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Russian delegates defiant at hostile OSCE assembly meeting

A contentious Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe parliamentary meeting ended Friday with condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — as Russian delegates accused the West of preventing dialogue by arming Kyiv.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the 57-nation OSCE brought together lawmakers from member countries — 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 due to the presence of six Russian delegates, who were given visas by Austria despite being under European Union and United States sanctions.

“We think it is immoral to sit in the same hall with war criminals who openly support the genocide of Ukraine,” Yevheniia Kravchuk, a Ukrainian lawmaker from the Servant of the People party, told The Associated Press in Vienna.

Kravchuk said Russia had “violated every single 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 OSCE, which was created during the Cold War and helped to ease tensions between East and West by providing a platform for dialogue.

RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR

“Addressing the problems of European security without the biggest country in Europe is not possible,” said Deputy Duma Chairman Pyotr Tolstoy, the head of the Russian delegation.

He accused the West of preventing dialogue by backing Ukraine on the battlefield and questioned whether Russia should continue to pay its annual contribution to OSCE.

Vladimir Dzhabarov, the deputy head of the Russian delegation, noted that Russia was a founding member of the organization. 

“They will not be able to put us outside the door,” he said, adding that if Russia were isolated, a new organization for security in Europe would have to be established.

The controversy over Russia’s participation overshadowed the two-day meeting and underlined the OSCE’s paralysis since the start of the war.

The Russian delegation was seated with Belarusian lawmakers in the last row of the meeting room inside Austria’s former imperial palace, the Hofburg, which was decorated with Ukrainian ribbons and banners. Many western delegates were dressed in the blue and yellow of Ukraine’s flag.

As Russian participants spoke during the session, some delegates walked out or waved Ukrainian flags.

In a statement at the end of the meeting, the assembly’s president, vice-presidents and other officials denounced “Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine as constituting clear, gross, and uncorrected violations” of its OSCE commitments.

Assembly President Margareta Cederfelt said she felt sympathy for “the fact that some members find it unbearable to sit in the same room as the aggressors.”

Austria’s government said that as the OSCE host nation it is legally obliged to grant visas to representatives from all member states – even those under international sanctions.

The OSCE has a wide-ranging mission including conflict prevention, human rights, election observation and arms control. The parliamentary assembly is a separate body of the organization.

The OSCE’s work has ground to a halt in the past year, with Russia blocking all major decisions, including the adoption of the budget and refusing to agree to Lithuania assuming the group’s rotating chairmanship in 2024.

Russia has also used its veto to block the extension of the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, the OSCE’s flagship operation in Ukraine which had been engaged in monitoring the fragile ceasefire in the east of the country before the full-scale invasion last year.

Ukraine wants to change the Parliamentary Assembly’s rules so that any OSCE member that starts a war against another can be suspended.

Kravchuk, the Ukrainian lawmaker, said the existing rules were set up during a time when “all countries respected the borders and the sovereignty of other nations and did not come with jets and tanks to take away their state.”

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