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Prof Stefan Wolff

Senior Research Fellow

Stefan Wolff is Professor of International Security and Head of the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham. His work focuses on international conflict management, especially in the context of geopolitics and great power rivalries in the post-Soviet space. He is Co-Coordinator of the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions, a Senior Research Fellow at the Foreign Policy Centre, and the founding editor of Ethnopolitics. He has published over 80 journal articles and book chapters, as well as 20 books, including Ethnic Conflict: A Global Perspective (Oxford University Press 2007). Wolff is also a regular international affairs contributor to The Conversation. He holds degrees from the University of Leipzig (Erstes Staatsexamen), the University of Cambridge (M.Phil.), and the LSE (Ph.D.).

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 7337 [post_author] => 85 [post_date] => 2024-02-22 10:37:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-02-22 09:37:15 [post_content] => As the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine heads into its third year, the Euro-Asian and Euro-Atlantic security orders remain deeply unsettled, and there is little prospect of their imminent restabilisation. This is nowhere more obvious than in relation to the OSCE—the sole remaining, yet barely surviving collective security mechanism created at the height of the Cold War with a view to managing relations between East and West in ways that would avoid all-out military confrontation. Last year’s Ministerial Council avoided the complete collapse of the Organisation, but only just. And it did not resolve several of the fundamental institutional impasses that have been apparent for some time. This includes a lack of a unified budget since 2021, and hence an increasing dependency on so-called extra-budgetary contributions from individual participating States. The top-four positions in the OSCE, including the Secretary General, have only been extended for nine months, rather than the customary three years, thus foreshadowing the next leadership crisis in the run-up to the expiry of this briefly extended lifeline. All the while OSCE staff in Vienna and in the field operations from the Balkans to Moldova, and Central Asia have worked hard to keep the Organisation going and its mission—comprehensive, cooperative security—alive. Beyond the headlines of the Ukraine war, their day-to-day efforts make real contributions to security and stability across the OSCE area. In their work, they address the broader security needs of states and societies including when it comes to protracted conflicts and instability in Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, and the South Caucasus; emerging security risks, such as the climate emergency, natural resource scarcity (particularly water), new patterns of migration, and the aggravation of food and energy security problems; and the risks that disinformation poses to social cohesion and societal stability. The OSCE is not the mechanism to ‘fix’ any one of these problems on its own, but if its participating States would muster the requisite political will, the Organisation could certainly make a meaningful contribution to their management—because it (still) has the tools, staff, and institutional knowledge and understanding to do so. With some modest investment of political and financial resources, early-warning and early-action capabilities could be upgraded, allowing the OSCE to deploy its considerable mediation and dialogue facilitation capabilities on the ground to prevent conflict escalations. Similarly, when it comes to emerging security risks, the OSCE has access to know-how and expertise that can be mobilised for knowledge creation and knowledge transfer to enable affected participating States to address the risks they are facing. In relation to information security, the OSCE, especially through its field operations, could contribute to ‘restoring’ the perceived value of scientific knowledge and expertise to inform public debates and decision-making by facilitating and encouraging dialogue between the academic/think tank community and civil servants, elected representatives, and media professionals. None of this should detract from the importance of the war against Ukraine and the role that OSCE can play in supporting Ukraine in mitigating the consequences of Russia’s aggression. But it is important to remember that the Organisation’s continued relevance, and functionality, as a platform for dialogue among 57 participating States extends beyond this war. Professor Stefan Wolff is a FPC Senior Research Fellow. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre. [post_title] => Two years on: The war has left the OSCE in peril, but the institution is worthy of reinvestment [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => two-years-on-the-war-has-left-the-osce-in-peril-but-the-institution-is-worthy-of-reinvestment [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-02-22 12:03:18 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-02-22 11:03:18 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 7290 [post_author] => 85 [post_date] => 2024-02-05 00:01:17 [post_date_gmt] => 2024-02-04 23:01:17 [post_content] => When Malta was confirmed as the OSCE’s Chairpersonship-in-Office (CiO) at the Skopje Ministerial Council in December 2023, the inter-governmental organisation’s prospects for survival increased.[1] After all, protracted negotiations over the next Chair—a role without which the OSCE cannot function—had dragged on for months and raised the spectre of the OSCE’s possible demise.[2] With Russia adamant in its opposition to Estonia’s candidacy, Austria was briefly considered as a possible alternative before Malta emerged as the frontrunner, after Moscow signalled its preference for a non-NATO member to take on the role.[3] Yet, while a Chair is essential for the survival of the OSCE, it cannot guarantee its functionality. As primus inter pares, it is primarily responsible for co-ordinating the political dialogue of the participating States and their consultations on ongoing OSCE business.[4] Apart from the Chair, the other top-four leadership positions—Secretary General, High Commissioner on National Minorities, Representative on Freedom of the Media, and Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights—have had their mandates only renewed for an unprecedented, and awkward, nine months, rather than the customary three years or at least hoped-for 12 months. While senior positions like those of the Director of the Conflict Prevention Centre and of the Coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Affairs have been filled, that of the Director of the Office of the Secretary General remains vacant, and two of the OSCE field operations are currently only led by acting heads. Nor has the OSCE had an agreed budget since 2021; instead, it is surviving on monthly allocations based on the last agreed budget, and increasingly on extra-budgetary contributions from predominantly western participating States and the EU, including for the OSCE Secretariat Extra-Budgetary Support Programme for Ukraine.[5] For the last two years the OSCE’s profound institutional crisis, which had been brewing in the decade since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, has played out against the background of the war in Ukraine. While Russia’s war of aggression has been the main issue on the OSCE’s agenda, there has been no shortage of conflict and instability elsewhere across the OSCE region. Kazakhstan saw turmoil just before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan experienced significant unrest in Karakalpakstan and Gorno-Badakhshan.[6] Despite some recent progress, there are still unresolved border issues between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which escalated into major violence as recently as September 2022.[7] Azerbaijan retook Nagorno-Karabakh by force, displacing many of the territory’s Armenian residents in the process.[8] Tensions, fuelled and exploited by Moscow, have also grown in Moldova, including with the separatist Transnistrian region.[9] Moreover, there are recurring tensions between Serbia and Kosovo.[10] Little wonder then that Malta’s priorities as CiO are focused on strengthening the resilience of the OSCE and enhancing security across the region.[11] These priorities, set for the year ahead, are ambitious by any measure, and even more so in light of the challenges that the OSCE and its participating States face. They can be read as a call for political dialogue and action, while they also reflect the deep contradictions that the organisation as a whole is dealing with. While it is absolutely essential that the CiO should “aim to facilitate and deliver decisions that leave the organisation more prepared and flexible to meet current and emerging challenges”, it is hard to see how this will be possible while Malta also vows to “continue to demand Russia’s full and immediate withdrawal from the entire territory of Ukraine.” The commitment to “condemn breaches of our commitments, and help ensure accountability” is laudable. While not inevitable, it is likely to signal the continuation of the “no business as usual” approach which has sought to isolate Russia in the OSCE, rather than a carefully managed balance between calling out Russian violations of international law and maintaining open lines of communication with Moscow. There can be no doubt that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in 2014 and then escalated into a full-scale war of aggression on 24th February 2022, was a grave breach of international law and the Helsinki Decalogue. However, it would be a fantasy to assume that the OSCE is a community of like-minded states when it comes to the interpretation of what exactly the Helsinki commitments mean. In fact, when the OSCE’s forerunner, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), was established in 1975 it was precisely with the acknowledgement that participating States did not see eye to eye, and were often actively opposing each other, on many of these issues and that a forum for dialogue was needed to mediate and mitigate disagreements. The war in Ukraine is an unprecedented crisis for the OSCE and thus a significant challenge for the CiO to manage, making business as usual impossible.