The mark of Russia in international political organizations
One of Russia’s more successful instruments in its “new gen” war against Ukraine is using political leverage in international organizations and business circles. In this way, Moscow manages to lobby its own interests and effectively covers its war crimes.
Ukraine felt Russia’s hand in international law from the beginning of the annexation of Crimea. Russia’s right of veto as a permanent member of the UN Security Council allowed it to block all real actions over the peninsula. Nothing has hasn’t changed since then, leaving global response to the illegal land grab at the level of “deeply concerned” and “extremely worried.” The former UN ambassador for Russia, Vitali Churkin, was especially successful, consistently and persistently denying Moscow’s involvement in any actions against Ukraine. One important element in his work was establishing a parallel reality for foreign audiences. Those who weren’t very knowledgeable about the nature of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict could easily believe Churkin’s confident speeches about “nazis in charge” in Kyiv, who “came to power as the result of an armed coup,” and their “crimes against civilians,” about the “need to protect Russian speakers,” and so on. Later he just as easily and boldly blamed Kyiv for the shooting down of Malaysian Airline’s Flight MH-17.
His successor, Vasili Nebenzya, a man notorious for his highly undiplomatic behavior, is no different. Taking advantage of its status, Russia uses the UN Security Council as platform for its conspiracy theories, first against Ukraine, then against Syria and eventually even to such events as the Salisbury poisoning. Initially all statements are aimed at denying any connection: Russia is not guilty of anything and does not deserve to be penalized with sanctions. Once the evidence becomes more convincing, come the complaints about how the entire world does that kind of thing, but especially the US, does the same thing without any penalties. With its veto power, Russia is also able to block the efforts of the UNSC and stops any initiatives that might really affect the situation in Donbas or Crimea, such as the idea of a UN peacekeeping mission. What’s particularly obvious is how those countries that depend on Russia, whether for energy supplies or other joint projects, like Belarus or Venezuela, vote in the UNGA. Thus, Moscow not only abuses international consensual systems, but has also established around itself a criminal lobby to support its positions. No less important is that fact that, in this way, all reforms of the United Nations itself and revisions of rules are voted down.
A similar situation can be seen with the OSCE. Here, too, Russia exploits the principles of mandatory consensus in decision-making that in this organization means getting 57 countries to all agree. It was clear as well, when Russians were actively involved in the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission in eastern Ukraine. Russian citizens form the fifth largest group of representatives in the SMM. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Pavlo Klimkin, rightly pointed out: “We’re 100% certain that all the Russian in this mission are working for their secret service.” This was even more obvious when personal data about SMM members was leaked in summer 2018. The leak consisted of a few hundred documents that included the names of the employees, their habits and preferences, which could later have been used for recruiting purposes whenever convenient. There were also reports of another leak of data about the equipment at the various bases and observation posts, including the placement of OSCE video cameras.
The same question could be asked of other countries’ representatives: the one-time coordinator of the Donetsk office of the SMM OSCE was a certain Lt.-Col. Olga Skripovska, who ended up in the middle of a scandal when photographs appeared with her wearing the orange and black “colorado” ribbon during the May 9, 2010, parade in Balti, Moldova. Although there is no concrete evidence of her collaboration with members of DNR, SMM observer visits and subsequent attacks by the Russian proxies on Ukrainian positions appeared to be strangely coincidental more than once. From time to time, social nets also had information about SMM observers frequenting the most expensive restaurants in Donetsk, although, once again, there is no official confirmation of this. And there are plenty of photographs of OSCE representatives warmly greeting or simply spending time with DNR/LNR militants. Possibly this is why the now-former SMM head of mission Alexander Hug said in an interview that he had not observe the presence of Russian military but only saw individuals in Russian uniforms with Russian insignia and columns of military equipment, including the latest in electronic warfare equipment manufactured exclusively in Russia, illegally crossing the Ukrainian-Russian border. Of course, he retracted his statement the day after the interview was published. In defense of the OSCE, it has to be stated that the organization really does not have the authority to determine whose units are stationed on Ukrainian territory. This is the job of the international court for whom the observers are only collecting evidence. At the same time, after the killing of several members of the mission in Donbas, there has been a noticeable improvement in the objectivity of the organization’s reports. Observers are more willing now to register the presence of Russian equipment and the nature of the shooting going on. Perhaps the arrival of a new deputy chief monitor, former British paratrooper Mark Etherington, has also had a positive impact on the effectiveness of the mission.
The situation with PACE is somewhat different. There, the Russian Federation lost its voting rights back in 2014. Still, Moscow has not stopped its efforts to either influence voting or to return to the Assembly as a full-fledged member in order to stop anti-Russian sanctions. For instance, at the end of September 2018, RF representatives tried to promote changes to the rules of voting, to change the requirement from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority of those present at the time of a vote. Moscow added a bit of blackmail by threatening to stop paying its dues to the Council of Europe. Luckily for Ukraine, these propositions were rejected. Still, there is no guarantee at all that there could be a repeat of this vote at a time when Russia is able to either persuade or pay off more supporters.
With Interpol, Ukraine has also met with some successes. On November 21, South Korean Kim Jong Yang was elected the new head of the organization. His main rival for the post was Russian prosecutor Aleksandr Prokopchuk. The need to elect a new head had come up under bizarre circumstances, after the mysterious kidnapping of the previous head, Meng Hongwei, while he was vacationing in China – another country that, like Russia, has a very idiosyncratic attitude towards international law. Afterwards, Hongwei tendered his resignation, although it’s not known whether this was voluntary or forced, and is currently under investigation in China for bribery and corruption.
American human rights activist and international campaigner for the Magnitsky Act Bill Browder told The Ukrainian Week at the time, “To call the possible election of Aleksandr Prokopchuk as head of Interpol a catastrophe would be putting it extremely mildly.” He noted that the Russian prosecutor had personally been responsible for the issuing of hundreds of arrest warrants against enemies of the Putin regime, with seven red notices issued for Browder’s arrest alone by Interpol ever since he began campaigning to get the Magnitsky Act passed in the US in 2012.
In contrast to the high-profile Browder, whose arrest in Madrid turned into an international scandal and was quickly resolved, some activists have been less lucky. For instance, Pyotr Silayev, a Russian writer, was granted political asylum in inland in April 2012, but that same August he was arrested at the request of Russian prosecutors that went through Interpol channels.
Interpol statutes include provisions that expressly prohibit member countries from abusing their powers for political purposes. These rules include the option of excluding any country that systematically violates this principle. However, there has never been a case in Interpol’s history, so far, that these provisions were applied. Browder believes that this is the right moment to apply these rules to Russia. After all, the number of red notices Moscow issued nearly doubled in 2016. “Putin has no respect at all and flexes his criminal muscles for all the world to see,” Browder pointed out, saying it was high time to prevent further crimes by the Russian president, as Putin was using international law enforcement agencies as tools to further his own purposes.
Right now, Moscow is fairly successful at exploiting the main vulnerabilities of the civilized world: freedom of expression and the need to seek democratic consensus. Russia does this through either bought politicians or useful idiots who it uses covertly. Whether the western world is prepared to partly renege on its values for the sake of preserving international order and justice is an open question. So far, the lack of an appropriate response has been working in favor of the aggressor and untying his hands even further, as the latest incident in the Sea of Azov has shown.