Opening Statement at the 2023 Struga Conference on the Economic and Environmental Dimension of the OSCE

A view of a flooded neighborhood in Kherson, Ukraine, (AP Photo/Libkos)

Opening Statement at the 2023 Struga Conference on the Economic and Environmental Dimension of the OSCE

As delivered by Political Officer Bahram Rajaee
Struga, North Macedonia
June 14, 2023  

I would like to begin by expressing my delegation’s appreciation to the speakers this morning for their remarks, including Minister Osmani, Deputy Prime Minister Grkovska, Minister Shukova, Deputy Minister Demchenkov, and Ambassador Hasani. I’d also like to thank the North Macedonia Chairpersonship and its Second Dimension team for its persistence and creativity in bringing us together here today, and to the Office of the Coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities for supporting and organizing this conference.  

Russia continues to try to undermine the work of the OSCE, including that of the Second Dimension – long viewed by all delegations as a venue to engage in dialogue and cooperation.  As a result, this year for the first time we were unable to achieve consensus to convene the Economic and Environmental Forum meetings.  To be clear:  this outcome was due solely to Russia’s obstructionism, an indisputable fact.  All 56 other delegations wanted the meetings to be held.   

The economic and environmental destruction from Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine and the massive cost of reconstruction – now estimated by the World Bank and UN to be over $400 billion – speak volumes about Moscow’s continuing contempt for the principles and values of this Organization.  The destruction of the Kakhovka Dam, another tragic outcome of Russia’s unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine, triggered massive flooding, caused the evacuation of thousands of Ukrainian civilians, and puts many thousands more at risk.  The surge of flood waters will have profound, long-term humanitarian consequences for access to clean water and basic services. 

This catastrophe comes on the heels of Russia’s callous bombing of electrical infrastructure last winter in a failed bid to freeze Ukraine into submission, as well as its dangerous military activities at and around Ukraine’s civil nuclear facilities.  We are all also unfortunately aware of many other attacks by Russia’s forces and proxies against schools, hospitals, and industrial sites which will cause long-term pollution.  So whether it is obstructing Second Dimension meetings like EEF or continuing to wage its unprovoked war against Ukraine, it is obvious from its own actions that Moscow is willing to sacrifice dialogue for conflict and cooperation for ultimatums.   

Sadly, we are not surprised by any of this.  The large and ever-growing body of evidence accumulated over the past year makes clear Russia’s intention is to weaken this Organization through its farcical procedural objections and gut the OSCE’s most meaningful activities.  Moreover, we can all see what Russia’s objections really are about:  Russia seeks to avoid the consequences of its own unconscionable actions – actions it has blatantly and repeatedly taken in utter disregard of the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act.   

We applaud North Macedonia for the Chair’s dogged persistence consulting in good faith with all delegations since December on the EEF decision.  We support the CiO’s determination that, despite Russia’s obstructionism, the interests of the OSCE are best served by convening this meeting today.  We also fully agree with the CiO’s priorities and its agenda for this meeting – which emphasizes economic resilience within the specific areas of good governance, climate change, energy security, and trade and transport.      

The climate crisis isn’t coming.  It’s here and is leading to security related impacts across the world – and it demands a more robust response.  Later today we will hear from Ms. Kate Guy, who serves as Senior Advisor and Managing Director on Climate Security and Cross-Cutting Issues to Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.  She will discuss specific ways in which cooperation among participating States can address the negative security-related impacts of climate change and how the OSCE can contribute to the global response, which include working with civil society and private sector partners.  The United States strongly supports continuing discussions in the Second Dimension with the goal of operationalizing the 2021 Ministerial Council decision on climate change.  We view this meeting today, and the upcoming High-Level Conference on Climate Change on July 7, as essential steps in this direction.  

The economic and environmental challenges we are collectively facing in the OSCE region deserve our attention and discussion aimed at effective action.  This is true even as it remains our view that the OSCE must acknowledge and address the wide-ranging consequences for us all of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  I look forward to the discussions during this meeting, hearing from the impressive list of expert panelists, and consulting further with other delegations and the CiO.  One thing is certain, Russia has not succeeded and will not succeed in thwarting these discussions.  Nor will Russia succeed in undermining the work of this Organization – work that continues to be essential to the comprehensive security of this region.