[12] Yet the continued survival of the Organisation as Europe’s only all-inclusive platform of security dialogue will require at least some business being conducted, and ideally more sustainably so than over the past years. The Organisation needs to arrange contact and dialogue between its participating States on issues where this is possible. Malta’s approach offers some hope that this might be possible across all three dimensions of the OSCE. In the politico-military dimension of the OSCE, work on the inclusion of women and girls has been one of the areas in which it has been very active over the years and where it has an eminently qualified and highly engaged Senior Adviser on Gender Issues in Lara Scarpitta. Work on gender as a cross-cutting issue is also more generally an important area for the OSCE, including in relation to the economic and environmental dimension and the human dimension. In this sense, it is an issue that both exemplifies the importance of the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security and the possibility of the continuation of at least some business across the organisation. This is particularly important in relation to the human dimension where participating States are frequently at loggerheads with each other. The refusal of Belarus and Russia to accept OSCE election observer missions cannot have come as much of a surprise, but it is another attempt at normalising the gradual shutting down of the third dimension—something that is, and should continue to be, strongly resisted.[13] ‘Using’ gender issues to keep the third dimension alive may seem cynical, but it is an essential tool that the OSCE has available and should use to keep the human dimension relevant, not least because it also has real benefits for women and girls. Malta’s emphasis on “combating and preventing violence against women” is therefore highly welcome, as is the connection being made with “OSCE efforts to combat trafficking in human beings.” On the other hand, priorities in relation to the economic and environmental dimension are somewhat underwhelming. While there is an apparent intention to continue work on the climate-security nexus—an area in which participating States managed one of their last, jointly-adopted Ministerial Council decisions in 2021—the OSCE’s hitherto prominent connectivity agenda seems to have been dropped completely.[14] This is all the more surprising as the OSCE area not only faces serious connectivity challenges as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine but also significant new opportunities, including the notably renewed interest in the Middle Corridor connecting the EU and China.[15] That said, the continuing focus on combating corruption is to be welcomed, not least because it also dovetails with necessary reforms, particularly for Ukraine and Moldova in the context of their EU membership aspirations, where the OSCE also has some potential of offering support.[16] Much of what Malta will be able to achieve in keeping the OSCE functioning and relevant across the range of priorities will be accomplished through the remaining field operations in participating States across southeastern Europe and in Central Asia. These missions, as well as the one in Moldova, have provided an important operational backbone for the organisation. Despite the often-contentious rhetoric around their continuation, participating states both east and west of Vienna, including the field operations’ host-states, generally appreciate the contribution that the OSCE makes in the field on a day-to-day basis to strengthening the resilience and security of states and societies in the OSCE area. This is not to underplay the challenges that field operations are facing—from the attraction and retention of qualified personnel, to the management of extra-budgetary projects, to the constraining interpretation of their mandates by host-states. Malta’s commitment “to provide support to our Field Operations and strengthen their capacity to assist host authorities in implementing OSCE principles and commitments”, in this sense is also an important contribution to keep the OSCE as a whole alive. This is the bare minimum of what will be required from the CiO, and even then, Malta is likely to face resistance from many host-states who will continue to interpret existing mandates narrowly and seek to limit OSCE activities to fit their own domestic agendas.[17] Ultimately, whether Malta can succeed in living up to the promises that its priorities imply for the OSCE, and for Euro-Asian and Euro-Atlantic security more generally, will be down to factors well beyond the control of a small Mediterranean island state. Having empowered Malta to serve as the OSCE’s CiO in 2024, the Organisation’s participating States must now enable it to act on the Maltese Chairpersonship’s priorities. If they do not or if they allow some to frustrate efforts to salvage what is left of the OSCE as a multilateral forum, they will be culpable in contributing to the OSCE’s further slide into irrelevance. This would deprive Europe of a mechanism to manage security threats and challenges at a time of an increasingly volatile and rapidly deteriorating geopolitical situation. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre. 

Credit: OSCE/Mikhail Evstafiev

 [1] OSCE Chairmanship, OSCE Chairman-in-Office Osamni announces Malta as 2024 Chairpersonship, extension of senior officials following 30th Ministerial Council, OSCE, December 2023,[2] Stefan Wolff, Ukraine war: Russia’s hard line at European security meeting ratchets up tensions another notch, The Conversation, December 2023,; Dr Cornelius Friesendorf and Prof. Stefan Wolff, Is a Russian veto on leadership about to provoke the downfall of the OSCE?, FPC, November 2023,[3] Stephanie Liechtenstein, How creative diplomacy has averted a collapse of the OSCE - until now, Security and Human Rights Monitor, July 2023,; Stephanie Liechtenstein, Exclusive: Malta under consideration to become OSCE Chair in 2024, Security and Human Rights Monitor, November 2023,[4] Primus inter pares is a Latin phrase meaning first among equals.[5] OSCE Secretariat Extra-Budgetary Support Programme for Ukraine, OSCE,[6] Patrick Jackson and Simon Fraser, Uzbekistan Karakalpakstan: At least 18 killed in unrest over right to secede, BBC News, July 2022,; RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, What’s Behind The Tumult In Tajikistan’s Restive Gorno-Badakhshan Region?, RFE/RL, May 2022,[7] RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service and RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Kyrgyz, Tajik Security Officials Say 90 Percent Of Border Agreed Upon, RFE/RL, December 2023,; Reuters, Kyrgyz-Tajik border conflict death toll nearly 100, September 2022,[8] Michael Ertl, Nagorno-Karabakh: Conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenians explained, BBC News, September 2023,[9] Stefan Wolff, Ukraine war: Moldova could be the first domino in a new Russian plan for horizontal escalation, The Conversation, March 2023,[10] Stefan Wolff, Kosovo government must take most of the blame for the latest violence, but any long-term solution will require a constructive response from Serbia as well, The Conversation, May 2023,[11] Malta’s OSCE Chairpersonship 2024, Strengthening Resilience, Enhancing Security, OSCE, January 2024,; OSCE Chairmanship, Malta begins its OSCE Chairpersonship with a vision for strengthening resilience and enhancing security, OSCE, January 2024,[12] Stephanie Liechtenstein, Foreign Minister of Malta Ian Bord promises to ‘do whatever it takes’ to keep OSCE ‘alice and functioning’ as he outlines 2024 OSCE priorities, Security and Human Rights Monitor, January 2024,[13] OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Decisions not to invite OSCE observers to parliamentary elections contrary to Belarus’ international commitments, OSCE, January 2024,; OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Russian Federation flouts international commitments once again with decision not to invite OSCR observers to presidential election, OSCE, January 2024,[14] OSCE, 28th OSCE Ministerial Council, December 2021,[15] Directorate-General for International Partnerships, Global Gateway: EU and Central Asian countries agree on building blocks to develop Trans-Caspian Transport Corridor, European Commission, January 2024,[16] Tetyana Malyarenko and Stefan Wolff, Supporting Recovery, Reintegration, and Accession: Opportunities and Challenges for the OSCE in Ukraine, in OSCE Insights, eds. Cornelius Friesendorf and Argyro Kartsonaki (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2024),[17] Cornelius Friesendorf, The OSCE’s midlife crisis, IPS Journal, July 2023, [post_title] => The challenges facing Malta’s chairpersonship of the OSCE [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-challenges-facing-maltas-chairpersonship-of-the-osce [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2024-02-06 10:26:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2024-02-06 09:26:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 7192 [post_author] => 85 [post_date] => 2023-11-09 12:02:48 [post_date_gmt] => 2023-11-09 11:02:48 [post_content] => The survival of the world’s largest regional security organisation—the 57-member Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)—is under threat from Russian ambitions to upend the existing international order.