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Helsinki Commission Examines U.S. Policy toward the OSCE
Friday, November 16, 2001

By Erika B. Schlager, CSCE Counsel for International Law

On October 3, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on "U.S. Policy toward the OSCE." Originally scheduled for September 12, the hearing was postponed after the September 11 terrorist attacks. This hearing was convened to examine U.S. priorities and human rights concerns in the OSCE region; how the OSCE can serve to advance those goals and address human rights violations; the pros and cons of the institutionalization and bureaucratization of the OSCE and field activities; and the openness and transparency of the Helsinki process.

Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) heard from four witnesses: A. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs; Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (who has since been formally appointed by the President as one of the three executive-branch Commissioners); Ambassador Robert Barry, former Head of OSCE Mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina; and P. Terrence Hopmann, professor of political science at Brown University and research director of the Program on Global Security at the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies. Catherine Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the International League for Human Rights, had agreed to participate in the hearing as originally scheduled for September 12, but was unable to attend on October 3.

In her prepared statement, Assistant Secretary Jones described the OSCE as an important tool for advancing U.S. national interests “by promoting democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, arms control and confidence building measures, economic progress, and responsible or sustainable environmental policies.” While portraying the OSCE as “the primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management, and post-conflict rehabilitation in [the] region,” she also argued that “it is not the forum for discussion or decision regarding all security issues” – a role implicitly reserved for NATO.

Jones alluded to a possible role for the OSCE in combating terrorism, an issue that will be taken up at the OSCE Ministerial, scheduled for December 3 and 4 in Bucharest. In this connection, Chairman Campbell urged the State Department to pursue an OSCE meeting of Ministers of Justice and Interior as a step toward promoting practical cooperation in fighting corruption and organized crimes, major sources of financing for terrorist groups.

Assistant Secretary Craner tackled an issue of key concern to human rights groups: would the war against terrorism erode efforts to promote democracy and human rights, particularly with respect to Central Asian countries that are now key U.S. allies in that war? Craner observed that “[s]ome people have expressed concern that, as a result of the September 11 attack on America, the Administration will abandon human rights. I welcome this hearing today to say boldly and firmly that this is not the case. Human rights and democracy are central to this Administration’s efforts, and are even more essential today than they were before September 11th. They remain in our national interest in promoting a stable and democratic world. We cannot win a war against terrorism by stopping our work on the universal observance of human rights. To do so would be merely to set the stage for a resurgence of terrorism in another generation.”

The testimony of the two expert witnesses, Professor Hopmann and Ambassador Barry, examined the operational side of the OSCE, with particular focus on the field work of the institution. Hopmann, one of a small number of analysts in the United States who has written in depth about the work of the OSCE and who served as a public member on the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Review Conference in Istanbul in 1999, offered several specific recommendations: 1) enhance the professional qualifications and training of its mission and support staff; 2) strengthen its capacity to mediate serious conflicts that appear to be on the brink of violence or that have become frozen in the aftermath of violence, including making better use of ‘eminent persons’ to assist these efforts; and 3) attract more active support from its major participating States, especially from the United States, to strengthen the OSCE's capacity to intervene early in potentially violent conflicts when diplomacy still has a chance to win out over force. Ambassador

Barry drew on his experience as head of one of the OSCE’s largest missions to address the complex issue of the OSCE’s relations with other international organizations. Barry asserted that OSCE has, at times, “bitten off more than it can chew” and the United States needs to exercise discretion in assigning tasks to the OSCE. When asked specifically to describe the relationship between the OSCE and the Council of Europe, he characterized it as “permanent struggle.” He suggested that the two organizations should not compete with other, but play to their relative strengths: the OSCE, for example, should be dominant in field missions, while the Council of Europe should be given the lead in providing expert advice on legislative drafting.

One area where the OSCE is underutilized is in the area of policing – the focus of a Commission hearing held on September 5, 2001. Barry remarked, “Last month several witnesses testified before the Commission concerning the OSCE role in police training and executive policing. With its requirement of universality, the [United Nations] must call upon police who are unable or unwilling to deal with terrorism or human rights violations at home. We cannot expect them to be much help, for example, in dealing with mujahedin fighters in Bosnia or Macedonia. Therefore I believe the OSCE ought to be the instrument of choice for both police training and executive policing. In order to fill the latter role the OSCE should change its policy on arming executive police. Unarmed international police have no leverage in societies where every taxi driver packs a gun.”

