Austria to allow Russian MPs to attend OSCE meeting

Vienna will allow sanctioned Russian parliamentarians to attend the next big security meeting on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Austrian government is prepared to grant a small number of visas to Russian lawmakers so they can attend a crucial meeting at an international security forum later this month, a spokesperson for the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Antonia Praun, confirmed. This comes after nearly a year of complete Russian diplomatic isolation in the West.

Austrian officials have claimed that they are legally required to grant visas to the Russian team because Vienna is the location of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) headquarters. However, several OSCE members have already expressed their displeasure with the move, with Lithuanian representatives pledging to boycott the conference and attempting to persuade other nations to follow suit. Last year, the OSCE forbade Russian lawmakers from attending conferences in Poland and the UK.

The Lithuanian delegation, according to Laurynas Kasciunas, has decided “99 percent” not to attend the meeting and will discuss the matter with their Northern European counterparts at a meeting of the Nordic-Baltic Eight group later this week. All alternatives are on the table, according to Radoslaw Fogiel, chair of the Polish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and a representative of his nation at the OSCE, when asked if Poland would boycott the upcoming conference. Regarding Austria’s choice, he stated that it was an issue of political will, integrity, and morality.

The Ukrainian parliamentary delegation will travel to Vienna to hold meetings on the sidelines of the gathering with their counterparts from North America and Europe, but it will not attend any of the assembly meetings in light of Russia’s attendance, said Yevheniia Kravchuk, an alternate member of the Ukrainian delegation.

The diplomatic dispute mirrors a larger discussion taking place in Western capitals over how—or even whether—to maintain contact with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine almost a year ago. Russian ambassadors have been expelled from certain European nations, while others have called for a complete diplomatic boycott of Moscow to make Russian President Vladimir Putin a pariah on the global stage.

Russia has a permanent mission to the OSCE in Vienna, much like the other 56 members of the organization. The European Union has imposed sanctions on the nation’s parliamentary delegation, which includes current members of the Russian parliament, for its participation in the conflict and Russia’s recognition of the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

On February 23 and 24, the day after Russia’s complete invasion of Ukraine, the OSCE winter summit will take place in the capital of Austria. Russian involvement in the conference is opposed by some who worry that it will provide Moscow with a platform to promote its distorted account of the conflict.

In an interview, the chair of the Lithuanian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Zygimantas Pavilionis, who is not a member of his nation’s delegation to the OSCE, cautioned against inviting Russian lawmakers, saying that doing so would “serve Russian propaganda” and “allow them to create an image that the West is returning to business as usual.”

The Ukrainian parliament passed a motion on Monday urging the OSCE to completely banish Russia from the organization and to refuse visas to Russian delegates. “The OSCE is dead in my eyes.” Oleksandr Merezhko, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Ukrainian parliament, declared that it had failed to shield us.

As the host of the OSCE’s headquarters, Austria is legally required to grant visas to delegations from participating nations so they can attend meetings, according to a media advisory provided to Foreign Policy by the Austrian Embassy in the United States. As a result, Austria does not possess the discretionary power used by other states to deny visas to Russian lawmakers. “The process is no different from the one followed by other seat countries of international organizations,” the memo continued. “For example, Swiss authorities provide access to United Nations grounds to UN Member State representatives.”

Throughout last year’s invasion of Ukraine, which resulted in the deaths of more than 7,000 people and the largest influx of refugees into Europe since World War II, several Western nations have worked to entirely alienate Russia from the international community. 20 countries’ worth of legislators issued a message to Austria requesting that they not allow the Russian delegation to attend the OSCE meeting.

Asking them to prevent the Russian delegation from attending the meeting, the Austrian government sent a letter last week, according to the Agence France-Presse.

In the past, Russia has resisted OSCE member attempts to refuse invitations to important officials. After the Polish Foreign Ministry informed Sergey Lavrov that he was not welcome at a meeting late last year in Lodz, Maria Zakharova, the ministry’s top spokesperson, accused the bod Because of the U.S. and European Union sanctions on him, Poland insisted that Lavrov could not attend.

The chief diplomat for Austria questioned Poland’s choice. “High-level gatherings like this one should be open to representatives of all states. Let’s not ruin this special platform, which served as our community’s response to Cold War tensions and the severe divide between the East and the West. According to Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg in December 2022, the OSCE is in a crisis over the Russian war in Ukraine.

While the UK forbade Russia from attending the OSCE meeting in Lodz in December 2022, Poland refused to give visas for attendance.

However, despite doubts about Russia’s standing in the OSCE, Russian representatives have been effective in trying to thwart some of the organization’s most important measures. There were no decisions made at the OSCE’s annual ministerial conference in Poland in December of last year, including one about Russian and Armenian legislators joining forces to defeat the $143 million budget plan, starving more than a dozen peacekeeping missions in Europe and Central Asia of cash.

Additionally, hawkish European nations perceive Vienna as contributing to the issue. Regardless of recent developments, Since Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, officials from Austria, a longtime military-neutral nation, have had closer ties with the Kremlin than most of Europe. Austrian Chancellor Nehammer met with President Putin in April 2022 became the first head of state from a European country to speak with Putin since the attack and demanded an end to the conflict.

One of the last international organizations to which both Western nations and Russia are members, outside of the United Nations, is the OSCE. Following Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine and illegitimate annexation of Crimea in 2014, it played a significant role in monitoring the contact lines in eastern Ukraine before its invasion of Ukraine.

Former officials anticipate the Russian Duma delegation to act as a Kremlin propagandist, in contrast to the American congressional delegation, which will be made up of a mix of Republicans and supporters of the Biden administration’s response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

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