraine. This year, with Ukraine a member of the Council, the discussion is likely to be a contentious one. Ukraine and Russia continue to accuse each other of constantly violating the Minsk agreement, and these accusations are likely to be brought up during Monday’s meeting.
Though the situation in Ukraine is likely to dominate the meeting, Steinmeier is expected to address other conflict situations in the OSCE area. These include frozen conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh , Transdniestria and the Southern Caucasus where the OSCE has been playing a mediating role, together with other partners. Given that these conflicts are not on the Council’s agenda, some members might be keen to hear more about the OSCE’s mediation efforts in these situations. While the situation in the Southern Caucasus and Transdniestria remains somewhat stable, there have been frequent ceasefire violations in Nagorno-Karabakh.
A spike in terrorist activity in Europe, coupled with the proliferation of terrorist groups in the Middle East, has forced the OSCE to consider improving its counter-terrorism capacities. Some Council members may be interested in discussing the possibility of future cooperation between the OSCE and the UN in addressing the issue of terrorism. During its time as chair, Germany plans to also focus on other global challenges such as promotion of human rights, good governance, strengthening economic ties within OSCE, and cyber security.