"Security through Inclusive Dialogue and Action: OSCE Roles in the Ukraine Crisis"


Tallinn, 25.08.2014: Speech by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr Didier Burkhalter - Ambassador Conference in Tallinn - Check against delivery

Speaker: President of the Swiss Confederation, Didier Burkhalter (2014); Didier Burkhalter; OSCE CiO, Didier Burkhalter (2014)

Dear colleagues
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a pleasure and an honour to participate in your ambassadors’ conference here in Tallinn. I appreciate the opportunity to outline the role of the OSCE and the activities of the Swiss Chairmanship in the Ukraine crisis. I am also looking forward to discussing these issues with you and to learning about your views. Your views on how to deal with this crisis. And your views on how to reverse the erosion of European security.

Before I come to these issues, which are of such great concern to all of us, let me start by congratulating you on the Day of Restoration of Independence that Estonia celebrated five days ago. Switzerland was one of the first countries to restore diplomatic relations with Estonia back in 1991. We have been strong supporters of Estonia’s remarkable democratic transition ever since.

Today, our two countries are bound by close relations built on trust. I am particularly pleased that strong and innovative partnerships have emerged from our cooperation in the framework of Switzerland’s contribution to EU enlargement.

Cooperation projects in some fields such as natural disaster prevention have already come to a successful close. Other projects are ongoing, in vital areas such as energy efficiency, environmental monitoring or the construction of new children’s homes.

It is not just these projects that build strong ties between our societies. Estonia and Switzerland share a flair for innovation. Just think of e-voting. There is also an increase in cultural exchange. Who would have thought that there is a Swiss Reading Room in your national library? Obviously our economic relations are growing too, which seems only natural given that Switzerland is the fourth biggest trading partner of the EU.

You have invited me to talk about Ukraine and the OSCE. Let me begin by confessing that I am a strong supporter of the OSCE. Switzerland and the OSCE – this is an old love story, going back to the 1970s. We share the same principles about how to promote peace and security.

The OSCE is about cooperative security. It is an inclusive platform for dialogue, bringing together 57 participating States from the Euro-Atlantic and the Eurasian region. The OSCE is about building bridges and common solutions based on compromise. It also provides a toolbox with relevant instruments for preventing and resolving conflicts.

Dialogue and action – the OSCE stands for both. It is the combination of the two that in my opinion renders it a particularly relevant organization.
As a neutral country promoting European values but acting outside the EU and NATO, Switzerland plays a distinctive role in international efforts at promoting peace. We have gained much experience in fostering dialogue and building bridges. We have also been host to important negotiations, most recently the Iran talks and the Syria talks in Geneva.

Switzerland continues to enhance capacity for civilian peace promotion. Around 100 of our staff work on these issues today, either in the ministry or as experts in the field. We have developed a series of tools to deal with today’s complex crises, including mediation support. And we focus on themes that stand for Switzerland’s inner strength while at the same time being essential for bringing back stability to conflict zones.
One such theme concerns power-sharing arrangements, between different groups or between central government and regions. Whether in Iraq, in Libya, or in Ukraine – the issue of sharing power is highly relevant.

President Obama in a recent interview said that a key lesson learnt of recent interventions was that lasting solutions to conflicts require inclusive political arrangements: He called this: “No victor, no vanquished.”

This is a core principle of Switzerland’s political culture, and something we seek to bring to international efforts at advancing peace.
The principle of “No victor, no vanquished” was badly neglected almost a century ago, at Versailles at the end of the First World War. It has been ignored in too many conflicts since. Let us not repeat the same mistakes again.

Switzerland’s distinct profile and position in the international arena bears responsibilities and provides opportunities for advancing peace. The OSCE Chairmanship reflects both, our sense of responsibility and the notion that we can contribute to security by working through the OSCE framework. In this year of growing tensions, our autonomous foreign policy stance has been an advantage for our role as Chair. It has reinforced the OSCE’s impartiality and credibility at a time of growing polarization among its participating States.

Ladies and gentlemen

The Ukraine crisis is a tragedy – a tragedy that affects us all. In the first place, it is a tragedy for the country and for its people. Two years ago, Donetsk was proud host to several football matches in the UEFA European Championship that was jointly organized by Ukraine and Poland. It was a city of joy, of excitement. Today, Donetsk is a stronghold of separatists and is surrounded by Ukrainian armed forces. It is a city of fear.

Government efforts to restore national unity and the monopoly of power against the separatists in the Southeast of Ukraine are legitimate. But the mounting number of casualties, the growing humanitarian crisis, and the destruction of infrastructure resulting from the war in southeastern Ukraine will leave deep wounds. The challenges of reconciliation, of reconstructing, of providing new prospects and opportunities for the people are enormous.

