The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly held its 22nd Winter Meeting in Vienna last week against the backdrop of Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine and delivered a clear message of support for Ukrainian victory and condemnation of Russian aggression. The meeting coincided with the solemn anniversary of Russia’s invasion. Over the course of two days, the Assembly underscored the profound isolation of the Russian and Belarusian delegations, which were participating in an in-person PA gathering for the first time since the start of the war. Through unequivocal statements, coordinated walkouts, and the ubiquitous display of Ukrainian flags, an overwhelming number of the people’s representatives of the OSCE demonstrated that they stand firmly and resolutely with Ukraine’s defense of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Led by Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the U.S. delegation participated in the Winter Meeting alongside 219 delegates from 49 OSCE countries. Other members of the U.S. delegation were Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), as well as Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC-09), and Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX-33). Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX-37) also joined the delegation.
The U.S. delegation played a central role in ensuring that the meeting focused on confronting Russia’s era-defining aggression against Ukraine.
At the opening plenary session, Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Steve Cohen articulated the U.S. delegation’s purpose for participating in the Winter Meeting in the presence of Russian legislators: namely, to call out Russian lies about Vladimir Putin’s war, demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine, and identify means to pursue victory for Ukraine and accountability for Russia. Rep. Cohen said the delegation would “defend Ukraine and speak up for them and see that the war crimes committed against them—the genocide committed against them—[are] rectified and brought to light.”
Rep. Hudson, Chairman of the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, set the tone for debate in the committee by stating in his opening remarks that “we stand united in support of Ukraine and in condemnation of Russia’s aggression. Everyone here should know that this support is strong, it’s genuine, and it will endure as long as necessary to see a free, sovereign, independent and thriving Ukraine and full accountability for aggressors.” During the committee’s open debate, Rep. Wilson described how “a year later, far from defeat, Ukraine is resilient and resurgent, having pushed back the invaders, liberated territories, and rallied its forces and people.” In pledging support for Ukrainian victory, he vowed “there will be no new Iron Curtain drawn across Europe.”
U.S. delegates used their participation in sidebar meetings of the PA’s ad hoc committees on migration and countering terrorism to maintain pressure on Russia for displacing and perpetrating terrorism against civilians. At the Migration committee, Rep. Jackson Lee addressed the plight of children forced to migrate or abducted to Russian territory by Russian forces. At the Countering Terrorism committee, Rep. Veasey briefed fellow parliamentarians on congressional efforts to designate Russia’s Wagner Group a terrorist organization, and urged other legislatures to follow suit.
Speaking as OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners, Rep. Cohen also addressed a side-event organized by the Swedish delegation, featuring Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Also on the margins of the Winter Meeting, the U.S. delegation organized a closed-door, multilateral meeting with the Ukrainian delegation, which opted not to participate in the PA session because of Russia’s presence. The meeting also convened Heads of Delegation from Canada, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Poland, and the United Kingdom to discuss means of supporting Ukraine in the PA and in national legislatures. At the conclusion of the meeting, many participants endorsed a joint press release that urged “the PA to host annual sessions and meetings in OSCE participating States prepared to block the participation of Russia’s representatives.”
The U.S. delegation also held bilateral meetings with members of the Armenian, Austrian, and Romanian delegations, focused on further isolating Russia across multiple international fronts.
U.S. delegates maintained their unwavering focus on Ukraine at the General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology, and Environment. Rep. Veasey took the floor to highlight the environmental consequences of Russia’s war. “In a world already struggling with climate change,” he lamented, “the destruction of power stations, utilities, and infrastructure leads to the least sustainable alternatives to survive.” Rep. Doggett underlined the geopolitical urgency of the world’s green energy transformation. “Ending our reliance on fossil fuels will not only save our planet,” he said, “but, more immediately, save us all from the blackmail of petro-dictatorships,” like Russia.
During debate in the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Questions, Rep. Aderholt enumerated the breadth of atrocities committed by Russian forces, including “targeting of civilians; torture; attacks on residential buildings, schools, places of worship, and critical infrastructure, including nuclear powerplants; the abduction of Ukrainian children to Russia for forced assimilation and adoption; sexual violence; destruction of cultural property; and imposed lack of access to food and water.” Calling for urgent legislative action to address Russia’s abduction of more than 17,000 Ukrainian children, Rep. Jackson Lee told the committee: “right now, as we speak, Russia is perpetrating genocide…this is genocide according to the 1948 Genocide Convention.” In a special debate the following day, Rep. Jackson Lee demanded Russia return the children of Ukraine to their homeland.
On the last day of the meeting, the OSCE PA held a special debate on Ukraine to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Opening the session, OSCE PA President Margareta Cederfelt announced that a joint declaration on Ukraine, an initiative of the U.S. delegation, had been unanimously endorsed by the PA Bureau (a body of the Assembly’s elected officers) and would be released as the concluding document of the Winter Meeting.
As Head of the U.S. delegation, Sen. Cardin spoke in support of this “Joint Statement of Action on the One-Year Anniversary of Russia’s War Against Ukraine and the International Legal Order.” Echoing the document’s language, Sen. Cardin vowed “to uphold Ukraine’s fully justified defense, never recognize Russia’s illegal occupation, continue to isolate Russia, including the use of Magnitsky-type individual sanctions against those complicit in Mr. Putin’s war of aggression and to seek accountability…particularly as it relates to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide perpetrated against the Ukrainian people.”
Later in the day, Sen. Cardin addressed the heads of all national delegations and the elected leadership of the Assembly as Special Representative on Antisemitism, Racism, and Intolerance, noting that Putin’s perverse justification for his war in Ukraine as a “de-Nazification” campaign trivializes the real threat of rising antisemitism in the OSCE region.
Rep. Cohen also addressed the Assembly in his capacity as Special Representative on Political Prisoners, highlighting linkages between Putin’s legacy of harsh domestic repression and his global aggression. To loud applause, Rep. Cohen implored the Russian government to release political prisoners and end the war immediately: “Save your people! Bring them home!”