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International Relations Security

The 20th OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting in Kyiv: Addressing Persistent Dividing Lines

The 20th OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting in Kyiv
OSCEPA Bureau meeting in Kyiv, 4 December 2013. Photo: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly/flickr.

On 5 and 6 December 2013, Ukraine hosted the 20th OSCE Ministerial Council (MC) meeting in Kyiv. The OSCE MC meets once a year in the country holding the Chairmanship and is the highest OSCE decision-making body. This year, the MC meeting was preceded by an OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference which was organized by the Civic Solidarity Platform in Kyiv as well as by a panel discussion held by the newly-established network of OSCE think tanks.

The MC meeting was held amid a political crisis in Ukraine which was sparked by the unexpected decision by the Ukrainian government on 21 November to suspend talks with the European Union (EU) on an Association Agreement and a deep free trade agreement, instead ordering to resume “an active dialogue” with the Moscow-led customs union. Tensions increased further when on 30 November Ukrainian riot police violently dispersed peaceful protesters on Maidan Square in Kyiv leaving the international community in a state of disappointment. Although Ukrainian president Yanukovych condemned “the actions that led to forceful confrontation and suffering of people” and Ukrainian foreign minister Leonid Kozhara released a statement prior to the OSCE MC meeting announcing a “thorough investigation” into the violent incidents, the damage had been done. Ukraine – in its capacity as OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office – had clearly breached core OSCE commitments of freedom of assembly and expression.

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International Relations Foreign policy

The OSCE after the Kyiv Ministerial

OSCE Ministerial Council meeting on 5 December in Kyiv
OSCE Ministerial Council meeting on 5 December, 2013, in Kyiv. Photo: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly/flickr.

“Today, the OSCE is not the organization over which foreign ministers are racking their brains when they wake up early in the morning.” This was how Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore characterized the state of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at the end of Ireland’s presidency in 2012.  A year later, however, the OSCE for once finds itself in the headlines. Just a few days before a routine meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Kyiv, the Ukrainian government – which holds the 2013 OSCE presidency – decided to move the country closer to Russia by breaking off trade negotiations with the European Union. In the run-up to the meeting, police violence against peaceful protesters and the biggest street demonstrations since the 2004 “Orange Revolution” dominated the scene in Kyiv.

US Boycott

In response to Ukraine’s actions, only half of the 57 OSCE members sent their top personnel to Kyiv. US Secretary of State John Kerry deliberately boycotted the event, and Britain and France sent deputies in lieu of their foreign ministers. Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, decided to meet with Serbian and Kosovar leaders in Brussels instead. By not attending this year’s ministerial meeting, Kerry and others did the OSCE a disservice. For 40 years the organization has been a powerful symbol of dialogue and the search for consensus and compromise between East and West. Boycotts and deliberate snubs may be useful for alliance-building and zero-sum games, but they are not in keeping with the “spirit of Helsinki” or the principles of cooperative security.

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International Relations Government

Finding the Urban Crisis Tipping Point

Mukuru, Kenya
Mukuru, Kenya. Photo: SuSanA Secretariat/flickr.

By 2015, three billionpeople will be living in urban slums according to UN Habitat. As the number of vulnerable people living in urban slums rises, aid agencies are struggling to identify the tipping point at which chronic urban vulnerability turns into a humanitarian crisis. IRIN spoke to aid staff to find out what they are doing about it.

Accurately tracking vulnerability is more complex in densely populated towns and cities, particularly in informal neighbourhoods such as slums, than it is in rural areas. Aid agencies and donors have therefore been slow to take on the challenge, inadvertently creating a rural-urban divide.

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International Relations Foreign policy

Russian Politics Towards Ukraine are Illogically Consistent

The European Parliament on September 12 called on Russia to respect the right of EU Eastern Partnership members such as Ukraine to enter Association Agreements. The resolution, which received overwhelming support across the parliament’s political groups, called on Russia to not use trade sanctions to force Ukraine to choose the Eurasian over the European Union.

It is doubtful whether the resolution will have any impact in Moscow because Russian policies have been consistently heavy handed and counter-productive over the last quarter of a century. Besides predicting dire consequences of an economic collapse when Ukraine no longer has access to the CIS market following entry into an Association Agreement, Russian leaders are also claiming that Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine will split away. Sergei Glazyev, one of President Vladimir Putin’s senior advisers, said that Russia would be legally entitled to support eastern Ukraine in such a split, comparing this to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

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Elections

Why Vote-Rigging in Ukraine’s Elections Shouldn’t Go Unpunished

Protesters in Kyiv during the Orange Revolution of 2004. Photo by Veronica Khokhlova

The October 28, 2012 parliamentary elections in Ukraine are likely to be best-remembered for widespread protest voting, seemingly endless vote counting in disputed voting districts, allegations of vote-rigging and a rather lackluster public protest in Kyiv. However, an abundance of citizen media reports, live online broadcasts and other monitoring initiatives is what makes this election – not to mention violations that occurred before, during and after the vote – memorable. As Ukrainska Pravda journalist Kateryna Avramchuk commented via Twitter on the situation at one of the contested voting districts:

There’s a live broadcast of our votes being stolen […] And you expect people not to be apolitical after that?