[1] Whether, and how, the OSCE will continue is likely to be decided on 30 November and 1 December, when OSCE Foreign Ministers convene in Skopje, under the current Chairpersonship of North Macedonia, for their annual Ministerial Council.[2] Some might argue that not much would be lost if the OSCE were to perish in Russia’s war on multilateralism. However, this misjudges the important role the OSCE has played in the past, setting standards on issues from election observation to minority rights and the fight against human trafficking. Nor would the OSCE be without use in the future: the organisation’s arsenal of confidence and security-building measures remains relevant for reducing the risk of an unwanted escalation of the war in Ukraine. In the event of a ceasefire or peace agreement, the need for a civilian peacekeeping mission could conceivably be met by the OSCE. Other protracted conflicts in Moldova, the South Caucasus and Central Asia, too, require careful management in the shadow of the war against Ukraine. None of this, however, will be relevant if the OSCE is left without leaders, and Russia has already vetoed the only current candidate for the 2024 Chair, Estonia. At the top of the agenda at the Skopje Ministerial Council will therefore be the question of which country should take over the chairpersonship in 2024. If the participating States fail to agree on a Chair for next year, the consequences will not be insignificant. More than any other international organisation, the OSCE relies on its Chair, to broker consensus, set priorities, lead meetings and fill key posts. Without one there is a danger that it will become rudderless and ineffectual. However, a Russian veto is not inevitable. The Kremlin has long viewed the OSCE as a threatening Western instrument for democratising post-Soviet states. Yet, Moscow also considers the OSCE as a forum for its own propaganda and for gathering information on Ukraine’s Western supporters. Threatening and using vetoes is also a useful tool for the Kremlin to retain some influence in the European security architecture. For now, a showdown in Skopje is likely because Estonia has declined to withdraw its candidacy.[3] With the European Union (EU) supporting this position, an earlier offer by Austria to step in had no chance of being taken up.[4] Discussions that are apparently under way with Malta to be a potential alternative will face the same hurdle.[5] At a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on 26 September, Russia showed only limited willingness to compromise.[6] According to Alexander Lukashevich, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE, Russia is open to alternative candidates, as long as they are not members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This means that there is at least the potential for Austria’s candidacy to be revived or Malta’s be considered as a last-minute solution at the Ministerial Council meeting in December. Any such eleventh-hour deal will likely depend on whether the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, is able to attend the meeting in Skopje. An added complication is whether Russian government representatives like Lavrov, who are subject to Western sanctions, will be granted entry permits and overflight rights to participate in person.[7] Thus, supporters of the OSCE also have a choice to make: do they stick to lofty principles, or do they swallow a pragmatic compromise to enable the survival of the OSCE? One might argue that the organisation will endure somehow even if this issue of next year’s chair is not resolved. After all, the OSCE has muddled through since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion into Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Yet, such optimism is ill-advised. Should there be no agreement by the end of the year, North Macedonia, with the support of NATO and EU members among the participating States, might declare that it will continue in the role out of a sense of responsibility to the OSCE. The aim would be to keep the OSCE running until Finland takes over the Chairpersonship in 2025, the year of the 50th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), the predecessor of the OSCE.[8] In such a scenario, Russia would likely refuse to recognise North Macedonia as Chair and try to persuade other participating States not to do so either. The Kremlin could even withdraw from the OSCE and pressure others to follow suit, thus effectively spelling the end of the organisation as an inclusive forum for east-west security dialogue. Hence, the search for an alternative candidate has to remain a priority and appears to be high on the agenda of the current Chair, Bujar Osmani, the Foreign Minister of North Macedonia.[9] Malta, whose potential candidacy was revealed by Security and Human Rights Monitor (SHRM), has yet however to officially declare its intentions and is unlikely to do so unless there is an agreement that Estonia will withdraw its bid, thus clearing the way for EU support.[10] Similarly, some indication from Russia that it would at least not veto a Maltese Chair for 2024 will likely be necessary for Malta to step up officially. These complications and the fact that we are now less than four weeks away from the Ministerial Council meeting brings us back to Austria as an alternative. Vienna as the host of the OSCE’s headquarters could take over certain Chair functions on a provisional basis, likely in consultation with North Macedonia and Finland, the properly elected Chairs of 2023 and 2025. This would not require a formal, and thus vetoable, decision. The pro-Ukrainian alliance would be able to argue that it had not bowed to the threatened Russian veto. And given Austria is a non-NATO member, it would fulfil one of Russia’s conditions for alternative candidates. Any such compromise will require careful preparation, including dialogue via backchannels between key western capitals and Moscow. Moreover, any compromise will also need to be palatable to Ukraine, which, like every OSCE participating State, also has the power to veto decisions. In light of the ever more visible signs of a fraying western consensus on support for Kyiv, the key players in Washington, Brussels, London, Paris, and Berlin may decide that preserving the pro-Ukrainian coalition is more important than the OSCE. While this is not an either-or choice, it remains unclear whether supporters of the OSCE east and west of Vienna can muster the political will to defend the organisation against Russia’s destructiveness. Dr Cornelius Friesendorf is Head of the Centre for OSCE Research (CORE), Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH). Previously he worked as a senior advisor for an EU police reform support project in Myanmar and as a researcher for institutions including Goethe-University Frankfurt, the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance, and ETH Zurich. He holds degrees from the University of Zurich, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and the Free University Berlin. His research focuses on the OSCE, Western-Russian relations, and security sector governance and reform. He also analysed asymmetric war (publications include How Western Soldiers Fight, Cambridge University Press 2018) and strategies against drug trafficking and human trafficking. Cornelius is co-editor of OSCE Insights, a series of policy briefs published in English and Russian and Co-Coordinator of the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions. He speaks German, English, French, and Russian. Stefan Wolff is a Professor of International Security and Head of Department, Political Science and International Studies, at the University of Birmingham, co-coordinator of the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions, and Senior Non-resident Fellow at the Foreign Policy Centre. A political scientist by background, he specialises in the management of contemporary security challenges, especially in the prevention and settlement of ethnic conflicts, in post-conflict state-building in deeply divided and war-torn societies, and in contemporary geopolitics and great-power rivalry, especially in the post-Soviet space. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre. [1] OSCE Homepage, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), see:[2] OSCE Chairpersonship, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), see:; OSCE Ministerial Councils, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), see:[3] ERR News, Estonia not withdrawing OSCE chairmanship candidacy, September 2023,[4] Stephanie Liechtenstein, How creative diplomacy has averted a collapse of the OSCE – until now, Security and Human Rights Monitor, July 2023,[5] Stephanie Liechtenstein, Exclusive: Malta under consideration to become OSCE Chair in 2024, Security and Human Rights Monitor, November 2023,[6] Statement by Mr Alexander Lukashevich, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, at the 1443rd (Reinforced) meeting of the OSCE permanent Council, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), September 2023,[7] 30th OSCE Ministerial Council to be held in Skopje, North Macedonia, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), November 2023,[8] Helsinki Final Act, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), August 1975,[9] Official X (Formerly Twitter) of Bujar Osmani, November 2023,[10] Stephanie Liechtenstein, Exclusive: Malta under consideration to become OSCE Chair in 2024, Security and Human Rights Monitor, November 2023, [post_title] => Is a Russian veto on leadership about to provoke the downfall of the OSCE? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => is-a-russian-veto-on-leadership-about-to-provoke-the-downfall-of-the-osce [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-11-14 13:48:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-11-14 12:48:02 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 7139 [post_author] => 85 [post_date] => 2023-10-20 12:01:38 [post_date_gmt] => 2023-10-20 11:01:38 [post_content] => A decade ago, in September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched what became known in English as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the Kazakh capital Astana.