Ambassador Baer’s Interview with

A TV camera positioned in front of a backdrop with OSCE logos prior to a news conference at the Hofburg in Vienna. (OSCE, Mikhail Evstafiev)


(By Telephone)

December 9, 2016

Hamburg Messe Und Congress

Hamburg, Germany

QUESTION: My first question is about the overall situation in the OSCE. Today the OSCE Secretary General spoke about a big rift in the organization. What can you tell me about it? Why does this rift exist and where is the line?

AMBASSADOR BAER: Well, in one sense the line lies between those who are drifting quickly away from accordance with the OSCE principles and commitments and becoming more and more authoritarian – which is something that Secretary Kerry talked about yesterday – and the rest who are working diligently to uphold and observe OSCE principles and commitments.

So the Russian Federation and a small number of other increasingly authoritarian states tend to be divided from the vast majority of OSCE participating States, and one of the things that gets misunderstood is that while it is true that it is difficult to reach consensus today in the OSCE, on most things, there is agreement by at least 55 or 56 States. It is usually one or two holdouts. When it’s one, it’s usually the Russian Federation. And when it’s two, it’s usually the Russian Federation and someone else.

And so, you know, despite the fact that that makes it difficult to reach consensus – as we saw today in Hamburg when the Russians blocked a number of useful, valuable texts – there’s still a great deal of unity in the OSCE community writ large, and there’s a great deal of common cause and common commitment to the OSCE principles.

QUESTION: I see. So, did I understand it right that today in the OSCE there is an idea that Russia can, or should – can it be that Russia won’t be part of the OSCE with everything that has been said just now?

BAER: You know, I haven’t heard the idea that that is something that is imminent. Certainly the Russian Federation, I suppose, could make a drastic move and not be part of it. But I think, from our perspective, the OSCE remains – even when we’re in the midst of a period when Russia has flagrantly contravened so many OSCE principles – we’re in the midst of a period where we remain willing to engage with Russia on the basis of the common commitments that we have made to each other in the OSCE, along with the 55 other participating States. And so, I think this is obviously not a great time in terms of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Russia. It’s not a great time for the relationship between Russia and the EU or many European countries. But particularly in difficult times, I think it’s important to stick to principles and to be clear and honest with the Russians about where the problems lie and where the solutions lie. And in both cases, they lie with Russian action or inaction.

QUESTION: So, can you tell me the main points of disagreement within the OSCE? It seems that Ukraine is the first issue, but maybe there are other things that I don’t know about?

BAER: I think you’re right. I think the first issue is Russia’s violation of international law and contravention of OSCE commitments with respect to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors. That encompasses not only Ukraine, but also obviously Georgia and Moldova. Ukraine is certainly the top of the agenda. We heard from the Ministers – they all made statements over the past two days – and of the 57 Ministers, we heard 53 references to Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and/or Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. So this remains top of mind as a primary example of the kind of undermining of the international order that we see by Russia across the board.

QUESTION: So, can you tell me more about this police mission that has been talked about for some time now? With the rift that goes through the OSCE – does that have anything to do with a police mission? Is Russia the only part that is against such a mission in Donbas, or not?

BAER: You know, there’s never been a formal proposal tabled on that issue. Our perspective is that, right now we have the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, we have a small Observer Mission at two checkpoints along the Russian-Ukrainian border that are operationally deployed on behalf of the OSCE. Both of those are civilian, unarmed missions. And we think they should carry on doing their work according to their mandate.

We’ve said that, if a ceasefire is achieved, if there’s full visibility of the border and that ceasefire is sustained and sustainable, that would open up the opportunity for some progress on other parts of the Minsk Agreements. And if at that time there is a need for more support from the international community to facilitate the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, we should consider it then. So far, the discussion of a police mission or an election security presence or whatever you want to call it has really taken place more in the mode of press conferences rather than in formal meetings.

You cited a Russian view – there have been Russian views in favor of and against – that have come out in the press. And I think the real issue is that we need to get that sustained and sustainable ceasefire, end the fighting on the ground, and figure out together what else is necessary on the part of the international community. We, as the United States, are open minded about that conversation, and we will go into it with a practical lens of what’s really needed – what’s the demand of the situation on the ground. And I think we heard yesterday from High Representative Mogherini a similar perspective, which is that they are ready to have a genuine discussion based on the situation on the ground.

QUESTION: But are there any other main activities of the OSCE that are happening around Ukraine and around the Donbas process?

