Lithuania Prepares to Pass the OSCE Exam

By Roman Yakovlevsky

Parting year 2011  has  been special for Lithuania, which took the relay of Chairmanship in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Community of Democracies. And if the Community has the extension task basing on definite principles, then within the territory of the Organization we can observe deviation from democratic promotion. Despite certain attempts of the OSCE human rights are still being violated commonly. That is why the Chairman-in-office has declared the intentions to give special focus to the promotion of human rights, freedom of press and civil society among the Organization’s member-states. Also such troublesome Lithuanian’s neighbor as Belarus has intensified this focus.

It coincided in time so that the Chairmanship of Lithuania began simultaneously with closing down of the OSCE Office in Minsk by Belarusian authorities. And no persuasions and arguments in favor of the continuation of operation of the office influenced official Minsk, which started affecting also the atmosphere its bilateral relations with Vilnius.

Relatively regular contacts between the leaderships of foreign affairs bodies of these two states almost ended in 2011. Naturally the EU Lithuania by this has to hold a common line of the EU towards the authorities of Belarus after famous last year events of December 19th in Minsk.

However, also within bilateral relations in this parting year a number of unsolved serious problems have accumulated. Among them protest attitude of Vilnius towards the plans of Minsk to erect an NPP close to Belarusian-Lithuanian border, and as it turned out, Lithuania as if has notified Belarus about the end of the work over the treaty on mutual trips of by-border citizens. This was the sense of the comment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus on the declaration of Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister on the process of preparation for the coming into force of the treaty.

Moreover, a regular Ministerial official in imperious tone called the comments of the Head of Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs “alarmist” and premature. Thus, it became clear, that as in the case with another neighbor Poland, “hanged up” for more than two years treaties on by-border movement shall remain in the kind of state.

In terms of self-isolation of official Minsk, the by-border citizens of the three OSCE member-states can’t count on something else. It’s worth to admit that the line of official Minsk aggravated a lot the chairmanship of Lithuania in the OSCE during the whole year. And recent meeting in Moscow with the participation of the Heads of foreign affairs of Russia and Belarus during which they discussed and signed the joint actions plan of the both states on foreign policy within international forums has incited certain expectations among all other members of the Organization.

Judgments appeared that it is likely that Moscow and Minsk shall introduce some, disputable for many OSCE members, joint initiatives in December in Vilnius where the 18th Session of the OSCE Ministerial Council takes place. It shall include Ministers of Foreign Affairs from 56 OSCE states, 12 partner-states of the Organization in North Africa and Asia, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, other representatives of main international and regional organizations. A year after the Summit in Astana in Vilnius they shall evaluate the progress of the Organization.

Apparently that in the sphere of activity of ODIHR OSCE it shall be difficult to be detected. As Moscow has a new vision of the role of the OSCE observers during various elections in the CIS states.

As known parting President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev has recently states that the OSCE observers “sometimes openly demonstrate politicized approach towards the assessment of preparation and holding of elections”. And also he blamed them in implementation of double standards. It’s worth expecting that now they’ll try to substitute them more with CIS observers missions instead of ODIHR. That is why the OSCE was forced to remind the current President of Russia that elections observing is the sphere of responsibility of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). As the OSCE experts note, the objective of elections observing is not to outline some specific country and criticize it, but to provide the member states with constructive assistance in order to improve the elections procedure.

This is the reason for the most OSCE member-states to welcome the activity of international observers. The OSCE member-states, including Russia, have set the ODIHR a task to estimate objectively and without bias whether the elections held correspond with the standards, approved by all the OSCE member-states. And here we should note that in general Minsk refutes the existence of the commonly adopted OSCE standards. Such declarations were repeatedly sounded by top and responsible Belarusian officials.

It’s left only to guess which will be the kind “know-how” of the participants of the on-coming Vilnius Session of the OSCE. Also, probably unexpectedly for many, with the level of their participation. Current relations between the Heads of Foreign Affairs Ministries of Lithuania and Belarus incite skepticism referring to their meeting in Vilnius. As it was during the Warsaw Forum of the “Eastern Partnership” the invitation on which the Head of Belarusian Ministry ignored.

As known, despite old promises to bring into full correspondence Belarusian election law with the OSCE standards, it was declared that on the eve of regular Parliamentary elections to be held in autumn 2012, Minsk shall not “break” anything in its legislation. It means that also henceforth the acknowledgement of Belarusian elections shall be an issue as well as the ability of Belarusian officials to visit European states.