[1] This did not mark the beginning of China’s engagement with Central Asia region, but it signalled the start of increasing geopolitical competition in a region that had been at the heart of the so-called ‘great game’ between Russia and the British empire throughout most of the 19th century. The United States and its European allies had generally taken a backseat in Central Asia in the first decade-and-a-half after the end of the Cold War, with their main focus being on the challenges of stabilising Afghanistan. However, the geopolitical transformations of 2014, marked by Russia's annexation of Crimea and the occupation of parts of eastern Ukraine, compelled a more robust western engagement with Central Asia, aligning with the proactive and containment-oriented facets of US foreign policy. Inaugurated in November 2015 by then US Secretary of State John Kerry during a visit to the region, the C5+1 diplomatic format was born as a platform for dialogue and cooperation involving five Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) and the United States.[2] With a primary focus on regional security, economic development, and political stability in Central Asia, the C5+1 format aimed to enhance cooperation between the United States and the five Central Asian states in an attempt to reduce Russia’s influence in the region and to counteract the growing Chinese presence and activities there. During the years that followed, C5+1 meetings routinely happened at the level of foreign ministers and addressed issues of common interest, including the risks posed by instability in Afghanistan, energy security, and the increasing challenges of climate change.[3] In the wake of the crisis in Afghanistan, interaction in the C5+1 format intensified, including ministerial meetings in the margins of the 76th and 77th UN General Assembly meetings in 2021 and 2022.[4] In a notable departure from the traditional ministerial format, the September 2023 C5+1 gathering took the form of a presidential-level meeting for the first time. In their joint statement, the six leaders reaffirmed their commitments to partnership and cooperation.[5] This New York Declaration on ‘C5+1 Resilience through Security, Economic, and Energy Partnership’ indicates the minimum consensus among these six distinct countries and glosses over some differences in terms of their individual priorities. Hence, each capital’s readout of the meeting between the presidents tells us a lot about the more concrete opportunities for engaging more systematically with Central Asia. For example, the White House emphasised the need for an improved environment for trade and private sector investment with a particular focus on critical minerals and connectivity (including the Middle Corridor).[6] Economic cooperation was also high on the agenda of the C5, with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan expressing particular interest in green energy projects.[7] Kyrgyzstan additionally noted the country’s openness to foreign private investment, notably in water management – a key environmental and economic challenge for the country that often dangerously overlaps with security concerns arising from unresolved border disputes with neighbouring Tajikistan. Kazakhstan put particular emphasis on the development of its extractive industries such as oil and minerals.[8] Security concerns, notably terrorism, were another key issue for the country as was the request for U.S. assistance in establishing a UN Regional Centre for Sustainable Development Goals for Central Asia and Afghanistan. The official Tajik press release about the C5+1 meeting similarly underscored the dual challenges of economic development – the transition to a green economy in light of the challenges of climate change – and security, especially in the context of the risks continuously emanating from Afghanistan.[9] While the political, economic, and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is one of the key security challenges for all of the C5, and remains on the US agenda as well, Tajikistan is arguably the most exposed because of its long border with its southern neighbour. The most likely elephant in the room during the meeting of the presidents will have been the war in Ukraine and western sanctions against Russia. While neither got an explicit mention in any of the read-outs, “the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations” was the formula that the C5+1 agreed in their joint declaration.[10] The official Turkmen statement on the meeting reiterated that there was a unanimous consensus among the participants regarding the importance of upholding the norms of independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.[11] This indicates that there is a relatively solid basis for continuing interaction between the US and the countries of Central Asia. Less politically sensitive topics, such as climate change and economic cooperation, as well as some areas of security cooperation, such as the fight against terrorism, appear promising areas for further engagement. The EU has also put greater effort into top-level engagements with Central Asia, including at a summit-like gathering of the five Central Asian presidents with the President of the European Council at the end of October 2022.[12] Among its member states, Germany has been among the more active ones – with a visit by the foreign minister to the region immediately after the EU-Central Asia meeting and a top-level summit of the five Central Asian presidents with senior German government officials, including the country’s President and Chancellor, at the end of September 2023 in Berlin, just after the C5+1 in New York.[13] The Berlin summit ended with a notably more substantive joint declaration than the one in New York.[14] The UK has been more active in the region as well. The Foreign Secretary travelled to Kazakhstan at the end of March and the Minister for Europe followed up in June with a visit to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.[15] A parliamentary inquiry on the UK’s foreign policy in Central Asia is currently underway.[16] Yet, the US and its allies are not alone in courting Central Asia. China has been an increasingly important player in the region for some time. In fact, the president-level meetings between Xi and his Central Asian counterparts are almost routine at both the bilateral level and in multilateral contexts, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.[17] The first dedicated China-Central Asia Summit preceded the New York C5+1 by four months and produced an impressive array of 54 agreements, 19 new cooperation mechanisms and platforms, and nine multilateral documents, including the Xi'an declaration.[18] The Russia–Central Asia Summit in October last year was a less glamorous affair but demonstrated that Russia cannot be discarded as a player in the region.[19] While there clearly is alignment between Russia and China when it comes to Central Asia, and particularly when it comes to keeping ‘the West’ out of the region after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia is unlikely to relinquish completely its traditional grip on the region, nor is China likely to actively wrestle Moscow for greater control in the near future. While there is undoubtedly a rebalancing of power afoot between Russia and China, this is likely to take the form of a gradual power transition. That Russia is still keen, and capable, to project influence in the region was apparent from the launch of Russian gas supplies to Uzbekistan via Kazakhstan – with the three countries’ presidents personally in attendance at a ceremony in Moscow on 7 October 2023 – and from Putin's subsequent visit to Kyrgyzstan on 12 and 13 October.[20] The visit was both a bilateral state visit marking the 20th anniversary of establishing a Russian air base in Kyrgyzstan and facilitating Putin’s attendance of the meeting of the Heads of State Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).[21] Putin’s 6 October speech at the Valdai Club with its focus on an indivisible Russian civilisation and the signature at the CIS summit of the ‘Treaty on the Establishment of the International Organization for the Russian Language’ and the adoption of the ‘Statement on the Support and Promotion of the Russian Language as a Language of Interethnic Communication’ will have done little to assuage fears in Central Asia about Russian imperial impulses.[22] Given the presence of the Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Zhang Ming, at the meeting, Putin’s visit to Bishkek is less of a challenge to growing Chinese regional dominance than it is a show of support for increasingly autocratic regimes in Bishkek and the Central Asian region as a whole, which plays a critical role in undermining western sanctions against Russia, including by providing a route for the re-exporting of Chinese goods to Russia.