In echo of Cold War, US and Russia clash at OSCE over Ukrainian crisis

12-07-2004, 18h27

The United States and Russia clashed at the OSCE international security body over the Ukraine crisis and other key issues with Cold War-style rhetoric that prevented a final consensus statement following two days of talks.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, had urged that the OSCE "remain committed to creating a common and indivisible" area in the grouping of 55 North American, European and central Asian nations.

But the OSCE ministers meeting in Sofia on Monday and Tuesday failed to reach the consensus needed for a final declaration.

Diplomats said Russia was the main bar to consensus, most often on matters that placed it in opposition to the United States as the leader of the West.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West at the ministerial meeting of observing a "double standard" by criticizing electoral practices in formerly communist states while rejecting criticism of its own elections.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had Monday accused the West of playing "sphere of interest" politics in Ukraine and destabilizing the region by pushing its own interests in the name of democracy.

But Powell said: "I categorically disagree. All OSCE participating states signed up to the proposition that fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of legitimate concern to us all."

Powell later reassured Bulgarian university students however that "the Cold War is not coming back," despite strains in US-Russian relations.

A Western diplomat told AFP it was "ironic" that the OSCE which was created in the Cold War to be "a forum for East-West dialogue risks becoming a forum of disagreement."

OSCE observers documented fraud in November 21 presidential elections in Ukraine won by pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich but challenged by pro-West opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who is battling to replace outgoing President Leonid Kuchma.

The vote was annulled and a repeat election is to be held December 26. The OSCE, a leading organization for election monitoring, is to send some 1,000 observers, twice the number that covered the first ballot.

The OSCE ministers were unable to agree on Ukraine after Russia rejected Ukrainian opposition calls for a resolution endorsing the repeat election, a US official said.

The statement finally said that "most ministers welcomed the will of the Ukrainian people to live in a free, open and democratic society" -- while on other points agreement was unanimous.

Russia also refused to go along with OSCE calls for it to honor pledges to withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia, two lingering issues which ministers referred to as "frozen conflicts."

Powell repeated Tuesday that the United States would not ratify a treaty on reducing troops in Europe, the Adapted CFE (conventional forces in Europe) treaty, agreed in 1999, until Russia removes its Cold War-era military presence from Georgia and Moldova.

A US official said Russia "could easily have done (these withdrawals) last year."

Moscow also opposes OSCE monitors at next month's Palestinian presidential elections, even though Israel said it would accept them.

The United States met Russian stubbornness by blocking Moscow's requests for a high-level military meeting of OSCE members to discuss strategic issues, for a seminar on worldwide energy security and for a statement to "set minimum standards for democratic elections," diplomats said.

"The United States is reacting very appropriately," US ambassador to the OSCE Stephan Minikes told reporters.

Minikes said Powell's blunt comments showed that Washington is "not at all shy about calling it as we see it."

The OSCE did reach agreement on 20 specific proposals, including initiatives against "intolerance and discrimination in the whole OSCE area," according to Passy's final statement.

Three representatives are to lead the fight against "hate crimes, including discrimination, anti-Semitism, intolerance and discrimination against Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths, as well as other forms of intolerance."

Agreement was also reached on a package of measures to fight terrorism as well as an action plan to combat trafficking in human beings.