Barry also argued that the United States needs to involve the Russian Federation more closely with OSCE. “Too often in the past,” he said, “we have marginalized Russia by making decisions in NATO and then asking OSCE to implement the decisions. Macedonia is only the most recent example.”

Many of the questions raised by Commissioners focused on institutional issues such as the transparency of the weekly Permanent Council meetings in Vienna, the respective roles of the Chair-in-Office and Secretary General and pressure to enlarge the OSCE’s bureaucracy by establishing new high-level positions to address whatever is, at the moment, topical. State Department witnesses were asked several questions relating to specific countries where human rights issues are of particular concern, including Turkmenistan, a country whose human rights performance is so poor that some have suggested it should be suspended from the OSCE, and Azerbaijan, a country engaged in a significant crackdown against the media.

Assistant Secretary Jones argued that, when faced with an absence of political will to implement OSCE human dimension commitments, it is necessary to “persevere” and to hold OSCE participating States accountable for their actions.

Noting that the death penalty is the human rights issue most frequently raised with the United States, Commissioner Cardin asked Assistant Secretary Craner how the United States responds to this criticism and whether the use of capital punishment in the United States impacts our effectiveness. Craner noted that the death penalty in the United States is supported by the majority of Americans, in a democratic system, and that the quality of the U.S. judicial system ensures its fairness. He also argued that it does not affect the credibility of the United States on human rights issues.

Professor Hopmann, however, disagreed with this assertion. Based on extensive contacts with European delegates to the OSCE in Vienna, Hopmann observed that Europeans find it difficult to reconcile the U.S. advocacy on human rights issues with a practice Europeans view as a human rights violation.

Chairman Campbell recommended that similar hearings be convened on a periodic basis to update Congress and the American people on the ongoing work of the OSCE and how it advances U.S. interests across the spectrum of the security, economic, and human dimensions.

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  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest January 2022

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    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: POLAND’S LEADERSHIP OF THE OSCE IN A TIME OF CRISIS Thursday, February 3, 2022 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 419 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Poland has taken up leadership of the world’s largest regional security organization—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—at a time when it will need to do its utmost to uphold fundamental tenets increasingly under attack. The region is facing serious challenges, ranging from the real possibility of a renewed Russian assault on Ukraine to the repercussions of COVID-19. Other regional challenges include protracted conflicts in Moldova and Georgia, as well as the pursuit of a lasting and sustainable peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Meanwhile, many countries are struggling—or failing—to live up to their OSCE commitments in the areas of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Anti-Semitic attacks and rhetoric are on the rise, and vulnerable communities are targets of discrimination and violence. Combating human trafficking and countering terrorism and corruption also are high on the OSCE agenda. At this hearing, Polish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Zbigniew Rau will discuss Poland’s priorities in the OSCE and how it will address the challenges it will likely face in 2022.

  • Russia’s Assault on Ukraine and the International Order to Be Discussed at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: RUSSIA’S ASSAULT ON UKRAINE AND THE INTERNATIONAL ORDER Assessing and Bolstering the Western Response Wednesday, February 2, 2022 2:30 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Russia’s Ukraine gambit is the most flagrant manifestation of the Kremlin’s assault on the international order. Moscow’s actions degrade the security environment in Europe and are a direct assault on settled international norms. These include the territorial integrity of states and the self-determination of peoples affirmed in the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent agreements of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Witnesses will examine the latest developments in the Kremlin-driven crisis in and around Ukraine and the urgency for the United States to bolster Ukraine’s defenses and deter further Russian aggression. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Dr. Fiona Hill, Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution Lieutenant General (Retired) Ben Hodges, Pershing Chair, Center for European Policy Analysis Ambassador (Retired) William B. Taylor, Vice President, U.S. Institute of Peace