[23] Add to that the dependency of Central Asian states on Russia as a source of remittances from labour migration and on Chinese loans and investments for infrastructure development, any hegemonic power transition from Russia to China is unlikely to create any sense of regional or national strategic autonomy in Central Asia. While the West will hardly be seen as an alternative in such a hegemonic power transition from Russia to China, the transition itself, nevertheless, offers opportunities. The US, the UK, and the EU can strengthen their own engagement and cooperation with Central Asia precisely because this presents the states there with a chance for some re-balancing of their own and for strengthening their traditional aspiration for a multi-vector foreign policy. The emphasis that the Central Asian states, the West, and China put on trade and connectivity, including the Middle Corridor, creates a window of opportunity for potentially more cooperation with China as well. At a minimum, Chinese and western interests are not completely at odds in this regard: China needs alternatives for its largely blocked northern trade corridor through Russia and Belarus, and the West has an interest in maintaining a credible sanctions regime against Russia. A viable Middle Corridor can potentially serve both purposes while also strengthening economic development in Central Asia. The prospects of cooperation between China and the West in, and on, Central Asia, however, will depend, in part, on the further development of geopolitical and geoeconomic relations between Beijing, Moscow, Brussels, and Washington. The visit to China by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, emphasised the need for, and possibility of, EU-China cooperation.[24] Prospects for that materialising, however, have hardly been enhanced by the subsequent bilateral meeting between Xi and Putin in the margins of the tenth-anniversary celebrations of the Belt and Road Initiative in Beijing on 18 October 2023 – while Xi did not mention the “no-limits partnership”, there was no sign either of cooling relations between Russia and China.[25] The key question now is whether there will be a meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at the APEC summit in San Francisco in November and what its outcomes are.[26] This, in turn, is likely to depend, in part, also on how hawkish the EU-US summit in Washington on 20 October 2023 will be on China as an economic competitor and geopolitical rival.[27] Notably absent from a lot of these economic and security-focused discussions are human rights concerns.[28] While the Berlin summit declaration includes references to the importance of human rights, these are absent in the New York declaration, and only briefly alluded to in the White House readout from the meeting. The danger is that human rights issues will be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency – gaining a foothold in Central Asia, procuring oil and gas from there, weakening Russia, and pushing back against China may all seem more important and potentially even appear as stepping stones to future engagement on human rights issues. The problem with such an approach is that without transparency, accountability, rule of law, and other ‘trappings’ of free societies, the countries of Central Asia will not become resilient to the challenges that await them – be that climate change, a more assertive China, an aggressively resurgent Russia, or an imploding Afghanistan.  Anastassiya Mahon is an independent researcher based in the UK, specialising in the intricate dynamics of global security. As the founder of, she is working towards creating a dedicated community interested in exploring profound issues within the realm of global security. Mahon's research primarily focuses on the interplay of (in)security in shaping policy, particularly in the context of illiberal regimes. Her works have been published in International Studies Perspectives, Critical Studies on Terrorism, and Studies of Transition States and Societies. Through her academic pursuits, Mahon continues to make significant contributions to the understanding of how security threats influence political landscapes and societal structures. Stefan Wolff  is a Professor of International Security and Head of Department, Political Science and International Studies, at the University of Birmingham, co-coordinator of the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions, and Senior Non-resident Fellow at the Foreign Policy Centre. A political scientist by background, he specialises in the management of contemporary security challenges, especially in the prevention and settlement of ethnic conflicts, in post-conflict state-building in deeply divided and war-torn societies, and in contemporary geopolitics and great-power rivalry, especially in the post-Soviet space. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.Image by Official White House Facebook Page. [1] Wu Jiao, Xi proposes a ‘new Silk Road’ with Central Asia, China Daily, September 2013,[2] U.S. Department of State, Remarks at the Opening of the C5+1 Ministerial Meeting, November 2015,[3] U.S. Department of State, C5+1 Joint Statements and Releases,[4] U.S. Department of State, Joint Statement on the C5+1 Meeting during UNGA 76, September 2021,; U.S. Department of State, Joint Statement on the C5+1 Meeting during UNGA 77, September 2022,[5] The White House, C5+1 Leaders’ Joint Statement, September 2023,[6] The White House, Readout of President Biden’s Meeting with the C5+1 Leaders at UNGA, September 2023,[7] Daria Podolskaya, A view from across the ocean. Why did the United States pay attention to Central Asia?,, September 2023,; The President, Republic of Uzbekistan, The President of Uzbekistan outlined the vision of priorities for cooperation between the states of Central Asia and the United States, September 2023,[8] Government of Kazakhstan, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took part in the summit of heads of state “Central Asia - USA”, September 2023,[9] President of the Republic of Tajikistan, Participation in the meeting of the heads of state of Central Asia and the United States of America, September 2023,[10] The White House, C5+1 Leaders’ Joint Statement, September 2023,[11] Government of Turkmenistan, The President of Turkmenistan took part in the first meeting of multilateral cooperation “C5+1”, September 2023,[12] European Council, Joint press communique by Heads of State of Central Asia and the President of the European Council, October 2022,[13] Federal Foreign Office, Foreign Minister Baerbock travels to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, October 2022,[14] Bundesregierung, Joint Declaration by Heads of State of Central Asia and the Federal Chancellor of Germany, September 2023,[15] British Embassy Astana, UK Foreign Secretary visits Kazakhstan,, March 2023,; FCDO and Leo Docherty MP, Europe Minister to forge closer relations in Central Asia,, June 2023,[16] Foreign Policy Centre and John Smith Trust, Views from Central Asia on the UK’s Foreign Policy in the Region, FPC, August 2023,[17] Rebecca Nadin, Ilayda Nijhar and Elvira Mami, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit 2022: key takeaways, ODI, September 2022,[18] Stefan Wolff, How China is increasing its influence in central Asia as part of global plans to offer an alternative to the west, The Conversation, May 2023,; China News, China-Central Asia Summit Xi’an Declaration, May 2023,[19] President of Russia, Russia-Central Asia Summit, October 2022,[20] President of Russia, Launch of Russian gas supplies to Uzbekistan via Kazakhstan, October 2023,; Reuters, Russia’s Putin visits Kyrgyzstan in first foreign trip since ICC arrest warrant, October 2023,[21] President of Russia, Official event marking the 20th anniversary of establishing a Russian air base in Kyrgyzstan, October 2023,; President of Russia, Meeting of the CIS Heads of State Council, October 2023,[22] President of Russia, Vadai International Discussion Club meeting, October 2023,; CIS Executive Committee, The Council of Heads of State of the CIS signed the Treaty on the Establishment of the International Organization for the Russian Language and adopted a Statement on the support and promotion of the Russian language as a language of interethnic communication, CIS Internet Portal, October 2023,[23] Carl Schreck, Kubat Kasymbekov, Manas Qaiyrtaiuly, Riin Aljas, Kubatbek Aibashov, Kyrylo Ovsyaniy, Kyrgyz, Kazakh Companies Send Western Tech To Firms Linked To Kremlin War Machine, RFE/RL, June 2023,[24]EEAS Press Team, China: Press remarks by High Representative Josep Borrell after concluding his visit to the country, EEAS, October 2023,[25] euters, Moscow-Beijing partnership has ‘no limits’, February 2022,; Joe Leahy and Max Seddon, Xi Jinping hails ‘deep friendship’ with Vladimir Putin as leaders meet in Beijing, Financial Times, October 2023,[26] Kevin Liptak, Ongoing planning underway for potential Biden and Xi meeting in San Francisco in November, sources say, CNN, October 2023,[27] Suzanne Lynch, Borrell to join EU-US summit as Brussels seeks to present united foreign policy front, Politico, October 2023,[28] Hugh Williamson, Germany Should Keep Focus on Rights in Central Asia Talks, Human Rights Watch, September 2023,  [post_title] => The new great game continued? How the West is trying to get (back) to Central Asia [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-new-great-game-continued-how-the-west-is-trying-to-get-back-to-central-asia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-10-24 12:54:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-10-24 11:54:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6737 [post_author] => 85 [post_date] => 2023-02-24 11:53:17 [post_date_gmt] => 2023-02-24 10:53:17 [post_content] => Russia’s illegal and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine has fundamentally changed the dynamics of the Euro-Asian and Euro-Atlantic security order. It poses the gravest threat to security in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) region and to the organisation itself. As a consequence, the OSCE is far from able to play an effective role in dealing not only with the challenge of the war in Ukraine but also with a number of other threats to the security of its participating States and their societies. In fact, the war in Ukraine simultaneously paralyses and consumes the organisation in ways that prevent it from fulfilling its mandate as a provider of comprehensive and cooperative security in the Euro-Asian and Euro-Atlantic space. This is particularly problematic because the war in Ukraine is not the only security challenge for the OSCE and its participating States. Threats that pre-date the beginning of the war continue to exist, including the unresolved protracted conflicts in Moldova and the South Caucasus; ongoing boundary disputes in Central Asia; challenges related to violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism (VERLT); and persistent risks emanating from violations of human and minority rights.  