Lamberto Zannier: “Ukraine must protect itself. It should not become a victim of the clash of the EU and Eurasian Union policies. Therefore, a strong internal dialogue is important”

24 April 2014, 13:01

OSCE monitors are currently in working in Eastern Ukraine, including cities like Sloviansk in Donetsk Oblast that are on the verge of turning into local “warzones”. Their task is to assess the situation on the ground. Getting there was not easy for OSCE monitors. Earlier, unarmed military observers from OSCE participating States tried to get to Crimea but were prevented by people wearing Russian military uniforms and local “self-defence” units. Monitoring the situation in other cities across Ukraine, from Odesa and Kherson in the south to Ivano-Frankivsk and Chernivtsi in the west, seems far less challenging. OSCE participating states are about to send 1,000 observers for the upcoming presidential election in Ukraine due on May 25. 100 of them are already here, working as part of the long-term mission and monitoring the election campaign. OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier has recently visited Ukraine to speak at the Kyiv Security Forum. The Ukrainian Week spoke to him about the OSCE mission for the presidential election, the way the current crisis is changing the role of international organizations including the OSCE in the world, and about circumstances that would force it to revise its current toolbox

U.W.: The guarantors to the Budapest Memorandum have failed to meet their obligations in the current crisis? This severely undermines the system of international agreements, borders and security. Does the international community need a new system or agreement to ensure territorial integrity and security of countries like Ukraine in conflicts like the one we are witnessing now?

Frankly, we have what we need in the international community. Internationally, stability is based on a number of things. Rules are one part. The political process and dialogue are another part.

What went wrong in this case is the political process and certain interpretation of some principles. If this interpretation becomes a precedent, it will be a very worrying one. It could be applicable to many situations all over the world if we start saying that self-determination has a higher priority over the constitutional order of a state. So, I think there has to be a debate on this issue. But this debate is a political process and what we are seeing in the common European space is confrontation. This is confrontation of policies – between the EU and its enlargement policy on the one hand, and the concept of the Eurasian Union on the other.  These concepts are not being developed in a coordinated manner, but appear to compete and to generate divisions. Ukraine is exactly on the fault line between the two. Subsequently, the risk for Ukraine is that of internal stability.

As an international community, we should do two things. There are roles that specific groups play. One group can impose sanctions against another, exercising the policy of power, if you will. The other thing is to work on the political level in order to find ways and solutions to the issues on the table. So, on the one hand you have a clash, on the other you need to have a positive element.

RELATED ARTICLE: Western Role in Ukraine's Turmoil

The OSCE is a good tool for the second element. Sanctions are not something we discuss in the OSCE. The OSCE is a framework that can try and look for solutions. In that context, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office has proposed to set up a contact group, and we have seen that materialize (Didier Burkhalter, OSCE Chairman-in-Office for 2014, initiated the establishment of an international contact group as a potential platform for coordination and sharing information on assessments of the situation on the ground – Ed.).

The other important element is that Ukraine must protect itself. It should not become a victim of this clash. Because of that it is important that Ukraine really engages in a strong internal dialogue. I have seen the reaction of the public to some statements of a representative of a certain part of the country (this refers to the speech by ex-vice premier and Party of Regions member Oleksandr Vilkul at the Kyiv Security Forum in April where he said that “Ukraine is where the future of Europe and the world, and the mechanisms for preserving the balance of relations of the biggest political and military interstate powers are being designed now”, so it is of utmost importance to “preserve traditional markets for Ukraine and find the new ones”, as well as for the central authorities to “hear the regions”. He also underscored the need to implement a mechanism to decentralize power – Ed.). I don’t think that the fundamentals of what he said were wrong. The Party of Regions representative referred to the need to preserve the unity of Ukraine and said that Crimea is Ukraine, but also expressed views that others did not agree with. This shows that the basic elements are there, but there are differences that need to be solved. So, there is a need for an internal dialogue that should be unifying. That’s the level where, I think the international community can help Ukraine to have this dialogue and try to defend stability and sovereignty.