And the challenges go far beyond Ukraine. This crisis has brought more insecurity to all of us. It has brought more insecurity to you, to Estonia and the other Baltic states. I fully understand your anxieties and your security needs. The crisis has also negatively affected the security of all other OSCE participating States, and indeed of citizens around the globe. The tragic loss of almost 300 innocent lives aboard the Malaysian aircraft was only the most immediate and shocking evidence of this.

Relations between the West and Russia have sharply deteriorated as a result of the Ukraine crisis. But the crisis of European security predates the Ukraine crisis. In some ways the crisis of European security has even contributed to the Ukraine crisis. It is important that we bear this in mind.
Before the Ukraine crisis, the erosion of European security had been going on for some time. There were disputes over NATO enlargement and strategic missile defence, the erosion of the conventional arms control regime in Europe, disagreements about the legitimacy of a series of military interventions, and controversies over declarations of political independence. There were also accusations of broken promises, and there was more and more finger-pointing instead of genuine dialogue. All this amounted to an erosion of trust and a weakening of pan-European security. It could be felt in our everyday work, in the OSCE and elsewhere.

This estrangement between Russia and the West, and the lack of a shared vision by Russia and the EU for their common neighbourhood, had contributed to the – long-existing – tensions within Ukraine about the country’s future course.

All this shows the complexity of the Ukraine crisis. It is about post-Soviet identity – about Ukraine’s place in Europe but also about Russia’s place in Europe and its relations with Ukraine and with the West. The crisis is also about order – about Europe’s trade and security architecture, about international order.

The annexation of Crimea by Russia, which violates Ukrainian and international law, has greatly aggravated the crisis. As CiO of the OSCE, I have condemned this act. The Swiss Federal Council repeatedly has done the same. Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected by all sides at all times.

Ladies and gentlemen

How to respond to the Ukraine crisis? There is no easy answer. We see different forms of responses, such as military measures, propaganda warfare, defence bolstering and defence reassurances, sanctions and counter sanctions as well as diplomacy and dialogue. As the challenge is multi-faceted, so is the response.

One thing we will all agree upon is that dialogue and civilian measures of promoting peace are indispensable to resolve this crisis.
This is where Switzerland can make its biggest contribution. And this is where the OSCE can help.

In line with its autonomous foreign policy stance, Switzerland has defined its own way as far as sanctions are concerned. We have taken some measures of our own. And we are taking further measures to ensure that the EU sanctions regime cannot be circumvented in Switzerland. This is no easy policy, but it is the most credible one as far as our foreign policy role is concerned.

The Ukraine crisis has dominated our activities in the OSCE from the start. More than 50 CiO Statements on Ukraine alone speak volumes in this regard.
We have by no means neglected the other tasks and priorities of the Swiss Chairmanship. For example, I visited the Western Balkans to foster OSCE assistance in the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Priština and promote regional reconciliation and cooperation. I also travelled to the South Caucasus to encourage intensified negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh and discuss OSCE engagement in Georgia. There have been major conferences on Swiss priority issues such as counter-terrorism, the prevention of torture, and human rights defenders. And we have organized a model OSCE where 57 young people, our “Youth Ambassadors”, successfully worked out a Youth Action Plan.
Still, Ukraine has topped the agenda ever since January.

The loss of trust between Russia and the West and the erosion of European security have been heavily felt in Vienna too. Nevertheless, the OSCE managed to gain recognition as a vital platform for East-West dialogue and an actor for crisis prevention and resolution. It proved its merit and demonstrated the importance of sticking to cooperative security even in such times of crisis – or more than ever in such times of crisis.
As Chair of the OSCE our aim has been to apply the toolbox of the organization as effectively as possible to help de-escalate the situation in Ukraine.

Essentially, we have done three things.
First, we have promoted dialogue, presented ideas and supported the search for political solutions. We have done this in various ways and formats.
As CiO, I have engaged in high level diplomacy with all sides. My Personal Envoy, Ambassador Guldimann, has held respective consultations too.
This CiO diplomacy has been complementary to the activities of formats such as the Weimar Three, the Geneva Four or the Normandy Four. Both the Geneva Statement in April and the Berlin Statement in July comprised important propositions for OSCE tasks in Ukraine. Conversely, the Swiss Chairmanship presented its own Roadmap when international diplomacy had reached a dead end in early May.

Addressing the UN Security Council in February, I suggested that a Contact Group should be established to deal with the Ukraine crisis. This idea has since taken many forms. Since early June, a Trilateral Contact Group with high-level representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE Chairmanship (Ambassador Tagliavini) has established itself as an essential platform for dialogue.

The Trilateral Contact Group provides for dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow and for contacts with separatists. It has played a major role in the efforts to establish a ceasefire and launch a political process. It has become a major facilitator, for instance, on the issues of access to the crash site of MH17 and of releasing hostages.