  • Half Measures Are Worse Than Nothing in Ukraine

    Europe begins the new year on the brink of major war. Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops and heavy equipment along Ukraine’s border and issued an ultimatum to the West demanding it trade Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for its peace. Such demands are a strategic nonstarter, but the seriousness of the Kremlin’s threats appear all too real. To stop this war before it begins, muddling through is not an option; this demands immediate and bold action. Russia claims its 100,000-plus troops at Ukraine’s doorstep is a response to NATO enlargement and its infrastructure in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. These arguments are unconvincing. The Kremlin has used NATO as a straw man for its grievances, yet Russian disquiet has little to do with NATO itself, which has no immediate plans to expand anywhere near Russia and would not threaten Russia if it did. Although the United States and its European partners have provided material and technical military assistance to Ukraine, it has not changed the region’s balance of power. Instead, Russia’s demands evince anxiety over global status and the possibility that its borderlands may be able to escape from its grip. In particular, Ukraine has the size and industrial capacity to make it a credible economic and military power regardless of whether it joins NATO. For Russia, a strong and hostile Ukraine is intolerable, even though Russian aggression husbanded Ukraine’s pro-West turn. By supporting Donbass separatism and annexing Crimea, the Kremlin stoked patriotism in Ukraine, lanced Ukraine’s most Russia-friendly population, and earned Kyiv’s hostility. Ukraine is not the only country for which this applies, but it may be the most significant given its size, geography, and symbolic position in official Russian neoimperial mythology. War should be avoided at all reasonable costs. Another invasion would risk tens of millions of lives and further undermine Europe’s increasingly fragile security. The United States and Europe should be willing to negotiate in good faith to avoid wider conflict—so long as Ukraine, Georgia, and Eastern Europe’s sovereignty are preserved. However, acceding to Russia’s maximalist demands would strip Ukraine of its already battered sovereignty and invite a new Iron Curtain over Europe—consigning many millions of people to generations of domination and conflict. History and international relations theory may offer some guidance in this crisis. In the runup to the Peloponnesian War between the sprawling Athenian league and Sparta’s opposing empire, Athens faced a dilemma between its ally Corcyra and Corinth, a powerful member of the Spartan alliance. As chronicled by classical historian Donald Kagan in his On the Origins of War: And the Preservation of Peace, Corcyra called on Athens for protection, but Athens was anxious to intervene lest it precipitate a ruinous great-power war with Sparta, which was increasingly fearful that Athens, the rising force in Greece, would eclipse Spartan power. Yet Athens worried that abandoning Corcyra would undermine its alliances and invite Spartan aggression. As a compromise, Athens deployed a mere 10 ships out of its vast 400-ship fleet to join the Corcyraeans in the hopes that it would be enough to deter Corinth’s advancing 150-ship armada. However, as Kagan notes, Athens’s symbolic deployment was not strong enough to deter Corinth—much less defeat it—but too aggressive to completely assuage Spartan fears about Athenian ambitions. In the ensuing Battle of Sybota, the Corinthian armada destroyed the combined Corcyraean-Athenian fleet, launching a spiral of events that led to the devastating Peloponnesian War. As the United States deliberates with its partners and allies to craft countermeasures against Kremlin aggression, the West should avoid its own 10-ship trap. In some ways, NATO’s 2008 Bucharest summit decision is an example, where the alliance promised eventual membership to Georgia and Ukraine without a concrete pathway. This compromise left Georgia and Ukraine vulnerable while stoking the Kremlin’s strategic anxieties. The recently departed Columbia University political scientist Robert Jervis considered such problems in his international relations theory classic Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Jervis weighed deterrence against a “spiral” model, which posited that counterescalating in response to perceived escalation could provoke the opposite of the intended response. An attempt at deterrence could instead be viewed as further provocation. While deterrence preaches strength and resolution, the spiral model generally counsels conciliation. However, Jervis theorized that while the deterrence and spiral models are often presented as opposing, generalizable theories, their usefulness varies with the circumstances. He surmised that deterrence is applicable between two powers with genuinely incompatible positions, and the spiral model best applies to disputes between status quo powers where their perceived incompatibility is mostly illusory. One exercise Jervis suggests is to interrogate evidence that the second power is not engaged in revisionist aggression. In this case, a charitable reading of Russian actions suggests that Russia’s grievances are oriented to the security situation on its borders—the “belt of Russia’s vital interests.” In this interpretation, Russia’s historical influence along its borders need not be a cause for alarm on its own, much less for war. Indeed, if arms limitations and codes of conduct represent an acceptable compromise to defuse the present crisis without sacrificing the freedom or sovereignty of the states on Russia’s border, this is worth pursuing. However, which vital interests necessitate Russian dominion over its periphery? Although Russia’s perceptions of insecurity may be real, it is demonstrably not materially insecure, with a large, full-spectrum, and sophisticated military that is arguably the most powerful in Europe. Russia’s neighbors are far weaker, Western states largely disarmed after the Soviet Union’s dissolution, and remnant Allied forces remained in Western Europe in compliance with the NATO-Russia Founding Act, even as Russia has significantly militarized. And Russia’s economic fortunes are far better served by peace and integration with the West, not conflict. However, the stability and integrity of European security architecture as enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act remain fundamental to U.S. national security. Any countenance of the Kremlin’s broader abrogation of that framework and the restoration of a new Yalta Conference would reverse decades of peace and prosperity—and likely drive continental militarization that would only compound Russian security anxieties and conflict. It appears the West and the Russian regime’s positions are indeed incompatible. In response, the United States and its allies must be wary of the 10-ship trap. Although caution is often a virtue in national security and foreign policymaking, a moderate response to the enormity and notoriety of Russia’s belligerence would likely neither protect Ukraine nor satisfy Russian imperial appetites. Broad economic sanctions on their own are likely to be sufficient to forestall an invasion; and token, light deployments behind NATO’s high walls while Ukraine burns will inflame Kremlin paranoia without arresting or appreciably punishing Russian militarism. Negotiations and diplomacy should be given the time to work, and any kind of durable solution is unlikely to completely satisfy either party. However, the United States and its allies should undergird these talks with serious and significant measures to prevent another, greater war in Ukraine before it begins. As in Corcyra, half measures are unlikely to ameliorate the crisis and may only exacerbate them. What, then, do full measures look like? The critical factors here are speed and plausibility: steps that not only can be taken quickly but that Russia will believe Washington will carry through. Although economic sanctions have been broadly regarded as useful tools in this regard, most measures being envisioned are likely already baked into Russian calculations or may not have an immediate effect. In addition, the United States—and Europe, if it is willing—should significantly curtail Russian energy imports and aim to wean Russian hydrocarbons from European markets entirely—perhaps even going so far as to employ Defense Production Act authorities to stockpile and potentially surge liquefied natural gas and other fuel alternatives to Central and Eastern Europe. Boosting other energy sources on a strategic scale could also accompany this approach. Moscow must be convinced that military aggression will only dramatically increase and complicate what it believes are its existing security vulnerabilities. Toward that end, the United States and Europe could begin studying withdrawal from the NATO-Russia Founding Act, and planning can begin in earnest for repositioning heavy forces in Europe in the event of a wider Russian war. NATO can signal that new European applications for NATO membership would be welcomed and expediently ratified (perhaps even pre-ratified in some form), particularly from Sweden and Finland, should Russia go through with its militaristic gambit. Washington could also consider scenarios to provide aspirants—Ukraine, Georgia, and potentially the Nordics—with bilateral treaty guarantees prior to NATO accession. In Corcyra, the compromise of 10 Athenian ships only served to anger Corinth and Sparta as well as fed beliefs that war was not only necessary but an urgent enterprise. Against the colossal coercive symbolism and military reality posed by the Russian buildup—and the even greater weight of the Kremlin’s demands—the United States and Europe should prepare responses to match the moment. Michael Hikari Cecire is a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Helsinki Commission. 

