Ambassador Baer’s Interview with ORF TV (Austria)
January 11, 2017
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, Austria is now the Chairmanship in the OSCE for the next year — for 2017. What are your expectations?
AMBASSADOR BAER: Well, obviously we’re in a very difficult moment in Europe and in the world in many respects, and so I think one of the expectations is that Austria will lead. Austria obviously sits at the helm of an organization -– the largest regional security organization in the world — with 57 countries that include 1.2 billion people, and that’s a real opportunity for Austria, particularly in a difficult moment.
And so one of the ways that Austria can lead is by putting the values that are fundamental to the OSCE — that were present at Helsinki and that the 57 participating States have committed themselves to, particularly the values of human rights and democracy — at the forefront. Those are values that are under threat today across the OSCE region. And Austria putting those at the forefront and really demonstrating leadership on those is one of the ways that Austria can distinguish itself as a Chairmanship in 2017.
Another thing that will be very important, of course, and the Foreign Minister has demonstrated this already, is continuing to put high political priority on a peaceful de-escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine –- between Russia and Ukraine –- and to continue to remind the world of the illegitimacy of Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea. And I think the Foreign Minister’s trip to Mariupol last week was a great first step that really highlighted and placed a political priority on that issue.
QUESTION: You just said that the Austrian Foreign Minister, Mr. Kurz, made a most important issue the crisis in Ukraine. What do you think needs to be done?
BAER: Well, I think everybody knows –- and in fact, everybody agrees on what needs to be done in terms of the words we speak. The Russian Federation here in Vienna often repeats that there needs to be full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, as do the EU, Canada, Turkey, the United States, and others. What we haven’t seen is actions on-the-ground that match those words. And so I think what needs to be done is that the actions on the ground need to match the words that have been said. And in particular, the Kremlin needs to give the orders to its proxies on the ground to take the steps that are necessary for the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, starting with a complete, sustained, and sustainable ceasefire, and allowing international monitoring across the Russia-Ukraine border so that people can be confident that the massive flows of weapons and fighters that have come from Russia into Ukraine have stopped, and that in fact fighters and weapons are going back to Russia so that there can be a peaceful political process in eastern Ukraine.
QUESTION: The ceasefire was broken many times on both sides. What part can the OSCE take in this issue?
BAER: Well, the OSCE has played an extraordinarily valuable role in being the eyes and ears of the international community. Obviously the Special Monitoring Mission is made up of civilian, unarmed monitors who are operating in a conflict zone, and we are grateful to them for their courageous service on behalf of the international community in being the eyes and the ears. They can only do so much, though, because without full and unfettered access, the view that they get is inevitably incomplete. And one of the things that we and many others have called for repeatedly over the last months, and in fact years, is for Russia and its proxies to grant full, unfettered, safe access for the OSCE’s monitors so they can have a clearer view of what’s happening on the ground and share that with Ukrainians as well as the international community. And providing that information helps give us a baseline of understanding of what actions need to be taken in order for the Minsk Agreements to be fully implemented.
QUESTION: To work for peace in eastern Ukraine, you most probably need Russia too. The relationship between the U.S. and Russia is very complicated at the moment. Do you think a new president in the U.S. could do anything differently or new to work on these relations with Russia?
BAER: Well, I think the fundamental challenge will remain no matter what. And I think it’s important to recognize that while it sometimes gets cast as the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, this is really a relationship between Russia and the rest of the world. Russia, much to our regret, has chosen –- and really, President Putin has chosen –- to cut Russia off from the international community in so many ways. And there’s a double tragedy here, which is that we want Russia to be part of the international system because we need Russia to be part of the international system in order for the international system to be effective at confronting the challenges that we can’t choose — confronting the challenges that come from climate change, confronting global epidemics like Ebola, confronting the scourge of terrorism. We want Russia to be part of that international system so that we can confront those shared challenges together, and Russia’s actions, like the actions it has taken in Ukraine as well as actions it has taken elsewhere, not only have human consequences in and of themselves, but they also remove Russia from that international system, which is a double tragedy.
QUESTION: The President-elect, Donald Trump, has good relations with Russia and with Vladimir Putin as well. Do you think that could help in working with Russia in the next four years?
