NEWS ANALYSIS: Kosovo and Russian elections overshadow Finnish chairmanship of OSCE
Some threats averted in advance
By Kari Huhta
Finland's one-year turn holding the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is set to be a year-long series of difficult and exhausting confrontations, say diplomats who follow events at the organisation. In recent months there had been an expectation of a possible great power collision during Finland's turn at the helm of the OSCE.
"The situation is better than we imagined in the autumn", was one assessment, but forecasts for the Finnish chairmanship, which starts at the beginning of the year, have not become any more optimistic than that.
In the coming months, the OSCE, which has developed into the most extensive human rights organisation in the world, will face storms under Finnish leadership on issues ranging from Kosovo, which is preparing its declaration of independence, to Russia, which is holding presidential elections with rules completely of its own.
However, in the light of the present situation, the organisation is not on the verge of disintegration, contrary to speculation a few months ago.
Under the darkest forecasts, the organisation - which was born at the Helsinki summit of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975 - would have come to the end of its road during the Finnish turn at the helm, in the same place where it began.
Since then, however, the 56 member states of the OSCE have managed to agree on which countries would chair the organisation in the three years that follow Finland's turn. Russia had raised the acceptance of countries that it supports as being worthy of holding the chairmanship to be a threshold issue for the continuity of the organisation, and managed to get Kazakhstan included on the list.
Disputes over the OSCE budget are also fading to a normal level, which means a delay of up to several months in completing the budget.
Russia continues to call for severe cuts in human rights activities, which it is constantly berating, and the United States wants big cutbacks in the budget of the OSCE secretariat.
According to diplomats, the demands for saving money could, with luck, cancel each other out during negotiations to be held under the Finnish chairmanship.
Responsibility for Finnish activities in the OSCE chairmanship is primarily with Minister for Foreign Affairs Ilkka Kanerva (Nat. Coalition Party), who can share some of it within his ministry, but not with other ministries.
Kanerva said on Friday that the greatest challenge at the beginning of the Finnish term is the monitoring of the presidential elections in Russia in March.
Kanerva said that the implementation of OSCE monitoring of Russia's elections should be improved.
The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) did not send observers to the Russian parliamentary elections in early December because of restrictions placed on the observers by Russia.
According to Kanerva, the holder of the OSCE chairmanship should try to persuade Russia to make some concessions, and ODIHR could see the implementation of a full operation to be possible.
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told reporters during the Christmas holidays that Russia itself plans to set its own conditions for the monitoring of the Presidential elections, and he criticised ODIHR in terms that were unusually harsh - even by Russian standards.
Competing with election monitoring for the status of the biggest hazard facing the OSCE in the coming years is Kosovo, which is moving from being a province of Serbia toward independence.
The decisive confrontation over Kosovo's independence has been delayed by a few weeks, or by a few months at the most, as the sides seek as controlled a path forward as possible.
During the Christmas holidays the OSCE decided that the operation in Kosovo, involving thousands of observers, should continue into the new year as well, but on the insistence of Russia and Serbia, the extensions will be only one month at a time. This means that once a month Finland will have to persuade Russia and Serbia to consent to the extension of the mandate.
OSCE observers do not have as great a role in Kosovo as the NATO-led crisis management forces, or the civilian administration that is being transferred to EU authority from the UN.
The OSCE is nevertheless the only place, in addition to the UN, where Russia is sitting at the same table with the West on the conflict in Kosovo.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 29.12.2007
Previously in HS International Edition:
OSCE press release: Finland takes over OSCE Chairmanship, will focus on strengthening Organization
KARI HUHTA / Helsingin Sanomat