  • Helsinki Commission Marks One-Year Anniversary of Navalny’s Imprisonment

    WASHINGTON—Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Alexei Navalny’s arrest on January 17, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “In the past year, while Alexei Navalny has remained unjustly imprisoned, the Kremlin has doubled down on its absurd persecution of his anti-corruption organizations as ‘extremist,’” said Chairman Cardin. “Nevertheless, Mr. Navalny’s colleagues, friends and allies, in the face of grave threats, continue to risk their own freedom to expose Putin’s thuggery across Russia.” “Putin would not have gone to the trouble to imprison Alexei Navalny unless he perceived a serious threat to his power,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “Mr. Navalny and his team across Russia were instrumental in revealing the ill-gotten gains of Putin and his cronies. This tells you all you need to know about why they are a target.” “During his imprisonment, Alexei Navalny has used his own suffering to call attention to the plight of the hundreds of other political prisoners in Russia,” said Sen. Wicker. “We have not forgotten him or others who are persecuted for their beliefs, and we look forward to a Russia in which they finally are free.” “Despite the Kremlin’s attempts to push Alexei Navalny out of public view and prevent him from challenging Putin, we will not stop calling for his release,” said Rep. Wilson. “Russians who challenge Putin should not have to fear for their safety in their own country.” In August 2020, Alexei Navalny was the victim of an assassination attempt by the FSB that used a Russia-developed chemical weapon in the Novichok family. He spent months recovering after being flown to Berlin for treatment. Navalny returned to Moscow on January 17, 2021, and was arrested at the airport. In February, a Russian judge sentenced Navalny to three and a half years in a prison colony for violating the terms of a suspended sentence related to a 2014 case that is widely considered to be politically motivated. Previous time served under house arrest reduced his prison time to two years and eight months. In June, the Moscow City Court ruled that Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and its regional networks would henceforth be considered “extremist” organizations, essentially outlawing these groups and criminalizing their activity. In September, Russian authorities opened a new probe against Navalny and his closest associates for creating and directing an “extremist network.” This, combined with other ongoing criminal investigations, could lead to additional jail time for Navalny and threaten those associated with his organizations, many of whom have been forced to flee Russia.