RELATED ARTICLE: Bringing Eastern Ukraine Back Into the Fold

If the current situation continues or aggravates over time – and I’m not talking about Ukraine alone – this could affect the entire geostrategic area where we operate. Then we would have to rethink the way our institutions function, including the OSCE. We may need to reform some processes. There is a serious debate that has surfaced again on whether we should act as an organization that is based on the concept of consensus so that all decisions are made by everybody. Some start saying that maybe we should move to consensus minus one that would include isolating the country and taking decisions against it. That’s a very drastic move and it would take a very difficult debate. But it shows that there are some who think that the tools we have now are not functioning properly anymore and we should revise them.

U.W.: We have heard threats not only to Ukraine from Russia, but to its other neighbours. Do you have any proactive rather than reactive solution agendas to these threats?

We always work against every display of threat or force. That is the basic principle. For instance, in the Geneva negotiations we worked to encourage Russia to come up with the declaration on the non-use of force in relation to the situation in the Georgian region[1].

When it comes to relationships between neighbouring countries, we have principles for those too. We discuss issues. In the past, we have had discussions on Russia’s military exercise close to the borders of one of its neighbours, Latvia[2]. That’s something that we continue. We will try to deal with similar situations using the toolbox we have.

RELATED ARTICLE: Ukrainian Revolution: Western Perspective, Western Influence and Western Contribution

The role that organizations like the OSCE can play is to try to introduce the element of transparency and deescalate the crises. But we see the risk that threats on the one hand and military reinforcement on the other can escalate crises. Unfortunately, we are now entering the logic whereby demonstration of force or attempts to use it are becoming normal. The OSCE now sees that the tone of discussions has changed, growing more antagonistic. I remember being involved in the CSCE (the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe created as a predecessor of the OSCE to serve as a multilateral platform for a dialogue between East and West from the 1970s until the early 1990s – Ed.) during the Cold War. Some of the things I heard lately remind me of some rhetoric during the Cold War. This is unfortunate but we see this emerging. Therefore, we need to strengthen mechanisms that allow us to address this. The CSCE, as a predecessor of the OSCE, was particularly tailored to maintain this controversial dialogue during the Cold War and maybe it is becoming important again today. Every day, we have meetings where Russia, Ukraine and everybody else sits at the table and discusses the issues in not an easy way. However, we at least have everyday engagement.

U.W.: Do you already have a head of the observer mission for the upcoming presidential election? Is the OSCE mission planning to arrive in advance and stay during the vote count, not just for the election day, in order to observe the entire process?

We have two parts of the mission. One is the long-term mission that already has an appointed head. It has around 100 people who will be doing exactly that: monitoring the campaign and access of the media to it, making sure that there is no improper use of state resources for the campaign, looking at how impartial is the Central Election Commission and the like. That will make a large part of our assessment report.

We will also have a short-term mission of 900 more people coming for three-four days to monitor the process of the voting and counting.


Lamberto Zannier is an Italian career diplomat. He took up the post of OSCE Secretary General in June 2011. In 2008-2011, he was UN Special Representative for Kosovo and Head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). In 2002-2006, Mr. Zannier served as Director of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Centre. Previously, he had been Permanent Representative of Italy to the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague, chairperson of the talks on the adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, and Head of Disarmament, Arms Control and Cooperative Security at NATO


[1] Geneva International Discussions focus on the consequences of the 2008 conflict in Georgia. The aim is to encourage Russia to engage in further dialogue that will bring it closer to Georgia in making a legally binding commitment to the non-use of force and to stop the construction of fences and other obstacles along administrative boundary lines in Georgia between the territory administered by the government in Tbilisi and the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which continues to this day

[2] This refers to the Zapad 2009 military exercise Russia held close to the Latvian frontiers in Belarus. According to the then Defence Minister of Lavtia, the drill was to rehearse an invasion to the Baltic States via liberation of the “encircled Kaliningrad”. The OSCE’s response toolbox to that included the Vienna Document 2011 signed by 57 member-states, including Russia and Latvia, whereby the signatories commit to sharing information about their military forces annually, including about deployment plans and military budgets; notifying each other ahead of time about major military activities such as exercises; and accepting up to three inspections of their military sites per year. They are also encouraged to voluntarily host military visits to dispel concerns. This year, unarmed OSCE member-state monitors tried to visit Crimea under the abovementioned provisions albeit with little success

Korbut Anna

This is Articte sidebar