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Home > Blogs > Anthony Harrington > OSCE Roadmap points the way to Ukraine resolution: Part One

OSCE Roadmap points the way to Ukraine resolution: Part One

OSCE Roadmap points the way to Ukraine resolution: Part One Anthony Harrington

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Almost invisible in the run up to and aftermath of the Ukrainian presidential elections, an obscure European "talking shop" body could well hold the key to a de-escalation and ultimate resolution of the Ukraine crisis.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) came into being in the 1970s and has been more or less invisible since it brokered the Helsinki Accord between the Communist bloc and the West. However, the OSCE has rediscovered a purpose in life and has produced a Road-map for the Ukrainian "situation" that has the backing of both Kiev and Vladmir Putin, as well as all 57 member states in the OSCE. It has also monitored voting in the presidential election and has declared the election to be legitimate, despite the seizing of polling booths and destruction of ballot boxes by pro-separatist gangs in the east.

First, a word on the OSCE itself. The organization's origins lie in the détente era of the early 1970s. Its predecessor was the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), a multi-lateral talking shop aiming to provide a forum for dialogue and negotiation between Communist East and Capitalist West. The CSCE was the origin of the so-called "Helsinki process" which led to the Helsinki Accords in the mid-1970s. At the time 35 states, including the USA, Canada and most European states signed the declaration, which was designed to improve relations between the two blocs.

The name was changed to the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1994. The chairmanship rotates between the member states. For 2014, the chairperson is Didier Burkhalter, Head of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Under his chairmanship, the OSCE rushed to put together a roadmap, in the week beginning 5th May, as a direct response to the deteriorating situation in the Ukraine. The roadmap was distributed on 12 May to the four parties of the Geneva Joint Statement of April 17, namely the US, the EU, Ukraine and Russia.

Somewhat surprisingly, given that the Geneva Statement itself, which called for "all illegal armed groups" to be disarmed, was widely ignored, the OSCE Roadmap found favor with all four parties.

Putin, it seems, is happy to have the OSCE clear the path to détente Mark II. Following a "very positive" phone call with Putin, Didier rushed to tell the press that the Russians were on board. Putin himself gave weight to the growing sense that perhaps Russia has already secured the best part of what it wanted out of its Ukraine adventure. After the huge vote for separation in the "provocative" referendum held in the Russian speaking eastern provinces of Ukraine, Putin chose a much more muted stance, by contrast with his reaction to the Crimean referendum. In the case of Crimea, within six hours Putin was celebrating the Crimea's return to being a part of Russia. There was no such instant annexation manoeuvre after the voting on self rule, on Sunday 11 May, despite calls by the Ukrainian separatist leader Denis Pushilin for Russia to "absorb" the eastern region of Donetsk.

However, Putin's response was simply to say that the overwhelming vote for self rule meant that Kiev needed to talk to the separatist parties in Donetsk and Luhansk (which held its own vote on self-rule) and find ways of "implementing" the substance of the vote.

While there is still clear blue water between Russia's position and that of the EU, the UK and the US on the separatist vote (which the latter three have called "illegal"), this is a whole lot better than Putin immediately moving to annex Ukraine's eastern provinces. Had he done so, the tension in the region would have ratcheted up many more notches.

As it is, Putin's more reasonable stance and his approving the OSCE Roadmap has left space for the Roadmap to get a decent hearing - if not from die-hard separatists in the east and south of Ukraine, then at least from the Kiev government, which doesn't seem to have much of a clue about how to stem the chaos spreading through the country.

Several of the propositions in the OSCE's Roadmap seem to be tracking some way behind events on the ground, which could be troubling. For example, it is calling for the conduct of a nation-wide consultative opinion poll on decentralization. Separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk could be expected to point out loudly that their decisions have already been made and ratified by popular mandate. However, tracking back over this ground in a more reasoned and inclusive fashion, if it can be achieved at the local level, should give time to take some of the heat out of the debate.

Naturally, the Roadmap also calls for the presidential elections on 25 May to be supported by the international community. Within hours of the exit polls showing an overwhelming first round victory for "chocolate king" Petro Poroshenko, the international community was expressing its relief that the government in Kiev was once again a legitimate, democratically elected one. Few will be able to ignore the fact, however, that separatists in Donetsk and other eastern Ukrainian towns used armed force to prevent around 5% of Ukraine's voters from exercising their democratic rights.

There is much work still to be done, and much room for Russia to make mischief if it so chooses. At present, however, it seems likely that Russia is prepared to slightly dial down its public support for separatist hot-heads, having largely achieved its main goal, namely of keeping at least part of the Ukraine as a buffer between itself and the West, not to mention NATO.


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Further reading on Russia and the Ukraine:




Tags: Crimea , Dudier Burkhalter , Eastern Ukraine , Kiev , Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe , OSCE , Ukraine , Vladimir Putin
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