Russians won’t be getting a soapbox at the OSCE meeting in Vienna. They’ll be facing flak insteadComments
In recent weeks, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, where I serve as President, has come under criticism for “providing a platform” for Russian parliamentarians to speak at our Winter Meeting in Vienna later this week.
I don't want to get into the weeds about our Rules of Procedure, which currently do not provide for a suspension mechanism for countries that flagrantly violate OSCE commitments and international law — as Russia has done in its vicious and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine.
However, I would like to respond to the notion that we are simply providing a soapbox for Russia to spread lies.
No soapbox, no ball
The overwhelming reality that we will see at the Winter Meeting is of a Parliamentary Assembly that is completely united in its condemnation of Russia’s war against Ukraine.
For the privilege of having a few minutes to spout their lies, the Russian delegates will have to sit through hours upon hours of vocal denunciations of their actions.
Rather than being a Russian triumph, the Winter Meeting will demonstrate just how isolated Moscow really is.
To those who accuse the OSCE PA of simply offering a soapbox for Russian disinformation or those who have been spreading false rumours about the PA organising a ball on 24 February, I would encourage you to review the programme of the meeting and look at who the keynote speakers are.
Not only will you not find any kind of social arrangements on the programme — and certainly no ball — but you will get a decent idea of the tone of the discussion that should be expected.
We will hear about war crimes in Ukraine and the refugee crisis that Russia’s war has created.
We will debate the issue of accountability for human rights abuses in the conflict, and we will discuss the OSCE’s role and contributions in bringing the war to an end.
They must hear our message, one way or another
Another criticism I have heard is that since the Russians are not interested in dialogue, they should not be invited to our meeting.
While the concept of East-West dialogue is indeed one of the core functions of the OSCE, dating back to the détente era of the 1970s, I agree that this is not possible now.
The Russian Federation has clearly demonstrated through its brutal war that it is choosing bombs over words and shamefully raining terror on the people of Ukraine.
But while the moment is clearly not right for dialogue, one year into this awful war, it is indeed the moment to further increase pressure on Russia and to do all we can to ensure they are hearing the world’s unified support for Ukraine.
That’s what we intend to do in Vienna.
Some have called for the OSCE PA’s meeting to be postponed or even cancelled because Russian parliamentarians are expected to be in attendance.
The Austrian Foreign Ministry, which according to its Headquarters Agreement with the OSCE, is obliged to facilitate entry into Austria for official meetings, has also come under pressure to deny visas to the Russian delegates.
I understand those OSCE PA members who may not wish to attend and sit in the same room as senior Russian officials.
It is, of course, difficult to sit with Russian parliamentarians who have blindly supported the Kremlin’s war, but it is important that they hear our message.
We will be sure to let them know that we reject their war and that we support Ukraine.
I don't want things to be easy for Russian representatives
The brave soldiers of Ukraine have demonstrated remarkable ability on the battlefield in defence of their country.
It is up to bodies like the OSCE PA to take up their cause also in the political sphere.
The Russian people, parliamentarians and government officials live in a distorted news reality.
We know very well that by turning on Russian state media in the morning, they are not getting an accurate picture of the war or the world’s impression of their actions.
Therefore, cancellation of the meeting or even banning Russian participation would mean letting the Russians off easily.
Sitting in Moscow is easy for these parliamentarians, but I don’t want things to be easy for them.
They need to be forced to hear the reality of what their decisions have wrought. This is what is needed to begin the process of accountability.
And equally important is to remind them that the OSCE PA supports the Ukrainian people and demands an end to the war with full respect to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.
Margareta Cederfelt is a member of the Swedish Riksdag, representing the Stockholm constituency. Since July 2021, she has served as President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly — an international body comprised of 323 parliamentarians from Europe, North America, and Central Asia.
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