Europe needs to strengthen the OSCE. To achieve this, the tone of conversation needs to turn from confrontation to a constructive dialogue. In order to rebuild trust in Europe, we need to collaborate on security issues where we have common ground.
A comment by Asya Tarchokova, Olga Kyryliuk and Rahel Freist-Held
Since the outbreak of the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea  by Russia, we are confronted with challenges in a region that had experienced two world wars with millions of human losses. Almost nobody believed such a violent conflict to be possible again so soon. The current developments made it therefore necessary to rethink the institutions and mechanisms of the European security system. To return to cooperation and mutual understanding, we need to stop treating each other with mistrust and accusations.
The OSCE Officially Exists Since 1973. To Benefit From it, We Need to Start Using it Again
With regards to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has regained its importance to act as a conflict mediator in a global crisis and to monitor ongoing conflicts and the compliance with the Minsk agreement. Moreover, it is the only institution that remains respected and accepted by the parties involved. Without the OSCE and its Special Monitoring Mission (SMM), the conflict could have led to a far bigger escalation in Europe.
What can we learn from this? The OSCE should play again a more prominent role to maintain Europe’s security order. However, the OSCE should not only be assigned to solve already flared up conflicts but strengthen its tools to prevent instabilities. It must become more sensitive to different perceptions towards economic, political and security issues and to listen to various voices, including those of smaller European countries. Furthermore, it is important to avoid the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, but instead consider to draw attention to the regional characteristics of specific countries. Thus, the role of the OSCE should be to communicate and mediate between the versatile interests and aspirations with respect to European peace and security architecture.
Both positions serve above all as preventive mechanisms. Propaganda is a poisonous tool in an already tense political situation and is likely to cause new conflicts. Therefore, a distinct emphasis must be put on minority rights and human rights protection as a fundamental remedy for internal tensions, and in a wider scope as a threat to internal and eventually international security. In other words, the OSCE needs to work closely with civil society organizations fostering human rights education and create a platform for exchange and reconciliation of warring parties.
Furthermore, the resumption of negotiations under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) and its adaptation to the contemporary political situation is essential. An “adapted” version of the CFE treaty was signed in 1999, but NATO members refused to ratify it until Russia withdrew troops from Georgia and the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria. The agreement sought to take into account the changes that occurred over the previous decade such as the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the demise of the Warsaw Pact, the expansion of members in NATO and other changes in the European geopolitical environment. By January 2007, however, only Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan had ratified the adapted version.
Consequently, Russia decided to halt its participation in meetings of the CEF consulting group, which led to strained relations that still affect us today. The disagreement on the treaty caused a power imbalance in the European security system and thus should be re-negotiated within the OSCE and be enshrined in a legally binding act.
We Need to Identify the Common Ground
The current divergence of political and geopolitical interests put the cooperation under the threat of disruption. Common threats such as cyberwar, transnational terrorism, violent extremism, human trafficking and organized crime should be addressed jointly.
The conflict in Ukraine will certainly not be solved any time soon. Time and patience are much needed to restore trust, in order to deter further alienation between our countries and to re-enter a constructive dialogue. In 2016, Germany will hold the OSCE chairmanship which may be a good starting point for the organization’s renaissance and for its sustainable role as a mediator in Europe.
The Russian Asya, the Ukrainian Olga, and the German Rahel met at a Trilateral Youth Forum focusing on the issue of “Germany, Russia, Ukraine: A Common Future?” which was organized by drjug, supported by, inter alia, the German Federal Foreign Office, and took place from November 29th to December 5th of 2015 in Moscow.
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