Response to OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid’s Update on OSCE’s Program to Combat Trafficking of Cultural Property

Workers move the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin of the Bohorodchany Iconostasis in the Andrey Sheptytsky National Museum as part of safety preparations in the event of an attack in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Friday, March 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)

Response to OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid’s Update on OSCE’s Program to Combat Trafficking of Cultural Property 

As prepared for delivery by Ambassador Michael Carpenter
to the Permanent Council, Vienna
April 20, 2023 

Madam Secretary General, Helga, thank you for your update to the Permanent Council.  What you outlined demonstrates the innovative and cutting-edge work the OSCE can accomplish.  I welcome the OSCE’s engagement to support investigations in Italy into over 300 recently seized paintings that appear to have been plundered from Ukraine.  I support the ongoing work to convene workshops with a special focus on Ukraine – it is important we improve our capacity to respond to trafficking and crimes involving Ukraine’s cultural heritage property.  And I want to underscore just how important it is that the OSCE is supporting Ukraine to capture information and evidence regarding the destruction and looting of sites of cultural importance in Ukraine. 

To be clear, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is the driving force behind this problem.  It is Russia’s attacking and destroying of Ukraine’s culture that forces us to help protect Ukraine’s unique cultural heritage.  And while the results you outline today are very much welcome, we must do more.  We need more innovative programming like this from the OSCE’s Support Program for Ukraine.  We look forward to supporting new SPU projects in the weeks and months to come.  

Madam Secretary General, thank you for your update on the SMM staff members Russia continues to unjustifiably detain.  We share your outrage over the undue hardship and stress inflicted on the detainees and their families.  I appreciate your continued engagement with their families; please let them know that the suffering of their loved ones is on our minds and continues to be of great concern to the United States.  Like you, I remain committed to their release along with all others who have been wrongfully detained by the Russian government.  We strongly support your tireless efforts to achieve this.   

It is outrageous that after a year, Russia has not released these OSCE staff members.  It is indicative of Russia’s deep contempt for this Organization, in fact, it’s an attack on the Organization and a complete disregard for Russia’s OSCE commitments.  Russia must release these OSCE staff members now.  Immediately.   

Finally, I wanted to also acknowledge that April 23, marks the sixth anniversary of the death of Joseph Stone, the American SMM medic killed by a landmine in eastern Ukraine in 2017.  Despite six years passing since his death, we have not forgotten the sacrifice he made to try to help end this bloody conflict.