  • Helsinki Commission Welcomes First Charges Under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act

    WASHINGTON—Following the first charges filed under the Helsinki Commission’s Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act for a doping scheme at the Tokyo Olympics, Helsinki Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), and former Commissioner Rep. Michael Burgess (TX-26) issued the following statements: “Swift utilization of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act is exactly what we hoped for with this legislation,” said Chairman Cardin. “I thank the U.S. attorneys and investigators who put in long hours of work pursuing this case. They understood the importance of cleaning up cheating and corruption in international sports, which often is a tool of autocratic governments. These first charges are only the beginning and serve as a very public part of the global anti-corruption strategy supported by the Biden administration and spearheaded by the Helsinki Commission for many years.” “I welcome this first enforcement action under the Rodchenkov Act and urge the Department of Justice to continue unraveling the corruption that infects international sport,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “Sports should bring people together and celebrate achievement—they should not be an opportunity for fraud. My own GOLD Act would expand the Rodchenkov Act and I call on my colleagues to pass it swiftly.” “These charges are the culmination of years of work to hold administrators, doctors, and officials accountable for their role in corrupting international sport,” said Sen. Wicker. “They demonstrate that our new approach is working. I thank the public servants at the U.S. Department of Justice and urge them to continue their efforts to enforce this critically important law.” “Dictators and their cronies interfere in everything we hold dear, including sports. They view victory in international sport as a way to trumpet the greatness of their oppressive systems. Cheating in sports is part of their foreign policy,” said Rep. Wilson. “With the Rodchenkov Act, we are holding these corrupt networks to account. I applaud the Department of Justice for prosecuting fraudsters at the Tokyo Olympics and call on them to do the same in Beijing.” “From a young age, professional athletes dedicate themselves to becoming the best in their sport. For those skilled enough to make it to the Olympics, their efforts should not be tainted by doping schemes,” said Rep. Burgess. “Yesterday’s charges provide hope to those that have been defrauded. They would not have been made possible without the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. I worked to enact this law to maintain sport integrity and keep all American athletes safe and protected from fraud. Further, yesterday’s action is a win for athletes such as Katie Uhlaender, whose moving testimony spurred Congress into action. I hope that yesterday’s charges are only the beginning of combatting fraud in international sport competition.”   “This is exactly the kind of action we hoped for following the enactment of this groundbreaking anti-doping legislation,” said Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory and the Russian whistle-blower after whom the law is named. “We are grateful to United States Attorney Damian Williams for taking this monumental first step toward restoring the Olympic games to their role as a cherished forum for nations to convene in the spirit of peace, fairness and cooperation. We cannot continue to allow corrupt states and the overlords of sport commerce to exploit our athletes and traditions of peace to advance the economic and geopolitical interests of the few. Yesterday's action is entirely appropriate and puts real teeth into anti-doping enforcement, while also setting an example of international cooperation and fair play for future generations.” The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, which became law in December 2020, criminalizes doping in international sport. In July 2021, the Helsinki Commission hosted a hearing on the enforcement of the Rodchenkov Act at the Tokyo Olympics. Earlier that year, Dr. Rodchenkov spoke out publicly for the first time about the impact of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act on a Helsinki Commission podcast, calling it a “game-changer.” On Wednesday, the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced the charges against Eric Lira, who they allege “obtained various performance enhancing drugs (‘PEDs’) and distributed those PEDs to certain athletes in advance of, and for the purpose of cheating at, the 2020 Olympic Games held in Tokyo in the summer of 2021.”   

