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Moscow Should Engage the OSCE in Resolving the Chechen Problem

The following op-ed by Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) was published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta February 10, 2004.

Having been propelled from relative obscurity to the presidency of the Russian Federation four years ago, Vladimir Putin is the undisputed leader of his country. His power further consolidated by recent, albeit flawed parliamentary elections, Putin is poised to secure a second mandate in presidential elections scheduled for mid-March. However, with his position secure, the question remains as to how President Putin will wield his considerable power to shape Russia domestically and internationally. The role Russia chooses to play in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will also be an important indicator of the degree to which President Putin is interested in pursuing productive partnership with the West.

Federation Council International Relations Chairman Margelov recently suggested that the OSCE no longer served Russia’s interests. He suggests that the raison d’etre for the OSCE — which consisted originally in Soviet willingness to discuss democratization and human rights in return for Western agreement to arms control talks — became invalid with the end of the Cold War. Furthermore, he argues that NATO’s preponderance in political-military issues, combined with the EU’s weight on economic issues, has turned the OSCE’s previous multidimensional approach to a geographically and functionally discriminating emphasis on democracy in the former Soviet space. But this is a false argument, since it is also in Russia’s interest that its neighbors become stable and prosperous democracies. Rather than being viewed as a challenge to Russia’s interests, OSCE principles and standards – which Moscow helped shape over the years – should be seen as essential tools in strengthening security at home and abroad. As such, the OSCE provides an important and useful framework for building a stronger Russia and enhancing its leadership. Russia should use the organization to its own advantage, and our common democratic agenda, rather than seeing it as a threat to Russian interests.

Indeed, we have many times seen that when Russia chooses to play a positive role it can be the best of partners, actively cooperating with OSCE efforts to combat international terrorism and human trafficking, and promoting a strong role for the organization in economic and environmental affairs. From the first, Russian military forces have played a valuable role in post-Dayton peacekeeping operations in the Balkans.

Recent steps by President Putin and the Duma to strengthen legislation against the plague of human trafficking is a timely example of positive leadership Russia can exert on a pressing human rights issue. Such steps are not only in the best interest of the Russian people, but enhance Russia’s standing and prestige throughout the world. The same can be said for President Putin’s strong statements condemning anti-Semitism.

At home, President Putin’s stated objective is to build a “united Russia.” If this is to be more than a mere slogan, he will have to choose between pursuing this goal by either fostering freedom or resorting to force –i.e. embracing elements of pluralistic civil society or marginalizing, if not eliminating, them. A rapidly disappearing independent national broadcast media, actions against human rights and pro-democracy NGOs, and manipulations of elections must be reversed in keeping with Russia’s OSCE commitments if the country is to play the leadership role that it could and should play. Those commitments offer a far better blueprint for progress and prosperity than does the misguided notion of so-called “managed democracy” popular among some political circles close to Putin.

The OSCE can also be an important resource for resolving issues of concern to the international community. Moscow should seriously engage the OSCE in efforts to bring about a political solution to the current Chechen conflict now entering its fifth year. Although Russia pledged to withdraw its forces from the Transdniestria region of Moldova at the 1999 OSCE Summit, those troops have not been withdrawn and efforts to reach a settlement have been complicated by Russian “free-lance” negotiating outside the agreed international framework. Russian forces also remain deployed on the ground in Georgia, a policy which has tended to exacerbate the situation in that country rent by conflict and division. Blatant assistance to separatists in Georgia makes Russia look like a bully and a troublemaker and lowers her prestige internationally. Russian status was further undermined by the contretemps with Ukraine over Tuzla Island in late October.

Russia has considerable assets at its disposal – including a seasoned diplomatic corps – to advance the aims of the OSCE in overcoming the legacy of the past and enhancing security through the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. But through steps like those recounted above, Moscow has raised questions about her intentions and created concern, lowering her ability to persuade OSCE partners of her positive political motivations in the region.

The comprehensive nature and membership of the OSCE offer Russia a unique framework within which to enhance security while advancing cooperation. When Russia has been a creative, energetic partner in the organization, the Russian people have gained respect and strength.

Our common goal in 2004 should be to seek ways to strengthen cooperation. Everyone will gain.

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