New threats have emerged that directly relate to the war in Ukraine or are exacerbated by it, such as those related to food and energy security, trade, the still uneven post-pandemic recovery, and endemic problems with corruption. Yet other threats have acquired new prominence on the political agenda, such as the climate emergency. In addition, there are new security issues facing participating States and their societies from outside the OSCE region, such as those related to the crisis in Afghanistan. By not being able to perform its role as a platform for dialogue and joint problem-solving, the narrative of the OSCE as being ‘useless’ in dealing with the very issues it was meant to manage constructively becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the organisation’s participating States are in danger of condemning it to a slow and agonising death. [post_title] => One year on: Is the war creating an existential crisis inside the OSCE? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => one-year-on-is-the-war-creating-an-existential-crisis-inside-the-osce [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-02-24 12:44:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-02-24 11:44:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6369 [post_author] => 85 [post_date] => 2022-03-23 00:00:17 [post_date_gmt] => 2022-03-22 23:00:17 [post_content] => Talks between China and the US in Rome on 14 March 2022 ended inconclusively, dashing any tentative hopes for enlisting China in western efforts to end the war in Ukraine for now.[1] During these discussions, as well as in an interview the Chinese Ambassador to the United States gave to CBS the following Sunday, Beijing’s position against war and in favour of escalation was reiterated, as well as its long-standing stance “that national sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine, should be respected and protected.”[2] Add to this that despite a recently announced no-limits partnership, the future direction of Russia-China relations has become more ambiguous as the consequences of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine become clearer.[3] As Ukraine has not only welcomed but also openly called for China to use its influence to stop the war, a potential opportunity for closer cooperation between the West and China should not be dismissed out of hand.[4] Reform or disruption of the existing order?Over the past several decades, Russia and China have gradually developed their bilateral relations and become strategic partners, united in their opposition to a US-dominated world order. China’s opposition to the current order is not fundamental, provided it has full access to, and can move freely within, it. China seeks integration into the system both to protect its sovereignty and economic interests and to reshape it gradually according to its own preferences. This does not exclude future domination of the system by China, but it does not make that outcome a foregone conclusion either. Russia, by contrast, has been fundamentally opposed to the current world order in which its place, role and influence have significantly diminished over the past three decades.[5] Russia aspires to be a rule-setting great power, uninhibited by constraints that curtail its ‘rights’ to invade sovereign states and annex as many territories as it deems necessary for its own security. Russia occupied and subsequently recognised Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions in 2008 and parts of Ukraine’s Donbas in 2014 and 2022, invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, and is now fighting a war of aggression against Ukraine. Over the years, China has expressed sympathy for Russia’s dissatisfaction especially with the post-Cold War European security order, often blaming a Cold War mentality for the escalating tensions with the west, Russia’s approach to dealing with this fundamentally contradicts China´s mantra about the importance of the principles of territorial integrity, sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.[6] China may not always be as sincere about this as it would like the rest of the world to believe, but it has never recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia or the Russian annexation of Crimea. No less important, in this context, are China´s aspirations for stability in the international system which is critical to its own economic development. Disruption of trade routes, threats to its own overseas investments, a hike in global oil and gas prices are all detrimental to China. The effectiveness of western sanctions against Russia and the potential of secondary sanctions against China if Xi were to support Putin also should give China pause for thought how it can best achieve security and stability in Europe where it has both long-term economic interests and solid investments across the continent.[7] China-Russia relations in troubled watersThe reality behind the almost perfect bilateral relationship between Moscow and Beijing that the two countries have projected to the outside world is deeply complex. Mutual distrust, power asymmetry, and clear antagonism in some areas pose significant challenges to what is often more an alliance of convenience than a truly strategic partnership among equals. Twice now has Russia disrespected China’s hosting of the Olympics. The 2008 war with Georgia started during the Olympic summer games in Beijing and the war in Ukraine began just as the 2022 Olympic Winter Games had finished and the Paralympic Games were about to start. Such high-profile international events are hugely important for how China projects its own image at home and abroad. That its ‘closest strategic partner’ chose to disregard this cannot have been lost on China. Internationally, China’s position is also becoming more tenuous as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues and it humanitarian, and not just economic and political, consequences become apparent. Being associated with Russia’s aggression, if only by inaction, is likely to erode China’s self-image of a defender of international norms and damage its bilateral relationships with many other countries. Chinese diplomatic and political tradition of not condemning Russia publicly has long been at the core of Sino-Russian bilateral relations, but it soon risks that China will find itself only in the company of a select few countries that still openly side with Russia at the UN, like Syria, North Korea, Eritrea, and Belarus.[8] A sign of things to come?While China has so far abstained from votes in the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, which is more in line with its traditionally rather reserved foreign policy that was also on display in 2008 and 2014, there are some indications of a rethink in Beijing. Just days before the war, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, appealed to all sides involved in the conflict at the Munich Security Conference to use diplomatic and peaceful ways to resolve it, emphasising that Ukrainian “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity should be respected and safeguarded” and Russian concerns should be taken into consideration.[9] One day after the start of the war, Wang Yi, during his phone conversations with Liz Truss, the UK Foreign Secretary, Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, and Emmanuel Bonne, an Advisor to French President Emmanuel Macron, emphasised that what was going on in Ukraine is something China did not want to see.[10] President Xi himself reiterated China’s stance on “maximum restraint” in Ukraine during his virtual meeting with Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.[11] The three leaders agreed to work together in facilitating the dialogue between Russia and Ukraine and to combine their efforts to deescalate the crisis.[12] While there have been examples of cooperation between China and the EU on economic connectivity issues in the Western Balkans and in Central Asia, this is the first attempt of involving China in European security issues.[13] This also highlights options for finding cooperation arrangements between China and the West on particular issues like the Ukraine war outside the fraught relations between China and the US. Shipments of Chinese smartphones from brands like Xiaomi, Huawei, and Oppo, to Russia has been cut in half.[14] China has refused to supply aircraft parts to Russia after western sanctions hit.[15] Even if those are reactions purely motivated by economic factors, it nevertheless, demonstrates the limits of China’s support to Russia by all means. This is even more obvious when it comes to the flat-out denial by China that it had received any Russian requests for military aid.[16] A final sign of a potential shift in Beijing’s thinking is the way in which Chinese state media covers the war in Ukraine. While there is still clear evidence of censorship and a favouring of (pro-) Russian positions, in marked contrast to Moscow’s approach, Chinese State TV, for example, presents both Russian and Ukrainian positions on the war, provides analysis of foreign media (including French, German, Iranian, and Japanese) on the war in Ukraine, and presents actual footage of the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding in Ukraine.[17] Similarly, video messages of Zelenskiy receive widespread coverage in Chinese mass media.