BAER: You know, I think, as I said, reality has a strange way of limiting the opportunities and determining what opportunities you have. And I think the immediate opportunity that lies in front of us doesn’t change with the occupant of the White House. The opportunity that lies in front of us is for Russia to make the decision to change course, to abandon its destructive tactics in Europe and elsewhere, and to begin the process of rejoining the international community. And so the immediate opportunity remains in the Kremlin — for the Kremlin to decide that it’s time to end the conflict in Ukraine, to give the orders to its proxies on the ground to allow for that to happen, and that’s where the action is.
QUESTION: What do you think after the Chairmanship of Austria in 2017 – what do you think will happen in this year? Do you think there will be tremendous success? Or do you think it’s small steps that should be taken?
BAER: I think, you know, one of the challenges that every chairmanship faces is that chairmanships of the OSCE happen on a one-year calendar and history doesn’t. And I think, usually you can aim for big things, but you have to also be looking to make the small steps as well. I think the big thing that the Foreign Minister and that the Austrian team can lead us on is really responding to this threat of authoritarian populism that we see rising in many parts of the OSCE area and outside of it as well, and responding with firm conviction and commitment to human rights and democracy and rule of law and the values that underpin the OSCE and are the proper response –- and that continue empirically to be valid and to hold the most promise for the citizens of all of our countries. Obviously, he can also place a high priority on supporting the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. In terms of smaller steps, there are a range of things that can be done, and I know that the Austrian chairmanship is looking to make progress on a number of issues as other chairmanships have before them.
QUESTION: Another big issue this year will be the refugee crisis. Last year, the Eastern Balkan Route was closed, but there are still a lot of refugees for instance in Greece or in Bulgaria and other countries. What part can the OSCE take in this issue this year?
BAER: I think last year there was a working group that was led by the Swiss Ambassador here in Vienna that did a lot of work to identify the things that the OSCE already is doing. Obviously, the OSCE -– sometimes we forget because other issues grab the headlines –- but the OSCE still has a very large field presence in the Balkan countries. And that field presence, those field operations, have the opportunity to provide support to their host governments and to work with each other to help address particular challenges related to the refugee and migration flows. In addition, obviously, there is an opportunity politically to convene, here in Vienna and elsewhere, the participating States to talk about how various countries are either themselves or working together to confront governance challenges that arise from this reality. I think the important thing that we did last year was to acknowledge that this isn’t a crisis in the sense of a passing problem. This is a new reality, and it poses challenges for governments in terms of how to respond to it, but responsible governments will acknowledge that this isn’t going away, and that it’s also not a governance challenge that you can opt-out of. You can’t say “we won’t be part of this problem; we won’t be part of solving it.” It’s going to take all governments coming together to figure out how to solve what is a collective action problem in order to do that sustainably and to bring the resources to bear to manage this new reality effectively. And I think there was a lot of progress made last year toward making that acknowledgment, and I look forward to seeing what happens this year under the Austrian chairmanship to take that work forward both practically and politically.
QUESTION: One last question – in nine days there will be a new president in your country, Donald Trump, and there are a lot of worries and concerns especially in Europe but all over the world. Do you understand these concerns?
BAER: Sure I understand these concerns. They are articulated in various ways by various people, and I think there’s a challenge that faces every new Administration, which is to define itself and to introduce itself to the world in a way that enhances its ability to work with others around the world in order to advance the interests of citizens of all of our countries. And I think certainly we’ve seen from some of the concerns that have been articulated thus far that there’s a particular challenge in addressing those concerns. And I hope that the new President and his Administration will take steps to introduce themselves to the world in a way that brings renewed confidence in America’s role. And I think one of the things that we have to remember is that America has been around through many, many presidents now. And we have had the change of power between parties and between people many times. And one of the things consistently in terms of America’s role in Europe in the last seventy years has been that America has been a reliable partner, a crucial partner, in terms of supporting trade and prosperity as well as freedom and democracy. And I expect that that will continue to be a role that America and Americans are happy to play.
QUESTION: Do you think the presidency will affect the work here at the OSCE — the American strategy at the OSCE?
BAER: Well, I’m President Obama’s ambassador, so I can only speak for the current administration. Certainly any President and Secretary of State gets the opportunity to give instructions to her or his ambassadors and those who work in the administration and they have the opportunity to define the objectives they’d like them to pursue. I’m reasonably confident that it will continue to be in America’s interest to be a crucial defense partner for Europe, a crucial partner in the project of expanding prosperity and democracy.