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Photo: Stephanie Liechtenstein

Back to Diplomacy: Q and A with the German OSCE Chairmanship and the Panel of Eminent Persons

Stephanie Liechtenstein
Interviews17 February 2016

Side event on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, 14 February 2016. Reconsolidating European Security: A debate on the German OSCE Chairmanship and the findings of the Panel of Eminent Persons. Q and A session.

Question by Stephanie Liechtenstein, Website Editor of the ‘Security and Human Rights’ Journal: The title of the final report of the Panel of Eminent Persons reads ‘Back to Diplomacy’. The report states very clearly that the return to a strategic, diplomatic dialogue with Russia can only be initiated once the Minsk Agreements are implemented. In this context, how can we make sure that the momentum that has been created by the report does not get lost? I ask this question also against the backdrop that currently the dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council and between the EU and Russia is suspended.

  • Answer by Gernot Erler, Special Representative of the Federal Government of Germany for the OSCE Chairmanship: There is no other roadmap out of the current conflict besides the Minsk Agreements. The implementation of all of the 13 points of the Minsk Agreements is essential. The question is where we stand at the moment. There is a partial implementation of the Minsk Agreements, and that is a challenge because without the full implementation of the major points of the Minsk Agreements, we have no chance to go ahead with the next phase of implementation. So far we try to find a solution to improve the security and political environment for the next steps of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. We have to work together. It is impossible to do that without a common approach of the western countries and Russia.

    At the moment, the key concern relates to the political points of the Minsk Agreements, including the amendments of the Ukrainian constitution, the election law in eastern Ukraine and the rights of the authorities in these areas. This is a huge problem, but we believe that without a better political and security environment, we have no chance to address the just mentioned political points of the Minsk Agreements. For that we need a fully implemented ceasefire. We need signals from Moscow that troops will be withdrawn from Donbass and that Moscow is prepared to restore Ukraine’s control of its side of the international border. I think that we have a common interest here. Our Russian partners are very aware about the linkage between the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and the lifting of sanctions. We hope for constructive cooperation to prepare an environment where we have a chance for the two thirds majority in favor of the amendments of the Ukrainian constitution. We are convinced that without this it will be very difficult to continue implementation of other points.

  • Answer by Oleksandr Chalyi (Ukraine): Former First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, President of Grant Thornton: It was a very delicate task for me to participate in the fantastic work of the Panel. I want to stress that we have disagreements. But discussions on the disagreements were very constructive. The sense of our report is to have constructive disagreements.

    The Minsk Agreement is an agreement on a sustainable ceasefire. It is not about a sustainable peaceful settlement of the conflict in and around Ukraine. I am very proud that it emerges very clearly from both Panel reports that without a sustainable peaceful settlement of the conflict in and around Ukraine, it will be impossible to establish a European security architecture as it was proclaimed in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the 1990 Charter of Paris. We recommend a few very concert steps to reinforce the possibility to find a strategic and sustainable solution to the conflict in and around Ukraine. First of all, we need to reinforce the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine to give it more powers and capabilities and to add a peacekeeping element to this Mission. Secondly, we propose to create a Ukraine Contact Group with participation not only of the members of the Normandy Format but also of the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum. This could create a broader format to discuss a sustainable political settlement of the conflict. To my mind, this is a very important idea. Finally, if we manage to establish a ceasefire and to create the conditions for a sustainable political settlement, we can convene an OSCE Summit. This Summit could confirm the final elements of a sustainable settlement of the conflict in and around Ukraine. We expect that the German OSCE Chairmanship and incoming Austrian Chairmanship will finalize this in a Summit in Vienna in 2017. This is possible, taking into account that the new president of the United States will be in power in one year from now.

  • Answer by Sergey A. Karaganov (Russia): Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy: With a diplomatic process, you have to know where you are heading. We do not know that. We have no clear picture about this. That is why I believe that our report can only be a stepping stone. The future intellectual effort of politicians and experts from all over the Eurasian space should be to understand where we should be heading. My advice would be to forget about the OSCE. It is a joke. Start instead with Eurasian security with the involvement of countries such as India, China and Iran. Then solve the unsolvable problems that have been created. It might be that I am wrong, it might be that I am right. But we first have to understand where we are heading.
  • Answer by Malcolm Rifkind (United Kingdom): Former Member of Parliament, Former Foreign Secretary: The question that you raised actually addresses two separate issues. The first one is how we should go forward on Ukraine. On this, there is only one show in town and that is the Minsk Agreements. We must not give the Russians any reasons to believe that there is any alternative to the Minsk Process in order to resolve that issue. The second question that you raised concerns the dialogue with Russia. Our interest with Russia concerns not just Ukraine. I believe very strongly that while we must be very hard on the Minsk Process being fully implemented, it is about time we resumed very real dialogue with Russia on a range of other issues, such as counter-terrorism, Syria, nuclear weapons etc. Yesterday NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said that the Alliance is considering resuming the dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council, but then he immediately went on to say that this would not include any practical cooperation. To me, that seemed ridiculous, because both sides would greatly benefit from practical cooperation. To rule out practical cooperation seemed like a symbolic, macho act of resistance that to me is pointless and unnecessary. The whole point of the NATO-Russia Council was a means of dialogue to address big differences. If there are – it is an if – areas of practical cooperation that would benefit both sides, then there is no logical or sensible reason not to take them forward.
  • Answer by Barbara Haering (Switzerland): Director of econcept Inc., Former Member of Parliament: We have heard from the German Chairmanship about the immediate follow-up of the report. We also heard that the diplomatic follow-up will be in the framework of the Minsk Agreements. That is the step that has to be taken before other discussions can be started. But as we have also heard from our Georgian colleagues, there are other issues between the West and Russia that do need to be addressed within the framework of a robust diplomatic approach, such as establishing the security status of the countries in-between.

    Our Panel has produced two reports: A first report on the OSCE Mission in Ukraine and a second report on European security in a broader sense. Our third task is to do outreach. We have decided this morning that we will not stop to present our report. We will have a series of outreach events this year to try and keep up the momentum you were asking for.

  • Answer by Jean-Marie Guéhenno (France): President of International Crisis Group, Former UN Under Secretary-General: The Minsk Agreements are the beginning of everything but they cannot to be the end. In this context, I want to make two points. Firstly, I do agree with Sergey Karaganov that there is a global dimension to the discussion as there are fundamental rules established by the United Nations on what is aggression, what is sovereignty etc. These rules are not specific to Europe but have been agreed in 1945 and need to be maintained. However, there is a second level and this is where I disagree with Sergey Karaganov. We don’t believe that the OSCE should be considered a joke. We think that the very idea of good neighborly relations in Europe is very important. There is a history that binds Europe together. This means that the relationship between European countries is not the same as the relationship between a European country and a Latin American country or India. There is something that Europe needs to preserve.

    What are good neighborly relations? They are based on trust and that is why we attach great importance to the narratives in the report. Because of incompatible narratives, the trust has been eroded. When trust is destroyed, everything has to be written and legislated. If you turn from voluntary decisions that are not embedded in a treaty to something that needs to be negotiated, then you run into questions such as sovereignty and leadership. What is very important in this report is to suggest that the Minsk Agreements are the basis and that if one wants to repair the badly damaged foundations of European security, one has to go beyond it and look at what binds us Europeans together. As Robert Cooper said ‘How you disagree is the benchmark of a civilized society’, but I do admit that the divisions are deep. In this context, the diplomatic process needs to be given some time and it cannot start too soon.


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