[18] It is important to remember in all of this that China has yet to openly condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and to take any steps in public to end the war other than calling for mutual restraint. This may or may not happen in the near future or ever, but there are subtle signs of a Chinese shift away from an unconditional partnership with Russia. Nonetheless, China appears to keep hedging its bets. This in itself is a problem because it prolongs the war and worsens the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries. China’s position could be a reflection of its fundamental commitment to non-interference (which would be the optimistic reading) or because it sees benefits for itself in a continuation of the war, with Russia and the West weakening each other at manageable costs for Beijing while also creating significant opportunities for China. The latter, which appears to be the more widely shared view in Western capitals, would mean that China cannot really be a partner for the West in ending the war in Ukraine unless Chinese cost-benefit calculations can be changed. If this is achieved through coercive measures, such as secondary sanctions, it would at best be a one-off ‘partnership’ and probably be quite limited in scope and time. If it were achieved through cooperative measures, such as less overt antagonism, less combative public rhetoric, and focusing also on other areas where relations could be improved, it might have a longer-term positive impact on international peace and security. Finding such common ground will be difficult, but given the gravity of the situation, it is still worth exploring. For the sake of Ukraine, the opportunity, however slim, to cooperate with China on stopping Russia’s aggression should not be discarded out of hand. The fact that Washington and Beijing both “underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and China” at their meeting in Rome indicates that this opportunity is still there to be used.[19] Anastasiya Bayok, Centre for OSCE Research, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg Stefan Wolff, Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security, University of Birmingham Image by U.S. Army Photo/Sgt. Mikki L. Sprenkle [1] DW, US and China hold high level talks about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, March 2022,[2] Financial Times, China ‘will do everything’ to de-escalate war, ambassador says, March 2022,[3] Tony Munroe, Andrew Osborn and Humeyra Pamuk, China, Russia partner up against West at Olympics summit, Reuters, February 2022,; Gideon Rachman, Xi Jinping faces a fateful decision on Ukraine, Financial Times, March 2022,[4] Reed Standish and RFE/RL, Will China force Russia to stop the war in Ukraine?,, March 2022,; Stefan Wolff, Ukraine invasion: what the west needs to do now – expert view, The Conversation, February 2022,[5] Stefan Wolff & Tetyana Malyarenko, The Russian Threat Against Ukraine: A Long History and an Uncertain Future, Wilson Center, January 2022,[6] Rodion Why China thinks the West is to blame for Russia’s war in Ukraine, Ebbighausen, DW, March 2022,[7] Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets and Omer Berberoglu, Biden plans first Europe visit since Ukraine invasion as refugees surpass 3 million, Reuters, March 2022,[8] Julian Borger, UN votes to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calls for withdrawal, The Guardian, March 2022,[9] GT staff reporters, Chinese FM Wang Yi calls for diplomatic solution, not hyping war over Ukraine issue, Global Times, Febuary 2022,[10] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, Wang Yi Expounds China’s Five-Point Position on the Current Ukraine Issue, February 2022,[11] Reuters, China’s for ‘maximum restraint’ in Ukraine, March 2022,[12] Press and Information Office of the Federal Government, Chancellor Scholz talks to French President Macron and China’s President Xi Jinping, March 2022,[13] Stefan Wolff, China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Implications for the OSCe, OSCE Network, March 2021,; Anastasiya Bayok, OSCE Yearbook 2019, page 273-286, Nomos eLibrary, 2020,[14] Su Yu and Edward White, Chinese smartphone shipments to Russia plunge as rouble collapses, Financial Times, March 2022,[15] Reuters, Russia says China refuses to supply aircraft parts after sanctions, March 2022,[16] Simone McCarthy and Jeremy Herb, Top US and Chinese officials hold high-stakes meeting in Rome, CNN, March 2022,,%22defining%20moment%22%20for%20China%20and%20the%2021st%20century; Via AP news wire, US official: Russia seeking military aid from China, Independent, March 2022,[17] Kai Wang, Ukraine: How China is censoring online discussion of the war, BBC Reality Check, March 2022,; CCTV-4 Chinese International Channel, Media Focus Ukraine is in a crisis of war, CCTV Network, February 2022,; CCTV-13 News Channel, Ukraine is concerned about the situation in Ukraine, Odessa curfew, government will issue “war bonds“, CCTV Network, February 2022,[18] CCTV-4 Chinese International Channel, Zelensky released a video: The war should end and sit down and negotiate, CCTV Network, March 2022,[19] The White House, Readout of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s Meeting with Politburo Member Yang Jiechi, March 2022, [post_title] => Could China be a partner for the West in managing the Ukraine crisis? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => could-china-be-a-partner-for-the-west-in-managing-the-ukraine-crisis [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-03-24 11:18:25 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-03-24 10:18:25 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6043 [post_author] => 85 [post_date] => 2021-09-08 00:00:30 [post_date_gmt] => 2021-09-07 23:00:30 [post_content] => The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan poses three specific sets of challenges for the OSCE and its participating States: instability in Afghanistan; the resultant threats to regional security and stability, especially for the three Central Asian OSCE participating States that border Afghanistan—Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—and for Russia; and the impact of the evolving local and regional situations on the entire OSCE area and relations among OSCE participating States and hence the ability of the Organisation to develop an approach to Afghanistan in line with its mandate for comprehensive and cooperative security. Afghanistan was granted the status of an OSCE Partner for Co-operation in 2003, based on a joint understanding that the then (transitional) government of Afghanistan was fully committed to the principles, values, and goals of the OSCE.[1] During the following years, OSCE security concerns were related to the threats posed by illicit drugs, organised crime, and extremism emanating from Afghanistan.[2] Following the launch of the Istanbul Process on regional security and co-operation for a secure and stable Afghanistan in November 2011 and in light of the commitments made at the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn in December 2011, the Vilnius Ministerial Council of the OSCE noted “the importance of regional co-operation between Afghanistan and the OSCE participating States in Central Asia, and of the essential role of these participating States in helping to promote long-term security and stability in Afghanistan” and tasked “the Secretary General and executive structures with continuing ongoing projects and programmes of co-operation between the OSCE and Afghanistan and with developing a new package of activities across all three dimensions of security”.[3] The commitments expressed in Vilnius also resulted in expanding border management projects to build and strengthen Afghan capacity “to prevent the movement of terrorist individuals or groups through effective border controls” and in ODIHR continuing its support for elections in Afghanistan.[4] Taking stock of OSCE engagement with Afghanistan in 2020, the Tirana Ministerial Council highlighted “the role the OSCE has played in supporting Afghanistan in combating transnational threats through border and customs management training, with a particular focus on countering terrorism, trafficking in drugs and illicit trafficking in cultural property”, while also affirming “the importance of supporting efforts to ease barriers to trade between Afghanistan and its neighbours, which will boost economic growth in Afghanistan and the broader region.”[5] While the OSCE, thus, has engaged with Afghanistan across all three dimensions of its comprehensive security concept, projects were generally of limited size and scale and primarily conducted in neighbouring participating States, e.g., in the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, the OSCE Border Management Staff College in Dushanbe, and in cooperation with the five field operations in Central Asia. This is a result of the reluctance of OSCE participating States to commit to out-of-area projects, including on the territory of its Partners for Cooperation, the limited financial scope that the OSCE has, and the fact that the Organisation, as a relatively marginal security actor in the Afghanistan context, is dependent on cooperation with other regional and international organisations, which is not without its problems. There have long been different views on working with the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). At the same time, the long-term presence of other organisations, such as UNAMA, is uncertain. The OSCE track record of engagement with Afghanistan may be slim and lacking in sustainable successes. What is perhaps even more important, however, is that most, if not all, of the OSCE’s previous partners in the country—in government agencies, civil society organisations, etc.—are unlikely to remain in post under the new regime or necessarily be permitted to continue their engagement with the OSCE. Afghan state officials, students and civil society activists who have participated in OSCE activities must fear for their lives. The insecurities in Afghanistan resulting from the Taliban takeover threaten neighbouring states.  