What Collapse of OSCE Means for Moldova

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Geopolitical changes have led the OSCE to a deep crisis with a view to a final collapse in the near future. Nevertheless, the importance of the organization for Moldova is still quite high
For several weeks now, the media has been speculating about possible paralysis that risks the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) if the member states do not decide on a candidate for the 2024 Chairmanship by the end of the year. The stumbling point was the reluctance of Russia and Belarus to approve Estonia as the Chair, which, in turn, did not want to withdraw its request. Because of this, diplomatic circles are talking about the threat of the OSCE breakdown, which would have dire consequences for the already difficult security situation on the continent. The OSCE dates back to 1975, when the famous Helsinki Final Act was adopted as a result of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. International contacts with the aim of preserving security and cooperation became “produce en masse”, and resulted in transforming the consultative format into the now well-known OSCE in 1994. After three decades, many experts and diplomats recognize that the organization is facing hard times, especially if looking at its initial goals and objectives. The situation around the next chairmanship is a direct consequence of the increasingly difficult consensus among the key participants. It is obvious that the OSCE can no longer operate even in such a relatively functional mode, as it was until February 2022, and the changed international circumstances will continue to affect the processes around and within it. In historical retrospect, the OSCE was originally created as a permanent platform to define measures to minimize the risks of armed confrontation and strengthen European security. In 1990, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe was signed, proclaiming the end of the Cold War, and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was concluded. In parallel, a three-stage political consultation mechanism emerged, including summit meetings and the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM). In the same year, a document on confidence-building measures was adopted that became the basis of a security system in Europe. All of this together seemed to provide a solid foundation for further building a pan-European security architecture. As the experience of our days shows, European diplomats and politicians have failed to build on the success of the early 1990s. It is difficult to assess the current state of affairs other than a deep crisis. After the Russian President announced the denunciation of the CFE Treaty in May, it became obvious that the OSCE was moving steadily towards its collapse, and all the pillars of the organization were consigning to history. Even before February 24, 2022, it did not play a major role in Europe’s security system, and now that system exists no longer conceptually. That is why the OSCE, as a conventional prototype of common security, is essentially becoming a rudimentary structure. Despite all its challenges, however, the OSCE is still important to Moldova for several reasons. First, it has been assigned the role of one of the three mediators in the settlement of the conflict with the Transnistrian Region. The Organization has conspicuously increased its importance in the context of an acute armed confrontation between the other two mediators, Ukraine and Russia. In such circumstances, the OSCE remains eventually the only moderator of the process, ensuring at least minimal stability and frequency of contacts between Chisinau and Tiraspol. If we consider the role of the OSCE in terms of security, the consolidated position of all participants to the 5+2 Format, except for Moscow and Tiraspol, evolved for a long time the need to transform the current peacekeeping operation on the Dniester into a civilian (police) mission under the OSCE auspices. However, given the developments both around and inside the organization, the European Union is likely to assume the role of such a civilian-military cover for Moldova. We are talking about the active staffing of the EU Partnership Mission in the Republic of Moldova (EUPM) launched earlier this month. For example, the other day we knew that Austria would send up to five police officers and up to three military personnel, plus four experts from the Ministry of the Interior to support the EUPM operation. In addition, Vienna will send up to three dozen of its military personnel to assist in air transportation. Earlier, Germany also announced its intention to send a task force of 15 experts. It is likely not the limit, and other designated groups from EU member states will appear in Moldova. In April 2022, Russia refused to extend the OSCE mission in Ukraine, accusing it of operating solely in Kyiv’s interests and without taking into account Russian requirements. Already this year, Moscow banned a long-term extension of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, limiting it to six months. The Kremlin apparently demonstrates in this way its dissatisfaction with the activities of the organization and its Moldovan office in the Transnistrian settlement, hinting at the possible full shutdown of the mission, just as in Ukraine. Such a reduction of the OSCE presence in various problem areas will inevitably lead to an increase in the security vacuum and the number of regional crises. The lack of a common framework and principles of prevention and settlement of local crises makes the future of the European continent extremely uncertain. Moreover, Russia’s desire to independently, outside of collective mechanisms, determine security policy both in Europe and in the post-Soviet area is a very alarming signal. Western politicians are trying to predict how the Kremlin will behave, hoping that Russian high-ranking officials will finally shrink from responsibility for the OSCE breakup, one of the largest organizations of our time, and will backtrack. So far, however, Moscow has upped the ante by suspending its contributions to the OSCE, winding down its presence, and blocking its organizational and procedural processes, explaining this by the declining value of the organization for Russia. Whatever the outcome of the story around the OSCE, the transformation of elements of regional and pan-European security is already arising before our eyes and, oddly enough, on the territory of our state. We can clearly see how Moscow is consolidating its military and diplomatic resources, trying to clean up the negotiation and treaty field. The European Union is gradually creating a powerful military and political barrier in the form of various centres for counteracting threats to Moldova. Only time will tell whether this is good or bad for us, and the main thing is to become finally a place of assembly, not disassembly.