  • Russia sent troops near Ukraine and to Kazakhstan. The U.S. is watching and waiting

    Transcript   SCOTT SIMON, HOST: The Biden administration is heading into an intense week with Russia. The U.S. has already condemned the massing of tens of thousands of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine. But the White House seems to be taking a different approach to Russian involvement in the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. NPR's Michele Kelemen explains. MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: First, a word on why Kazakhstan matters to the U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, who chairs the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, puts it this way. BEN CARDIN: It does bridge between Russia and China, Asia and Europe. It really is one of the key locations. It is a country that's rich in resources. It's a country that has a critical location from a security point of view, from a counterterrorism point of view. KELEMEN: U.S. companies are heavily invested in Kazakhstan's energy sector, and the U.S. saw the country as a relatively stable, though not a democratic partner. Cardin, who was speaking via Skype, says he was disappointed to see Kazakhstan's president invite in troops from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a group of ex-Soviet states led by Russia. CARDIN: When Russia sends troops, they rarely remove those troops. And it's not what the Kazakhs need. It's not what the people need in that country. KELEMEN: The latest turmoil started with protests over gas prices and corruption. But some major cities also saw mobs taking over government buildings. And experts point to another layer of conflict, an attempt by the country's president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, to sideline other government elites linked to Kazakhstan's longtime ruler, Nursultan Nazarbayev. And in that complex picture, the U.S. has little leverage, according to Emma Ashford of the Atlantic Council. EMMA ASHFORD: Even if we wanted to intervene, even if there was a clear side upon which we thought we could intervene - which I don't think there is - we just don't have that much leverage in Kazakhstan. We have limited ties in the country, and they're almost all commercial in the energy sector. KELEMEN: She thinks the U.S. needs to be cautious and not feed into Russian conspiracies. ASHFORD: We know that Vladimir Putin in particular, you know, the Russian government, has this historical tendency to see American fingers in every pot - you know, American action in every protest in the post-Soviet space. And even though that's not true, I think we should probably avoid giving the impression that we're going to get more involved. KELEMEN: Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been on the phone with his counterpart in Kazakhstan, calling on authorities to protect the rights of peaceful protesters and raising questions about why the government felt the need to invite in Russian-led troops. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) ANTONY BLINKEN: It would seem to me that the Kazakh authorities and government certainly have the capacity to deal appropriately with protests, to do so in a way that respects the rights of the protesters while maintaining law and order. So it's not clear why they feel the need for any outside assistance. So we're trying to learn more about it. KELEMEN: For now, those Russian troops seem to be focused mainly on protecting key infrastructure. And Blinken is reluctant to conflate the situation in Kazakhstan with Ukraine, where Russia has seized territory and is threatening to take more. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) BLINKEN: Having said that, I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it's sometimes very difficult to get them to leave. KELEMEN: Regional experts say if Kazakhstan's president is able to reinforce his political power in the midst of this crisis, he will be indebted to Moscow. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

  • Helsinki Commission Calls for Peaceful Solution in Kazakhstan

    WASHINGTON—In response to the violent clashes between protesters and authorities in Kazakhstan, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “We are deeply concerned about the situation in Kazakhstan and condemn the violence that has accompanied widespread protests across the country. The reported deaths of both protesters and police are extremely disturbing. “We call on President Tokayev and Russian troops not to use disproportionate force against protesters. At the same time, we call on protesters to cease any violent attacks against police, public buildings, or private property. “We urge both sides to find a peaceful way to resolve this crisis. We also urge President Tokayev to ensure respect for human rights, especially freedom of the media and the right to due process for those who have been arrested in connection with the protests.” A wave of protests began on January 2 in the western part of the oil- and gas-rich country in response to a sharp increase in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). The unrest spread quickly to other parts of Kazakhstan and grew increasingly violent. Authorities deployed tear gas and stun grenades against protesters and blocked internet access in an effort to quell the unrest, while demonstrators attacked government offices. There are reports of deaths among both law enforcement and protesters, as well as of widespread looting. Kazakhstani President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a nationwide state of emergency on January 5, accepted the resignation of his cabinet, and reduced LPG prices, but protests continued. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a security alliance among select former Soviet states including Russia, is sending Russian troops at the request of President Tokayev. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated already strained economic and social disparities, and demonstrators are demanding increased political liberalization and accountability for government corruption. OSCE observers concluded that the 2021 parliamentary elections “lacked genuine competition” and underscored the need for political reform.