This severely constrains the OSCE’s ability to do much about the first of the three challenges, namely instability in Afghanistan. This was obvious from the first joint official statement by OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde, OSCE Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid, and Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Matteo Mecacci, on 25 August 2021, which noted that the situation in Afghanistan is critical to the security and stability of participating States in the Central Asian region but offered nothing concrete on how “the OSCE’s continued support, in line with OSCE commitments and principles, towards ensuring the security, stability, and safety of all people in Afghanistan, the region and beyond” would materialise.[6] The delegations’ rather general statements at the Annual Security Review Conference in Vienna on 31 August and 1 September confirmed this impression.[7] In terms of a response to the resultant threats to regional security and stability, this means that the OSCE and its participating States will have to profoundly rethink their Afghanistan-related efforts. One option is to focus on managing the emerging humanitarian crisis and possible spill-over threats through engagement in and with Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours and cooperation with other actors who will retain a presence and some influence in Afghanistan. Above all, this will involve supporting Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan in managing likely refugee flows. Given the incomplete evacuation of individuals who cooperated with US and allied forces or worked for previous Afghan governments, this will involve processing such individuals and their families and managing their transit. However, if the political and security situation in a Taliban-run Afghanistan deteriorates further, large-scale displacement of people more generally is likely. This would then require assisting Central Asian participating States with hosting such refugee populations, possibly for significant periods of time, and of course in cooperation with governments, donors and the specialised international agencies. If current efforts to form, and subsequently sustain, an inclusive government in Afghanistan fail, it is also likely that violent conflict will resume, for example between a reconstituted Northern Alliance and the Taliban, as a result of factional strife among Taliban forces, or because of major armed conflict between the Taliban, the Islamic State and other Islamist movements.[8] Moreover, as the fluid situation around the mostly ethnic Tajik-populated Panjshir Valley indicates, potentially protracted resistance to Taliban rule cannot be excluded either.[9] With Tajiks the second largest population group in Afghanistan (approximately 8 million people, or 20-25 per cent of the country’s population), their treatment is of significant concern to neighbouring Tajikistan, and has already prompted the current Tajik president, Emomali Rahmon, to call for an ethnically inclusive government in Kabul.[10] Continuing instability and violence would put additional pressure on Central Asian participating States of the OSCE and pose a serious danger of conflict spill-over into the region.[11] Enhancing border security, will therefore be a major challenge. The OSCE could contribute here, based on its experience with capacity building and training activities in Central Asia and monitoring in Eastern Europe, to improving border protection and monitoring flows across borders. A related challenge will be maintaining security in refugee camps. The possibility, and success, of regional efforts by the OSCE to contribute to managing the fall-outs from likely humanitarian and security crises in Afghanistan will depend first of all on future commitments by important participating States to keep significantly engaged in the region. There are still no clear indications of this coming from the West. It will also depend on their readiness to provide the necessary resources and on their consent for relevant initiatives both bilaterally and through regional and international organisations such as the OSCE.[12] This might prove an additional challenge for the Organisation. Ongoing and latent disputes between Central Asian participating States are unlikely to provide a conducive environment for the necessary intra-regional cooperation.[13] This is potentially further complicated by the fact that both Russia (which has a significant military presence in the region) and China (which so far has promoted the idea of positive engagement with the Taliban, including in an August 19 phone call with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab) have their own interests in the region, managed through bilateral relations with individual countries there, including Afghanistan.[14] Similarly to Russian efforts to stabilise individual Central Asian states, the United States, too, has announced plans to strengthen border management facilities at the Tajik-Afghan-Uzbek border.[15] These types of activities happen outside the OSCE context. If carefully coordinated, the OSCE response to the crisis in Afghanistan could, nonetheless, complement them. However, in light of the seriously strained relations between the US (and its Western allies), Russia, and China, there is also the double danger of an OSCE additionally paralysed by internal tensions and Afghanistan becoming another geopolitical battleground.[16] The crisis in and around of Afghanistan is neither of the OSCE’s making, nor is it its core business, but it poses another significant challenge to an Organisation already under strain. Ultimately, it will be up to participating States to decide whether and how they will make use of the OSCE’s considerable expertise and allow the Organisation to contribute its fair share to dealing with a regional crisis that, if left unchecked, will continue to pose significant threats to the OSCE region. These threats are likely to grow, while the OSCE’s ability to help in containing them can only decrease, not least because its credibility as a comprehensive security actor in the eyes of key partners among its Asian Partners and other regional and international organisations will be diminished. Anastasiya Bayok, Centre for OSCE Research (CORE), Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH) at the University of Hamburg Frank Evers, Centre for OSCE Research (CORE), Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH) at the University of Hamburg Stefan Wolff, Institute for Conflict Cooperation and Security, University of Birmingham, England, UK Photo credit: OSCE/Mikhail Evstafiev [1] OSCE Permanent Council, 445th Plenary Session Meeting, PC Journal No. 445, Agenda item 5, Decision No. 537 Granting of the status of partner for co-operation to Afghanistan, April 2003,[2] OSCE Ministerial Council, Second day of the Fifteenth Meeting, MC(15) Journal No. 2, Agenda item 8, Decision No.4/07 OSCE Engagement with Afghanistan, November 2007,[3] Afghan Mission, Istanbul process on regional security and cooperation for a secure and stable Afghanistan, Afghanistan to the UN, November 2011,; Afghan Mission, The International Afghanistan Conference Bonn 2011, Afghanistan to the UN, December 2011,; OSCE Ministerial Council, Second day of the Eighteenth Meeting, MC(18) Journal No. 2, Agenda item 8, Decision No. 4/11 Strengthening OSCE engagement with Afghanistan, December 2011,[4] OSCE Ministerial Council, Second day of the Twenty-First Meeting, MC(21) Journal No. 2, Agenda item 7, Ministerial declaration on co-operation with the Asian partners, December 2014,[5] OSCE Ministerial Council, Second day of the Twenty-Seventh Meeting, MC(27) Journal, Agenda item 7, Declaration on co-operation with the OSCE Asian partners, December 2020,[6] OSCE, OSCE leaders condemn violence in Afghanistan and destabilization of region, call for respect for human rights and rule of law, August 2021,[7] OSCE, 2021 Annual Security Review Conference, August 2021,[8] Reuters, Afghan militia leaders Atta Noor, Dostum escape ‘conspiracy’, August 2021,; Ron Synovitz, Will the Taliban Stay United To Govern, Or Splinter Into Regional Fiefdoms, Gandhara, August 2021,[9] Reuters, Taliban claim control of Panjshir, opposition says resistance will continue, September 2021,[10] RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Tajik President Calls For ‘Inclusive Government’ In Afghanistan, RFE/RL, August 2021,[11] Elizabeth Lewis, Will Tajikistan Join the Panjshir Valley’s Fight Against the Taliban? The National interest, September 2021,[12] Reuters, Austria plans aid conference for Afghanistan’s neighbours, August 2021,[13] Bruce Pannier, Tajikistan Misses Big Opportunity To Mend Ties With Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL, July 2021,[14] Bruce Pannier, How Much Will Afghanistan Change Central Asia’s Relations With Russia, China, And The United States?, RFE/RL, August 2021,; Reuters, China’s Wang says world should support Afghanistan, not pressure it, August 2021,[15] Reuters, Russian and Uzbek militaries begin joint Afghan border drills, August 2021,; RFE/RL, U.S. Embassy Announces Project On Tajik-Afghan-Uzbek Border, September 2021,[16] Sanjeev Miglani, Asif Shahzad and Yew Lun Tian, Analysis: China, Pakistan, India jockey for position in Afghanistan’s new Great Game, Reuters, August 2021, [post_title] => The OSCE’s Afghanistan Challenge [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-osces-afghanistan-challenge [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-09-07 21:18:18 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-09-07 20:18:18 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ))

The OSCE’s Afghanistan Challenge

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan poses three specific sets of challenges for the OSCE and its participating States: instability in Afghanistan; the resultant threats to regional security and stability, especially…

Article by Anastasiya Bayok, Frank Evers and Stefan Wolff

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