In the Face of Formidable Challenges, Ukraine’s Kozhara Promises Active Chairmanship of OSCE

January 16, 2013
Pridnestrovie Opportunity for “Progress”?
James George Jatras
Deputy Director, AIU

In one of his first major initiatives as Ukraine’s new foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara has indicated that Kiev intends to play an active role during its 2013 Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Ukraine officially presents its priorities to the OSCE’s Permanent Council this week. Among those already identified by Kozhara – who, as Ukraine’s foreign minister will also serve as the OSCE’s Chairperson-in-Office – are resolving protracted conflicts, strengthening conventional arms control, combating human trafficking, reducing the environmental impact of energy-related activities, and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

All of these present both opportunities and challenges for Ukraine, and for Kozhara. In each, success may well be a relative concept, in large part depending on what is defined as “progress” for Ukraine.

For example, with respect to protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, OSCE’s own vice president, Walburga Habsburg Douglas, denounced as a violation of human rights denial of her request to visit imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in March of last year. Likewise, OSCE’s own final report on Ukraine’s October 2012 parliamentary elections said they were “characterized by the lack of a level playing field, caused primarily by the abuse of administrative resources, lack of transparency of campaign and party financing, and the lack of balanced media coverage.”

“Until a few years ago, it was customary in the OSCE to only choose those countries to take over the presidency that met a minimum set of human rights requirements,” said Wolfgang Zellner, head of the Center for OSCE Research (CORE) at the University of Hamburg, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. But that tradition, he added, is now over. Zellner admits that Ukraine is causing some “anxiety behind the scenes.”

No less delicate issues may await Ukraine with respect to environmental questions and energy development. On the one hand, some in the U.S. – including the recently retired former chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar – see natural gas development in Ukraine and elsewhere as a deus ex machine to break Moscow’s advantage as a major energy supplier. On the other hand, no one can predict easy sailing for new gas development anywhere in the face of growing (and inevitably, celebrity-studded) environmental opposition to “fracking” technology. How Ukraine’s chairmanship of the OSCE can help resolve such issues is not clear.

But the big challenge for Kiev’s chairmanship of the OSCE will be dealing with so-called “frozen conflicts” like Nagorno-Karabakh and – most relevant to Ukraine – Pridnestrovie. Interestingly, Ukraine starts with an unprecedented plural voice in the so-called “5+2” negotiating format (Moldova, Pridnestrovie, Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE, plus observers from the United States and the European Union), with Kiev representing both itself and at least formally speaking for the OSCE. “I will visit Moldova soon as OSCE president,” noted Kozhara. “It will also be a bilateral visit. We plan to intensify the entire settlement process in this region and we discussed this issue at length with the Russian side today,” referring to his meeting in with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Kozhara stated that under Kiev’s chairmanship “we must re-energize negotiations within the existing formats and prevent any escalation in tensions. The resolution of protracted conflicts must remain the highest priority for the OSCE and all participating States.”

Commendably, Pridnestrovie has been quiet since that republic’s contentious 2011 presidential election, in which the voters decisively retired longtime strongman Igor Smirnov and elected Yevgeniy Shevchuk, running on a reform platform. Indications that Shevchuk might have been groomed for a pro-western orientation on the “Orange” pattern have not been borne out. Indeed, the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation – which cannot be regarded as uniformly opposed to “any escalation in tensions,” illustrated by its benign attitude towards Chechen and other Islamic terrorists in the Caucasus – noted with disapproval Shevchuk’s August 2012 visit to Moscow, where he met with, among others, Russian Vice Premier Dmitry Rogozin. Rogozin, who had recently been reconfirmed as Special Representative of the Russian President for Pridnestrovie, appeared with Shevchuk before the Russian and Pridnestrovien flags displayed on an equal footing and suggested that any drift of Moldova toward unification with Romania complicated efforts to resolve the Pridnestrovie issue.

For his part, in July Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that “Many problematic spots have remained after the Soviet Union’s fall, and Pridnestrovie is one of them. Only the Pridnestrovien people, people living in Pridnestrovie, can determine its fate. The international community, including Russia, will respect that choice.” How the people of Pridnestrovie – in which Russians and Ukrainians together form a majority – will express their choice in negotiations between Tiraspol and Chișinău is a question that will require tact and perseverance on both sides to answer, as well as from outside participants like Ukraine, the OSCE, and Russia.

Kozhara’s readiness to depart from the passivity that has in the past largely characterized Kiev’s policy toward Pridnestrovie, and to help find a just, legal, and enduring settlement is a welcome development. Let’s wish him success.