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Moscow warns of new fragmentation in Europe


Madrid : Russia and the West accused each other of undermining the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at a Madrid meeting, with Moscow warning that a “new fragmentation” threatened Europe.

The human rights and security watchdog failed to make progress on Russian plans to abandon a key arms control treaty, which the West wants Moscow to stick to. Russia said it remained open to further talks.

More than 40 foreign ministers, as well as lower-level representatives, from 56 OSCE countries attended the annual ministerial council meeting Thursday, which will conclude on Friday in the Spanish capital.

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said the OSCE was “under assault from within” by some countries which did not entirely respect democracy and human rights.

The EU and several of its member countries joined the US in criticising Russia for restricting the access of OSCE observers to its parliamentary elections Sunday.

Russia had prompted the OSCE’s election monitoring arm ODIHR to boycott the poll by creating “unprecedented restrictions” and “bureaucratic obstacles”, said Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

The ODIHR has cited difficulties in obtaining visas for the observers, among other impediments.

Lavrov said the problems of the OSCE were particularly clear within the ODIHR, which some countries were attempting to bring under their control.

Burns had earlier rejected Russian accusations that Washington was pressuring the ODIHR as “completely unfounded”.

Moscow wants the OSCE to focus less on human rights and democracy issues, arguing that the West is using them to push for friendly regimes in former Soviet states.

The OSCE was facing a “moment of truth” at which it had to change, or “the whole European security architecture could collapse”, Lavrov warned.

He accused the West of promoting “group interests” and of applying a “double standard” to different member countries, as illustrated by its reserves towards Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 after Finland takes over from Spain in 2008.

The US and Britain would like to postpone the Kazakh chairmanship over doubts about the country’s democratic credentials.

A reform of the OSCE should also include establishing a charter, more financial transparency and an end to “flagrant abuses” in field missions, Lavrov said.

Sideline talks were meanwhile held on Russia’s plans to scrap the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty on Dec 12 over US plans for a defence shield in eastern Europe and NATO’s failure to ratify a 1999 amended version of the treaty.

Burns admitted that no progress had been made so far, criticising the continuing presence of Russian forces in Moldova, which NATO gives as one of the main reasons for not ratifying the CFE.

Russia did not see why it should always be the first one to make constructive moves, Lavrov countered. The Russian minister did, however, concede that Moscow remained “open to dialogue” about the CFE treaty.

Moscow would continue negotiating about the treaty even if it decided formally to abandon it on Dec 12, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said.

The West and Russia also disagree about the future of the 1,000-strong OSCE mission in Kosovo, where the organisation’s largest field presence is tasked with protecting the Serb minority and with training police.

Moscow does not want the OSCE to stay in Kosovo if the province declares itself independent from Russian ally Serbia against Belgrade’s will. The US, however, sees Kosovo’s independence as the only viable alternative.

The US, Portugal, Spain, France, Britain and Serbia urged the OSCE to stay in Kosovo regardless of its status. Failing to extend the mandate of the mission when it expires at the end of the year would be a “dramatic mistake”, Burns said.

Despite the disagreements, Western representatives stressed the continuing importance of the organisation bringing together countries from Europe, Central Asia and the Americas, which grew out of a predecessor founded in 1975 in the Cold War era.

Burns said he expected the meeting to reach an agreement on an OSCE mission to ensure security on the frontier between Afghanistan and Tajikistan in an attempt to prevent insecurity from spilling over from Afghanistan.

Russia joined the West in supporting the Afghan mission plan and a Spanish initiative for the OSCE to raise its profile in the fight against terrorism.

Moratinos said he did not think it likely that the OSCE countries would reach an agreement on a joint political declaration in Madrid. As decisions by the OSCE require unanimity, the organisation has not approved a political declaration since 2002.