Russian delegates defiant at hostile OSCE meeting

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — A controversial parliamentary session of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe ended Friday with a condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — when Russian deputies accused the West of preventing dialogue by arming Kiev.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the 57-nation OSCE brought together lawmakers from member countries – including Russia – to discuss security and human rights issues at its annual winter meeting, which coincided with the anniversary of the invasion.

Ukraine and Lithuania boycotted the Vienna meeting due to the presence of six Russian delegates, who were granted visas by Austria despite sanctions from the European Union and the United States.

“We think it is immoral to sit in the same room with war criminals who openly support Ukraine’s genocide,” Yevheniia Kravchuk, a Ukrainian legislator from the Servant of the People party, told The Associated Press in Vienna.

Kravchuk said Russia had “violated every letter” of the OSCE’s founding document and should be suspended from the organization.

Russian delegates told reporters in Vienna that their country was crucial to the work of the OSCE, which was created during the Cold War and helped ease tensions between East and West by providing a platform for dialogue.

“Tackling the problems of European security without Europe’s largest country is not possible,” said Deputy Duma Chairman Pyotr Tolstoy, the head of the Russian delegation.

He accused the West of hindering dialogue by supporting Ukraine on the battlefield and questioned whether Russia should continue to pay its annual contribution to the OSCE.

Vladimir Dzhabarov, the deputy head of the Russian delegation, noted that Russia was one of the founders of the organization.

“They won’t be able to kick us out,” he said, adding that if Russia were to become isolated, a new organization for security in Europe would have to be created.

Controversy over Russia’s participation overshadowed the two-day meeting and underlined the paralysis of the OSCE since the start of the war.

The Russian delegation, along with Belarusian lawmakers, sat in the last row of the conference room in Austria’s former imperial palace, the Hofburg, which was decorated with Ukrainian ribbons and banners. Many Western delegates were dressed in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.

As Russian participants spoke during the session, some delegates walked out or waved Ukrainian flags.

In a statement at the end of the meeting, the president, vice presidents and other assembly officials denounced “Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine as clear, gross and uncorrected violations” of its OSCE obligations.

Assembly chair Margareta Cederfelt said she was sympathetic to “the fact that some members find it unbearable to be in the same room as the aggressors.”

The Austrian government said that as the host country of the OSCE, it is legally obliged to grant visas to representatives of all member states – even those under international sanctions.

The OSCE has a broad mission, including conflict prevention, human rights, election observation and arms control. The parliamentary assembly is a separate organ of the organization.

The OSCE’s work has stalled over the past year, with Russia blocking all major decisions, including budget approval, and refusing to agree to Lithuania assuming the group’s rotating presidency in 2024.

Russia also used its veto to block the extension of the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, the OSCE’s flagship operation in Ukraine.

Ukraine wants to change the rules of the Parliamentary Assembly so that any OSCE member who starts a war against another can be suspended.

Kravchuk, the Ukrainian legislator, said the existing rules were created at a time when β€œall countries respected the borders and sovereignty of other nations and did not come with jets and tanks to take away their state.”


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