  • Defending Ukraine, Deterring Putin

    The Kremlin has dramatically increased its military activities and capabilities in and around Ukraine, leading to predictions that the regime may be preparing for an aggressive military operation in the coming months. Russian military movements have sufficiently concerned U.S. and allied observers that CIA Director William Burns was personally dispatched to Moscow to telegraph U.S. concerns. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also has added to a chorus of alarm, and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has described Russia’s movements as preparations for an invasion. On December 7, President Biden held a two-hour phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the apparent buildup. The Helsinki Commission, including Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Commissioner Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33),  convened a virtual briefing to evaluate the Russian regime’s actions and capabilities near Ukraine and assess potential options for U.S. and Western countermeasures to deter aggression and preserve Ukrainian sovereignty.  Panelists included Dr. Andrew Bowen of the Congressional Research Service, Robert Lee of Kings College London, Dr. Mary Vorotnyuk of the Royal United Services Institute, and Katsiaryna Shmatsina of the European Values Center for Security Policy in Prague. The discussion was moderated by Helsinki Commission Senior Policy Advisor Michael Hikari Cecire. Cecire began the discussion by describing the apparent urgency of the situation on Ukraine’s border, noting that more than 100,000 Russian troops and heavy offensive equipment had amassed in a potential war footing, in addition to thousands more troops already in states of high readiness and propositioned in and around Ukrainian territory. Dr. Andrew Bowen described the strategic environment in which the buildup is occurring, and noted that Russian political leadership has asserted that it regarded the presence of NATO and Western military and political influence on its border as a red line. Although Ukraine has no immediate likelihood of joining NATO, the Russian regime may regard Ukraine’s growing independent capabilities and partnerships with the West as indicative of a graduate deterioration of its own relative security position. As such, its military buildup may be intended to either compel a diplomatic accommodation with the West to forestall Ukraine’s continued Western path, or, if necessary, launch military operations to do so through the use of force. Dr. Bowen noted that Congress has played a significant role in supporting activities to bolster Ukraine’s defenses, including through the provision of lethal aid, and has also supported efforts to reinforce NATO’s Eastern flank in response to Russia’s aggressive actions. Robert Lee focused on Russian military capabilities currently arrayed at Ukraine’s border. He noted that tens of thousands of troops had been mobilized from Russia’s other geographic combatant commands and deployed to Ukraine’s border, including significant heavy offensive weaponry and specialized assets. According to some assessments, total Russian deployments may represent as much as two-thirds of its total combat power to in and around the Ukraine theater, suggesting a nationwide military mobilization and all the preparations for a major invasion. While the preponderance of Russian offensive assets suggests that it may have the capabilities in place for any number of offensive scenarios, including a move on Kyiv, it is not necessarily a foregone conclusion that the Kremlin has any intent to seize and hold territory. The Kremlin’s intent may be just to destroy or significantly degrade Ukraine’s military and undermine its broader strategic situation to achieve its aims. However, Russia also has activated some 100,000 additional reserve forces, which may be employed for a number of scenarios. Responding to a question from Co-Chairman Cohen, Lee observed that it was hard to determine the likelihood of a renewed Russian invasion, but that the risk is certainly greater than it has been at any point since the conflict began in 2014, and that the capabilities are all in theater for war. Co-Chairman Cohen also asked if the buildup today was proportionally similar to past buildups in 2014-2015, which was the last time Russian forces semi-overtly invaded Ukraine in large numbers. Lee replied that the current buildup is much more significant, though it is also true that the Ukrainian military is more capable today than it was in the past. Co-Chairman Cohen then inquired about past Russian casualties, which Lee described as being in the “hundreds” at least, though exact figures were not made publicly available. Co-Chairman Cohen then reiterated the gravity of the situation, and the seriousness with which he and the U.S. government was taking the issue. Cecire then introduced Dr. Maryna Vorotnyuk, who also made the point that the Russian regime’s full intentions were obscure, and not entirely knowable. However, she noted that the array of capabilities that the Kremlin has assembled on Ukraine’s border is suggestive, as are the demands the Kremlin has made in combination with the military buildup. On the latter point, she noted that there was an internal logic to Moscow linking its threatening posture over Ukraine with its demands with the West, because Russia’s war on Ukraine could be regarded as a kind of proxy war against the West as a whole. In a more comprehensive way, Russian demands seek a revised security architecture that would effectively undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine as well as other non-NATO states like Georgia, giving Russia free rein over its periphery. While this may be a nonstarter for the West, Dr. Vorotnyuk noted that Russia likely would settle for an accommodation from the West that would reduce Western involvement in the region and leave Ukraine and other countries weak and vulnerable to Russian pressure. While some may find such a route appealing, she noted, such a response would not likely lead to a more constructive Russia, and could even invite more aggression as Moscow’s intent was never solely about or limited to Ukraine. As such, it is important for the West to remain resolute in defending and advocating for Ukraine’s sovereignty. Katsiaryna Shmatsina spoke about Belarus’ role in the broader calculus. She recalled how, after Belarusian protests were being crushed by the regime, EU diplomatic leaders asked how Belarus might be used as an appendage of Russian strategic power. She noted that this appears to be the case in the ongoing episode with Ukraine, with the hybrid migrant crisis at the Belarusian border, the mooted possibility that Russian forces might use Belarusian territory to attack Ukraine, and the solidarity Russia has showed with the regime in Minsk through the flights of nuclear-capable bombers—suggesting that Belarus is not merely a side act, but a key element of Russian strategy in the region. For his part, Belarusian President Lukashenko has been severely weakened by the protests and his subsequent reliance on Russian support, leaving him nowhere else to turn and cementing Belarus’s place in the Kremlin’s alliance system and regional strategy. Shmastsina counseled that the situation in Belarus should merit greater international attention, particularly from the West, because it is inseparable from the ongoing military buildup in and around Ukraine and another aspect of Russia’s broader campaign against the West. Rep. Veasey noted that in a past visit to Ukraine, the assessment was that Russia was not necessarily interested in taking and holding territory and asked whether this view was still accurate. Dr. Vorotnyuk replied that this was very likely the case, but ultimately that the likely Russian aim was to permanently weaken Ukraine and be able to “veto” its alignments with the West. Particular territorial objectives could also be under consideration, such as a land corridor from the Donbas to Crimea—both of which Russia already holds—or a particular city, such as Odesa, and its port access to the Black Sea. Rep. Veasey then asked why Ukraine, but not Georgia, was being targeted in this way. Lee responded that Georgia no longer threatens to retake the Russia-held separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force, and that Ukraine is a much larger country with a more capable military and economic capacity, which holds a unique place in Russia’s historical narrative. Rep. Veasey then raised the issue of corruption, which continues to be seen as a major issue in Ukraine as compared to, for example, Georgia, and asked whether this is a serious problem. Dr. Vorotnyuk noted that it was a major issue, but that it is not a justification for Russian aggression, and that Western assistance with Ukraine is very much helping to address issues like corruption and democratic governance. Related Information Panelist Biographies