The Chairmanship early on has also come up with the proposal of a national dialogue within Ukraine. The Dialogue on National Unity was a Ukraine-led and Ukraine-owned effort to spur an inclusive national debate on the country’s challenges and future. The three round tables held prior to the presidential elections demonstrated the potential of this approach. Representing the Chairmanship, Ambassador Ischinger supported the two co-moderators of these round tables, former Presidents Kravchuk and Kuchma. I told President Poroshenko in June already that we are ready to appoint a new CiO representative to support any new efforts at dialogue within Ukraine.

The second aspect of our OSCE activities, beyond CiO measures to promote dialogue, concerns the launch of two new field missions: The Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine and an Observation Mission to two Russian border posts.

It is for the first time in more than a decade that the OSCE managed to agree on setting up new missions. These consensus decisions by the 57 participating States have demonstrated that compromise and common action are still possible despite all differences.

The Special Monitoring Mission lies at the heart of the OSCE engagement in Ukraine. It has been mandated to contribute to reducing tensions and fostering peace, stability and security in Ukraine. Our civilian monitors provide verified information on the security situation and on specific incidents. Their gathering of facts and regular reporting based on the principles of impartiality and transparency have proven invaluable in a conflict environment where distorted information, biased interpretations, and harsh language abound.

The SMM has established a dense network of contacts with all sides to the conflict. Just like the Trilateral Contact Group, it has taken up important facilitating roles. An expansion of SMM activities will likely occur once a ceasefire is in place. With currently 233 international monitors in Ukraine, we can still more than double the SMM presence and recruit specialists for various tasks after a ceasefire. SMM monitoring will also be supported by drones in a few weeks.

I wish to thank the government of Estonia for supporting the SMM with six monitors as well as with funding.

The forced detention of eight monitors, including from Estonia and Switzerland, during several weeks this summer was a difficult situation – for the monitors concerned, their loved ones, for the SMM, for all of us. It indicated the difficult circumstances under which our monitors operate, especially in Eastern Ukraine. Dialogue with all sides eventually led to the release of the monitors. The close cooperation between our two governments contributed to this positive outcome, and I am grateful for that.

But let us not forget that hundreds of people in Ukraine are still taken hostage. Yesterday, prisoners were exposed to public humiliation, which is a violation of international humanitarian law. All this is an unacceptable state of affairs and must end immediately. Let me also mention that I strongly condemn the kidnapping and killing of Lithuania’s Honorary Consul in Luhansk. Those responsible for this crime must be held accountable and brought to justice. On behalf of the Chairmanship of the OSCE, I wish to convey our sincere condolences to the Consul’s family.

Coming back to our two new missions: The second of these missions concerning the observation of activities at two Russian border posts is much smaller than the SMM. There are fewer than two dozen observers involved. This mission is, above all, an important confidence building measure. At the same time, I have made it clear that additional efforts are necessary to secure the Russian-Ukrainian border credibly and stop the influx of weapons and fighters.

Finally, our third set of activities – beyond promoting dialogue and launching two missions – has been to support OSCE institutions in their engagement in Ukraine. OSCE institutions like the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the Representative on Freedom of the Media act independently within the OSCE family. In the Ukraine crisis, they have done tremendous work, and I believe they all deserve our full backing.

Ladies and gentlemen

The Ukraine crisis has reached tipping point. Once again.
The situation in the conflict zones in the East has become very concerning and dangerous. Further escalation cannot be excluded, neither on the battlefield nor in relations between Russia and the West.

The crisis surrounding Russia’s humanitarian convoy has shown how tense the situation is. Even though the ICRC had made all necessary arrangements, and even though the people in Luhansk were in urgent need of aid, the agreement by Ukraine and Russia on delivering the convoy goods was not implemented in good faith. When Russia moved to unilateral action in disregard of Ukraine’s sovereignty, there was a major risk of escalation. It was important that the Ukrainian authorities reacted with restraint.

Returning to humanitarian efforts of a cooperative and legitimate kind is now essential – to avoid further escalation and to ensure that aid reaches those in need in a timely manner. The OSCE, within its mandate and possibilities, will continue to support the efforts of the ICRC to operate in the region for the benefit of the people.

How should we proceed in dealing with the Ukraine crisis?
As Chairman of the OSCE, I stick to the principle: “No victor, no vanquished”. Dialogue at all levels remains essential to move forward towards peace.
Dialogue, first, at the international level: Between Ukraine and Russia, also between Russia and the West. Let us not just talk about President Putin but also with him. Without an ongoing process of dialogue and negotiations, the risk is high that we will face a sanctions spiral that neither side can really want.

The building blocks of how to move from the military logic to a political logic and towards a political process for resolving this crisis are well known. Above all, we need an arrangement linking a mutually agreed sustainable ceasefire with effective border control. What is most needed now is the political will to compromise and a suitable framework to agree on such a deal.

We exchanged views on these issues with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin this morning. The coming days will give some indication as to where diplomacy is taking us. The Swiss Chairmanship stands ready to play its part. This may also include hosting any (summit) meetings, in Geneva or other Swiss locations.

We will also continue to make the case for an inclusive political dialogue within Ukraine. