Ukraine war ‘most severe’ test ever for European security body


The war in Ukraine is the most severe test the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has faced since its creation in 1975, the top UN political affairs official told the Security Council on Monday, as the 15-member organ held its annual briefing on the OSCE’s work against the backdrop of intensifying bombardments of key Ukrainian cities.

Rosemary DiCarlo, who is Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, expressed grave concern that the situation on the ground worsened over the weekend.

She cited unrelenting shelling and bombardment of numerous cities in Ukraine, with civilians killed daily, as well as credible reports that Russian forces are using cluster munitions – including in populated areas.

‘Shaken to its core’

“The Russian invasion has shaken the foundations of the European security architecture to its core,” said the Under-Secretary-General. 

The OSCE was born in 1975 out of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in Helsinki, Finland. It currently has 57 participating States and serves as a critical platform for regional dialogue and negotiations on such issues as counter-terrorism, cyber security and good governance.

OSCE also takes on a range of on-the-ground tasks across Europe, including election support, border management and human rights monitoring.

Recalling the organization’s history and its growing partnership with the UN, Ms. DiCarlo said today’s tragic conflict in Ukraine vividly illustrates the importance of mechanisms to maintain and strengthen European and international peace and security. 

OSCE in Ukraine

The UN has consistently supported OSCE’s work in Ukraine.

That includes its impartial, unarmed Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine – which was deployed there in 2014 following a request by Kyiv – and OSCE’s engagement in the Trilateral Contact Group, a diplomatic grouping which also includes Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

Among other things, Ms. DiCarlo warned the Council that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine risks dismantling longstanding confidence-building measures, arms control treaties and other frameworks in Europe. Such internationally supported processes are now being openly questioned by parties involved in them.

Amid dire humanitarian conditions, the UN is scaling up its support to the people of Ukraine as well as its engagement with key partners, including OSCE, in support of an immediate ceasefire and a lasting diplomatic solution.

“The challenges we face today, and those potentially ahead, demand that we work even more closely together,” she concluded, emphasizing that all countries have a stake in the outcome of the current crisis.

‘Worst-case scenario’

Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau of Poland, Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, briefs UN Security Council members.

Also briefing the Council was Zbigniew Rau, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Poland and the current Chairman-in-Office of OSCE.

“On the morning of 24 February, the worst-case scenario became reality,” he said, noting that the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion had shattered the conviction that war in Europe belonged in the past.

Russian forces are targeting civilian targets in an effort to break the will of the population, striking schools and hospitals with internationally banned weapons, he said, describing those attacks as deplorable and suggesting that they amount to “State terrorism.”

In the days and weeks since, he said, some Russian officials have accused him as lacking impartiality.

Russia’s ‘blatant violation’

To that, he responded: “Impartiality ends where blatant violation of international humanitarian law starts.”  Emphasizing the OSCE’s obligation to maintain its decency and integrity, he said the door to diplomacy is still open, and called on Moscow to engage in dialogue to peacefully end the crisis.

Nevertheless, Mr. Rau cautioned that any parties committing, or complicit in, war crimes, will be held accountable. 

On 3 March, OSCE decided to invoke its Moscow Mechanism, creating a group of independent experts to investigate the reported violation of humanitarian law in the context of the hostilities in Ukraine.

“The perpetrators will be judged by their deeds, but we will be judged by the way we respond to these horrors,” he stressed, urging the international community not to remain silent.