Vienna, Austria (AP) – A contentious OSCE parliamentary meeting ended Friday with a condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – with Russian delegates accusing the West of blocking dialogue by arming Kiev.
The OSCE’s 57-nation Parliamentary Assembly brought together lawmakers from member states – including Russia – to discuss security and human rights issues at its annual winter gathering, which coincided with the anniversary of the invasion.
Ukraine and Lithuania boycotted the meeting in Vienna because of the presence of six Russian delegates, who received entry visas from Austria despite being subject to EU and US sanctions.
“We think it is immoral to sit in the same hall with war criminals who openly support the genocide in Ukraine,” Yevgenia Kravchuk, a Ukrainian lawmaker from the Servant of the People Party, told the Associated Press in Vienna.
Kravchuk said Russia had “violated every letter” of the OSCE’s founding document and should be suspended from the organization.
Russian delegates told reporters in Vienna that their country was crucial to the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was founded during the Cold War and helped ease tensions between East and West by providing a platform for dialogue.
State Duma deputy speaker Pyotr Tolstoy, head of the Russian delegation, said: “Addressing European security problems without Europe’s largest country is not possible.”
He accused the West of preventing dialogue by supporting Ukraine on the battlefield and asked whether Russia should continue paying its annual contribution to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Vladimir Dzhbarov, deputy head of the Russian delegation, noted that Russia was a founding member of the organization.
“They won’t be able to get us out the door,” he said, adding that if Russia were to be isolated, a new security organization would have to be set up in Europe.
Controversy over Russia’s participation overshadowed the two-day meeting and underscored the paralysis of the OSCE since the start of the war.
The Russian delegation was sitting with Belarusian lawmakers in the last row of a conference room inside Austria’s former imperial palace, the Hofburg, which was decorated with Ukrainian ribbons and banners. Many of the Western delegates wore the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.
While the Russian participants were speaking during the session, some delegates walked out or waved Ukrainian flags.
In a statement released at the end of the meeting, the assembly’s president, vice-presidents and other officials denounced Russia’s “war of aggression against Ukraine as clear, gross and unrectified violations” of OSCE obligations.
Association president Margareta Sederfelt said she felt sympathy for “the fact that some members find it intolerable to sit in the same room with their abusers”.
Austria’s government has said that as the host country of the OSCE it is legally obligated to grant visas to representatives of all member states – even those under international sanctions.
The OSCE has a wide-ranging mission including conflict prevention, human rights, election monitoring and arms control. The Parliamentary Assembly is a separate body of the organization.
The OSCE’s work stalled in the past year, as Russia halted all major decisions, including adopting the budget and refusing to agree to Lithuania taking over the group’s rotating presidency in 2024.
Russia also vetoed an extension of the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, the main OSCE operation in Ukraine that was involved in monitoring a shaky ceasefire in the country’s east before last year’s full-scale invasion.
Ukraine wants to change the rules of the Parliamentary Assembly so that any OSCE member who starts a war against someone else can be suspended from membership.
Kravchuk, the Ukrainian MP, said the current rules were set at a time when “all countries respect the borders and sovereignty of other countries and do not come with planes and tanks to take their own.”
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
“Lifelong food lover. Avid beeraholic. Zombie fanatic. Passionate travel practitioner.”