More interesting promises to be the discussion of the modern role of the OSCE within the issues of cyber and energy security. There are no and can’t be no indifferent ones towards these issues. That is why the deputy Head of Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Egidius Meilunas during economic and nature protection forum of the OSCE in Prague suggested to establish a special working group consisting of the OSCE experts to analyze the energy situation.

On the background of the “North Stream” commissioning and accomplishment of the plans to construct Baltic and Belarusian NPPs, as it seems, the discussion of ministers and experts shall be pretty acute. As there shall be the new roles of such transiting states of Russian energy to Europe as Ukraine and Belarus. Prices for them, agreed with Moscow shall be already set by the time of Vilnius Forum. And yet, only Minsk and Kiev are full of hopes that these prices shall be acceptable.

There is another block of problems, which chairing Lithuania had rather to moderate than to solve last year. These are “frozen” Karabakh and Transnistria conflicts. And also the consequences of August Russian-Georgian war of 2008.

According to the view of America, which was expressed at different levels, these conflicts demand more effective influence from the OSCE.

In 2010 Kazakhstan already revealed its abilities within regulation of regional conflicts as the OSCE Chairman. Its activity in this direction has already been acknowledged by international community.

Particularly, current OSCE chairman, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuanian Republic Aundronius Azubalis declared, that Lithuania shall consider Kazakhstani experience within Nagorny Karabakh conflict regulation. But, mostly successful moderating of Astana with the attempts to solve or at least reduce the level of tension of this conflict hasn’t found continuation. As well as within the initiatives of the President Medvedev. Astrakhan and other meetings of the Presidents of the Russian Federation, Armenia and Azerbaijan have expressly reduced the dynamics of promotion of mutual understanding between hostile parties. Sound cooling of the relations between Baku and Moscow has been also noted.

The OSCE remains to be the main moderator within the search of Karabakh conflict solution. But this process is still, and Armenia and Azerbaijan again risk launching armed confrontation. After the visits to Armenia and Azerbaijan of the acting OSCE Chairman, unfortunately, the parties haven’t yet accomplished the agreement they have reached in Sochi this year to investigate the incidents along the cease-fire line. And this once again reminded about real situation and the abilities of the OSCE.

The OSCE is not a supranational organization possessing the mandate to substitute power within conflict resolution between the states. The Organization participates in talks within agreed formats, aimed to achieve peaceful conflict resolution and in case of urgency it creates new special mechanisms.

On the background of grey prospects of Karabakh conflict resolution, the success of Lithuania are the recent agreements between the parties to Transnistria conflict.

They have adopted an invitation of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office to gather in Vilnius on November 30th – December 1st to hold the first official meeting in the format “5+2” after almost six years of silence. As the special representative of the current OSCE Chairman Giedrius Cekuolis declared, one shouldn’t expect some impetuous breakthrough within Moldova-Transnistria regulation. “The progress shall go on quite gradually, step by step or half-step by half-step”,- he explained.

Within the consultative format on Moldova-Transnistria regulation “5+2” Moldova and Transnistria are the parties to the conflict, Russia, Ukraine are the guarantor-states, the OSCE is the intermediary, the European Union and the USA are observers.

As some independent observers note, certain optimism towards the prospect of Moldova-Transnistria regulation is incited by latest actions of Moscow. It has gained a sound influence on Tiraspol with the aim to make a rotation of “non flexible” head of separatist group. By this, as an example of such pressure, the observers point out the actions of the Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation. In the end of October it initiated a criminal case towards the bankers from Moldovan Republic  of Transnistria, suspected in stealing about 160 million RUR granted by Russia as humanitarian aid.

The case was initiated against the Chairman of Transnistria bank Oleg Brizicki and the son of the Head of MRT Oleg Smirnov, other persons under the article “Stealing possessions, by bestowing and spending, performed by the group of persons with previous concert on a large scale”. According to the investigation, from November of 2008 till November 2009 Brizicki under previous concert with Smirnov and other persons stole and spent the money granted by the Russian Federation to Transnistria for the purpose of humanitarian aid.

It’s worth noting that among guarantor-states of Transnistria conflict regulation there is Ukraine together with Russia, which in 2013 shall chair the OSCE. As in Lithuania, next year Ukraine holds Parliamentary elections, which shall become another exam for democracy.

Today only few people talk responsibly about the results of Ukrainian as well as Lithuanian elections. And this is their significant difference from the holding of such elections in other OSCE member-states. For example, as it happens in Russia and Belarus.
Translated by EuroDialogueXXI from Delfi.lt