On January the 1st Poland took over the chairmanship in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Even though this special role allows strengthening the position in the international arena, it also poses many challenges which require a quick response. The most important issues at the beginning of 2022 are the intensification of the conflict in Ukraine, the expected continuation of the migration wave in Europe, resumed combat in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the need to maintain peace in the Balkans.
Challenges and expectations
Poland can play a key role as a mediator in the conflicts which take place in Europe. The most burning issue is the situation in Ukraine, where the number of Russian soldiers at the border continues to increase. Despite many years of OSCE’s special mission, as well as quadrilateral talks within the Normandy Format, there is a regular exchange of fire in the Donbas. Prevention of the escalation of the military action leading to further territorial occupation of Ukraine, as well as supporting Kyiv in maintaining a pro-European direction in foreign policy will be of fundamental importance to Warsaw. It must be noted that any, even the slightest improvement in Russian-Ukrainian relations will be beneficial to Poland as it remains the main power in NATO’s eastern flank, and does not want to risk an open conflict.
Belarus, as well as Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are members of the OSCE. The ongoing migration crisis on the eastern border of the EU is another obstacle in reaching an agreement within the organization. Despite its regional character, it affects the security of the whole of Europe. So far, the issue of thousands of unidentified people trying to cross the EU border has been assigned to Poland. Warsaw will certainly try to find a permanent solution to this crisis as it is a serious liability to Polish security forces and the military.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is a separate matter. In July 2021 Armenia, one of the parties to the dispute, emphasized that it was counting on Poland to help with its resolution. It is worth noting that in recent months the fights have intensified again. Armenia points to Azerbaijan as a constant aggressor supported by Turkey. Poland’s role will be to use OSCE’s special missions and debates with representatives of states (all parties involved are members of the organization) which will allow de-escalation and start of peace talks. Putting media pressure on Poland will probably be a continuous part of actions performed by other countries.
It seems that during the yearlong chairmanship it is attainable to strengthen relations, i.a., with Turkey, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, France and Sweden.
Support for the Polish chairmanship
Sweden will be potential support for the Polish chairmanship. The experience resulting from the Swedish term in 2021 may be crucial for Poland, especially at the beginning. It will be a time when other countries will test how much they can influence the decisions made by the current chair. A firm and transparent stance, with the support of, for example, NATO countries, will be a signal for the others that the Polish vision should be taken into account in the 12 months to come. The organization consists of 57 countries on three continents- South America, Europe, and Asia, which will require a multipronged approach in building relations with other members.
Public words of support for Poland were expressed by Romania, Italy, Lithuania, and, what is significant, the Russian Federation. On the 29th of December 2021, even before the start of the term, Moscow emphasized that it expected the Polish chair to, i.a., resolve the Transnistria issue and establish its status as independent from Kishinev. Kremlin also failed to restrain from a recommendation of a wise policy towards the situation in Central and Eastern Europe.
The vision of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
In the middle of the last year, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Poland’s ambition was to create a dialogue based on international law. The main goal is to help civilians in the conflict-affected areas. Finding a balance in the pandemic which strongly affects OSCE’s ability to respond to threats will also be of importance.
In his address to the OSCE’s Permanent Council in Vienna, Minister Zbigniew Rau indicated that it was all member states’ obligation to protect and support the weakest – civilians, women and children from the consequences of conflicts. In his judgement, the OSCE has the necessary toolbox and long-lasting experience in delivering assistance to people in need and ensuring peace by fighting threats. The Polish chairmanship in the security context will have three dimensions: politico-military, where arms control and confidence-building measures are pointed; environmental and economic, which will concentrate on the recovery and modernization of economies suffering from conflicts, as well as human, which will concentrate on human rights and national minorities.
A year of opportunities
The greatest challenge for Poland will be to improve relations with the Russian Federation, which has fundamentally different interests. Therefore, it may so happen that instead of building a dialogue with Moscow, Warsaw will have to look for allies among other member states. It seems that during the yearlong chairmanship it is possible to strengthen relations, i.a., with Turkey, Ukraine, Czech Republic, France and Sweden, which will allow not only for fruitful conduct of activities under the chairmanship but will also be a good start in developing bilateral relations in the coming years.
The official inauguration will take place on the 13th of January during the Permanent Council’s session in Vienna. Poland will cooperate within the so-called OSCE three, including the previous and following chairs-Sweden and North Macedonia respectively. This is the second time that Poland will chair the organization, with its previous chairmanship held in 1998.
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