posted on Mon 20 Feb 2017 12:20 PM
Open Debate on Conflicts in Europe and Briefing by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office

Over the next two days, the Security Council will hold two meetings focused on European issues. On Tuesday (21 February), the Council will hold an open debate on conflicts in Europe chaired by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin. The briefers for the debate are UN Secretary-General António Guterres, OSCE Secretary-General Lamberto Zannier, and Secretary-General of the European External Action Service Helga Schmid.

The following day, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, will brief the Council in his capacity as Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE briefings to the Council are held on an annual basis soon after the chairperson assumes office. The chairpersonship rotates on a yearly basis, and Austria assumed the role on 1 January, succeeding Germany which held the position during 2016.

Open Debate on Conflicts in Europe
As president of the Council for February, Ukraine has chosen to emphasise the issue of conflicts, both protracted and active, in the European region. A concept note (S/2017/108) circulated to members ahead of the debate argues that emerging conflicts as well as a number of protracted conflicts in the region pose a serious threat to international peace and security and warrant the Council’s attention. The concept note draws attention to the inability of existing mechanisms to properly address protracted conflicts in Europe, as well as the incomplete implementation of relevant Council resolutions on the issue. It argues that the Council should pay closer attention to protracted conflicts in Europe because they have the potential to escalate and threaten the overall stability and security of the region.

The debate will allow members to evaluate current threats to international peace and security posed by the conflicts in Europe, while also discussing the best ways to tackle these issues. Members are expected to express their views on the role of the Council, as well as of the Secretary-General, in addressing protracted conflicts in Europe. Council members will be particularly interested to hear from the Secretary-General, considering that this will be the first time he will address the specific issue of conflicts in Europe in a formal meeting of the Council. .

At the moment, regional and sub-regional organisations – notably the OSCE and the EU – play the leading roles in the conflict and post-conflict environments in Europe. Council members may address the ways in which cooperation between these organisations and the UN could be more effective. In this context, members will be interested to hear more from Zannier and Schmid regarding the activities of their respective organizations.

Briefing by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office
In his briefing to the Council, Kurz is expected to outline the main priorities during Austria’s chairpersonship of the organization. These are contributing towards defusing existing conflicts; joining forces in fighting radicalisation and violent extremism; and reestablishing trust and confidence.

Given that conflict prevention and crisis management represent the main issues of concern for the organisation, the conflict in Ukraine is expected to be a priority on the agenda of the OSCE as well as of Austria’s chairpersonship. Since the beginning of violent conflict in Ukraine in 2014, the OSCE has emerged as the leading organisation on the ground tasked with monitoring certain aspects of the implementation of the Minsk agreements, endorsed by the Council in resolution 2202.

With over 700 unarmed observers, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) gathers information related to ceasefire violations and the withdrawal of heavy weapons on a daily basis. In addition to monitoring, the OSCE participates in the work of the Trilateral Contact Group (TGC) which also includes representatives from Russia and Ukraine. The TGC plays an instrumental role in facilitating efforts to resolve the conflict and serves as a forum for addressing implementation aspects of the Minsk agreements

Given the OSCE’s prominent presence and access to information from the ground, the Council has occasionally sought briefings by OSCE’s representatives on the situation in eastern Ukraine. Most recently, on 2 February, the Council was briefed by the Chief Monitor of the SMM Ertuğrul Apakan (S/PV.7876) on the latest violations of the Minsk agreements stemming from the escalation of violence in the Donetsk region.

On 3 January, in his first trip as a Chairperson-in-Office, Kurz visited eastern Ukraine where he met with members of the SMM. Kurz deliberately chose Ukraine for his first visit “to underscore the importance Austria attaches to the conflicts in and around Ukraine”, and to get a better understanding of the situation on the ground. Also in January, Kurz traveled to Kiev and Moscow, where he met with the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia, respectively. Council members will be interested to hear more details about these visits. The work of the SMM continues to be hindered by the restricted access to its monitors in some areas and some members may want to know more about the challenges the organisation faces in its operations.

In addition to conflict in Ukraine, Kurz is expected to address other conflict situations covered by the OSCE. These are primarily frozen conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Transdniestria and Georgia where the OSCE, together with partners, plays a mediating role. These conflicts are not on the Council’s agenda and are seldom discussed in the Council. However, on 2 December 2016, Ukraine initiated a meeting under “any other business” on the situation in Georgia, as it wanted to raise the issue of the 23 November agreement between Russia and Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia on the establishment of a joint military force. Council members may take the opportunity to learn more details about the OSCE’s mediating efforts in Georgia and other rarely discussed situations.

While Council members generally support the work of the OSCE and enhanced cooperation with the UN, discussion of the situation in Ukraine continues to be polarising. Since the beginning of the conflict, there has been a deep rift between Russia and the P3 members of the Council on this issue. This division was further exacerbated when Ukraine joined the Council in 2016, with Ukraine and Russia accusing each other of constantly violating the Minsk agreement. These accusations are likely to be reiterated during Wednesday’s meeting.

The issue of terrorism and radicalisation has emerged as one of the main priorities for Austria’s chairpersonship of the OSCE. OSCE member states have witnessed an increased number of terrorism-related incidents in the past several years. On 1 January, when Austria formally assumed the chairpersonship, a terrorist attack on a nightclub in Istanbul left 39 people dead and dozens of others injured. In addition, there are a number of citizens of OSCE member countries fighting alongside ISIL and other extremist groups in the Middle East. Given that Council members have placed increasing emphasis on addressing the issue of terrorism, members may want to explore ways of enhancing cooperation between the OSCE and the UN on this issue.