The two-day winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) began in Vienna, February 23, 2023. Protesters in front of the Hofburg Palace are pictured protesting Russia's participation in the meeting.
Vienna – The two-day winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) began today in Vienna. On the eve of the first anniversary of the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian parliamentarians are also participating in the meeting, which has already provoked strong criticism and a boycott of the meeting by Ukraine and Lithuania. However, in his opening speech, the chairman of the Austrian National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, assured Ukraine of complete solidarity.
“We stand in complete solidarity on the side of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people,” said the Austrian People's politician at the opening of the meeting. But at the same time, according to him, it is the duty of the members of the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly “not to close the door to diplomacy”.
At the beginning of the month, eighty-one MPs from 20 countries, including the Czech Republic, called on Austria to prevent the participation of the Russian delegation at the meeting in Vienna by not granting visas . However, the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs points to contractual obligations, according to which Austria, as a country of residence, is obliged to ensure that members of delegations of OSCE countries are not prevented from traveling to the organization's headquarters.
Austria eventually allowed the arrival of nine Russian delegates, six of whom are on the EU sanctions list. Ukrainian lawmakers are absent from the session to protest Russia's involvement. Nevertheless, they came to Vienna for bilateral talks, in which they want to seek the exclusion of Russian representatives from the Parliamentary Assembly.
According to the DPA agency, one of the Slovak MPs read the statement of the Ukrainian delegation labeling the Russian delegates as war criminals. According to Ukrainian MPs, their presence is “an insult to the victims of their atrocities”. According to the APA agency, the head of the Ukrainian delegation, Mykyta Poturayev, expressed concern that Russian MPs will try to use the assembly for a “propaganda show”.
The OSCE, with its 57 member states, aims to prevent conflicts and strengthen democracy. It is the only regional security forum where representatives of NATO countries and the US meet regularly with representatives of Russia.
Two American congressmen, Democrat Steve Cohen and Republican Joe Wilson, on the radio station Svobodná Evropa/Rádio Svoboda (RFE /RL) also criticized Austria. Cohen said that while he respects Vienna's decision, Russia has trampled on all the reasons why the Vienna meeting is taking place in the first place. “And I think that if a country goes that far, maybe it shouldn't be allowed,” Cohen said. “Some members are aiding and abetting a criminal attack,” the Swedish politician said to the Russian delegates.