BAER: Well, obviously there’s an ongoing political dialogue that happened this week in Hamburg among Ministers and that happens every week in the Permanent Council in Vienna among the 57 Ambassadors. But in addition to that political dialogue, there is a diplomatic process which the OSCE is engaged in – the Trilateral Contact Group of Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE, which is led by Ambassador Sajdik for the OSCE. So there’s that diplomatic process, which is aiming to hash out concrete steps that can advance the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. And then, obviously, on the ground there is the SMM, there are the two checkpoints on Russian territory – on the Russian side of the international border – where there’s an Observer Mission, and there’s a project coordinating unit in Kyiv that is doing a lot of work on a number of fronts to help support the Ukrainian reform process.

And that reform process, I think, is an important piece to keep in our focus, because that affirmative, positive agenda of building a strong, democratic Ukraine with institutions that are in accordance with the rule of law and that people trust, that’s really the decisive battlefield, as Secretary Kerry said yesterday, for the future of Ukraine. And that is the promise of the future.

You know, there was a Decision, just so you know – there was a Decision or Declaration on the table here in Hamburg for all 57 States that would have been a political statement by the Ministers about the urgency of resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the broader implications of Russia’s activities in Ukraine. And Russia was the only country that blocked that Declaration. So it’s unfortunate that that Declaration wasn’t agreed, but nonetheless, I think there’s a clear message that’s also sent by the fact that Russia was so isolated in blocking that Declaration.

QUESTION: Can you tell me – what are the feelings – do you have an idea that Russia is now trying to follow its path in the OSCE?  Do you think that Russia gets what it wants from the OSCE format that is ongoing today?

BAER: You know, I don’t know exactly what Russia wants out of this format. They don’t behave in a way that evidences much good faith in terms of their engagement with other countries in working as the other 56 countries do on concrete issues that affect the security of all of us. Russia tends to – and I spoke to this in our delegation’s closing statement at the Ministerial today – Russia tends to engage in the negotiations without a lot of good faith and by injecting good ideas that they know people will object to just to slow things down. But at the same time, obviously, Foreign Minister Lavrov was here. He offered his views. They are well-rehearsed and well-trodden – a mixture of his own spin and some other stuff. But clearly he places some importance on being here and the opportunity to engage with his counterparts from European countries across the region, as well as the countries of North America.

QUESTION: Yeah. So, there is another idea of OSCE countries – as I understand it – the German initiative about the new arms treaty with Russia in the OSCE format. Can you elaborate about this?

BAER: Well, I think Foreign Minister Steinmeier is the right person to be the spokesperson for that initiative, but I think what we share with the German Chairmanship is an assessment that the security situation in the OSCE area is unsatisfactory and serious, and that what makes sense as a first-step in addressing it is to have a purposeful dialogue about broad security issues. And in the course of that dialogue to give all of the 57 OSCE States a chance to share their perspective about what threats they face, what threats we collectively face, and to offer ideas about how to address them, among other things. And so, I think there’s agreement on that front. In terms of a new arms control initiative, I think our view is that the right first step is that dialogue, and it’s premature to judge that the time is ripe for a new initiative around arms control. And I would say that, I didn’t catch all of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s very long press conference today, but I believe I heard him say something about the time not being right himself, so…

QUESTION: So, the last question. There is an interesting point that Mr. Lavrov made today about some documents that show that Russia was given a reassurance that NATO would not go farther to the East, and that these documents have been handed in to OSCE representatives today. Do you have any information about these documents? Did you see them? Do you have any comments?

BAER: I didn’t see them and I don’t have any information. I would beware of Russians peddling documents in general. But one of the things that I think is important to say is that there’s a story with seventy versions that you hear from various Russian officials about their fear about NATO and about NATO being somehow a threat. NATO is a defensive alliance. It’s the most successful military alliance in the history of mankind. It’s a defensive alliance. It is not a threat to Russia.

In fact, quite the opposite of what Russia says, NATO has been good for Russia. And I know it would be very difficult for a Russian official to admit that. But the fact that there are a bunch of stable, democratic countries on Russia’s western border is a good thing for Russia. And when you look at a map of the world and see the vast length of Russia’s borders, the most likely source of a security concern for Russia is not from that group of countries on their west. The neighbors of Russia that have been invaded or had military action taken against them – that was by Russia, not by NATO.

So I think it’s really important to recognize that that narrative, which often gets trotted out, is both inaccurate in terms of historical fact. It’s also inaccurate in terms of what NATO represents today, which is a stabilizing force that contributes to European security, including Russia’s security – as difficult as it is for Russia to admit it.

QUESTION: Yes, thanks Mr. Baer. It was a very interesting interview. Thanks a lot.

BAER: Thank you very much.