20 Nov 2017

OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger: Despite all divergences, we have to talk to each other

OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger has given an interview to Interfax correspondent Margarita Velekhova ahead of a meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council that will take place in December. Greminger, who assumed his office this July, has told about the OSCE activity amidst the exacerbation of relations between Russia and the West, particularly, the United States, as well as the organization‘s activity in Ukraine and the agenda of the upcoming Ministerial Council in Vienna.

Question: Mr. Greminger, how do you like your new job in the OSCE? The organization doesn‘t have a legal status, for example. Does it affect in anyway the OSCE’s work? And when will it change?

Answer: I have taken up the position of secretary general of the OSCE at a time when we are facing multiple challenges, including more frequent acts of terrorism, organized crime and trafficking in drugs, arms and people.
The necessity of an inclusive regional security organization like the OSCE to prevent crises fr om turning into conflicts and to confront transnational challenges has never been more apparent.
That is why I have made it my mission to reinvigorate the OSCE as the essential forum for security dialogue in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian space.
I intend to work towards a positive unifying agenda. There are areas where participating states have enough political will to join forces to deal with challenges that individual countries find difficult to tackle on their own.
As for the issue of OSCE’s legal status, in 2015, my predecessor began to seek bilateral standing arrangements to fill the gaps in legal status and privileges and immunities for the organization and its officials until an overall multilateral solution can be reached.
I am continuing this effort. A number of participating states have expressed willingness to enter into such arrangements.
I am undertaking this initiative in my capacity as chief administrative officer. It is based on the operational needs and the duty of care we owe to our staff. It is consistent with the 1993 Rome Council decision as it seeks legal status, privileges and immunities through national measures.

Q.: How does the conflict between Russia and the West, particularly the United States, affect the activity of the OSCE and its working capacity?

A.: The current security environment in the OSCE area is complicated and unpredictable. The fundamental principles that the organization stands for are being increasingly challenged. Our common security framework, which safeguarded stability in our region for decades, is under threat. There is a historic deficit in trust among key players.
Therefore, I do observe a very confrontational rhetoric. At the same time, there seems to be growing awareness that despite all the divergences, we have to talk to each other. This is wh ere the OSCE provides a useful platform. The OSCE was created to handle difficult situations. We have to keep reminding ourselves of that.

Q.: There was a proposal to bring the number of OSCE Special Monitoring Mission observers in Ukraine to 1,000. How many observers do you have now in Ukraine? Is it necessary to raise this number? Does OSCE have enough money for it?

A.: The SMM currently has 635 international monitors from 44 countries. Fifty-six participating states (57 minus Ukraine) are entitled to second qualified candidates for these positions. The deployment of the SMM was agreed upon at the invitation of Ukraine and by consensus of all 57 participating states.
There is a strong agreement among all that the SMM performs essential work and so far, it has benefited from the support – in financial, logistical and political terms – of all 57 countries.
The SMM does intend to increase the number of monitors and further deployments are in hand. Unfortunately the scope to deploy them is constrained not so much by resources as by the limitations imposed on their security and freedom of movement, particularly, but not exclusively, in non-government-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.

Q.: Is the OSCE ready to continue working in Ukraine? How effective do you this this work is?

A.: The OSCE continues to make a significant contribution in Ukraine, not least through the work of the SMM, which remains the only substantial international presence on the ground in eastern Ukraine, as well as being present in other parts of the country in line with its mandate. It is fair to say that the OSCE has managed to prevent further escalation of the conflict.
But the organization has many structures, almost all of which are engaged in Ukraine. We should recall the work of the project coordinator in Ukraine and his office, which supports a wide range of activities focused on capacity-building and reform, as well as crisis response.
The OSCE is also actively engaged in the Trilateral Contact Group, and its working groups, and through the Special Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office, Ambassador Sajdik.
The OSCE’s institutions have all been engaged in responding to the crisis, and to longer-term capacity-building and reform. And the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly also takes an active role. It is a good example of a ‘whole of organization‘ response to a challenge.

Q.: What is the OSCE position on a police mission to Ukraine? Is this issue still on the table? Do you see prospects of deploying such a mission in Ukraine?

A.: The SMM is an unarmed civilian monitoring mission and there is no intention to change that.
Any decision on a new police mission, whether armed or not would need to be made collectively by the 57 OSCE participating states in Vienna. But this is not currently on the agenda.

Q.: Do you share Moscow‘s position that Kyiv does not implement the Minsk agreements?

A.: We condemn all violations of the ceasefire and the other provisions of the agreements. The focus for all involved should be on fully implementing them, not least in the interests of civilians on both sides of the line of contact.
They continue to suffer the consequences of violence, whether being injured or killed; seeing their own property damaged; or damage to infrastructure that can cut off power or water to tens of thousands of people.
We are in an impasse concerning the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. It is only possible to get out of it with the political will of the sides.

Q.: What do you think about Ukraine‘s proposal to deploy a UN peacekeeping mission along the state border in the east of Ukraine, including along the border section not under Kyiv‘s control?

A.: All efforts that contribute to stabilizing the tense security situation in eastern Ukraine, as well as creating a more conducive environment for implementation of the Minsk agreements are welcome and worth a careful assessment. We remain ready to engage should a decision be reached by the UN Security Council.
There is no agreed mandate for a UN mission and it is not for the OSCE to speculate on modalities of any such mission. However, the OSCE stands ready to be consulted and offer its expertise, based on the SMM’s experience of more than three years on the ground.

Q.: What is your assessment of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? What steps need to be taken to improve the situation?

A.: The only way to resolve this long-standing conflict is for the sides to return to the negotiation table in good faith. The OSCE provides a forum for dialogue and supports the sides in working towards a lasting peace. For this, there needs to be a genuine political will and commitment from the sides.
Only the sides themselves can achieve a peaceful settlement – the OSCE cannot impose a solution.
In this regard, I welcome the October 16 meeting in Geneva between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which was held under the auspices of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group and were the first direct talks at this level in more than a year. In particular, I welcome that the presidents agreed to take measures to intensify the negotiation process and to take additional steps to reduce tensions on the line of contact.
It is absolutely essential for the sides to adhere strictly to the ceasefire regime established in 1994.
The Minsk Group, led by its three co-chairs, remains the only accepted format by the sides. It has the full confidence of all OSCE participating states.
The Minsk Group co-chairs and the chairperson-in-office through his personal representative are continuously in direct contact with the sides in efforts to ease tensions and promote negotiations.
The monitoring exercises conducted regularly by the Personal Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office, Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, remain the only sustainable confidence-building measure in the military sphere.

Q.: What are the principal questions to discuss during the meeting in December in Vienna?

A.: As in previous years, the Ministerial Council will not have a specific thematic agenda. The Austrian Chairmanship’s main priorities for the work of the OSCE this year will however steer the debates.
Alongside defusing conflicts in the OSCE area, interventions may focus on fighting violent extremism and radicalization, as well as on efforts to restore trust and confidence in the OSCE area.