  • Helsinki Commission Welcomes Passage of Trap Provision in 2022 National Defense Authorization Act

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today welcomed the passage of the Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention (TRAP) provision as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022. “By co-opting and undermining the rule of law to harass and intimidate dissidents and political opponents, corrupt regimes threaten our national security,” said Chairman Cardin. “Our provision will make it U.S. policy to fight exploitation of INTERPOL, including by naming and shaming member states that abuse its mechanisms. This amendment will protect the United States, our allies, and all those fighting or fleeing authoritarian regimes from extraterritorial and extrajudicial abuse.” “We’ve seen time and again how corrupt dictators take advantage of INTERPOL to intimidate and harass those who expose their immoral deeds, even after they have fled their homes and their country in search of safety,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “The TRAP provision will protect these dissidents and ensure that our own institutions are not used against us—or them.” “There is no reason for any democracy, especially the United States, to be forced to play a part in authoritarian regimes’ blatant abuse of INTERPOL Red Notices,” said Sen. Wicker. “I am pleased Congress has taken action to name publicly the abusers, such as Russia and China, and prevent American law enforcement from having to do the dirty work of these repressive autocrats.” “INTERPOL should enable us to crack down on criminals worldwide,” said Rep. Wilson. “Instead, the criminals have taken over the institution, using it to target those who oppose them. The TRAP provision will protect the United States from this abuse and ensure that we do everything we can to restore the rule of law to INTERPOL.” “Increasing transparency and accountability at INTERPOL underscores the bipartisan commitment of the United States Senate to push back against countries, large or small, seeking to distort legitimate law enforcement cooperation to instead pursue political opponents or personal vendettas,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This new provision will strengthen protections for human rights defenders, political dissidents, and journalists, and pave the way for the international community to join the United States in pressing for reforms and standing against the abuse of INTERPOL Red Notices by China and Russia, among others.” The Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention (TRAP) Act was introduced in 2021 in the Senate by Sen. Wicker and Chairman Cardin and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Co-Chairman Cohen and Rep. Wilson. The legislation makes fighting abuse of INTERPOL a key goal of the United States at the organization, mandates that the United States name the worst abusers of INTERPOL and examine its own strategy to fight INTERPOL abuse, and protects the U.S. judicial system from authoritarian abuse.

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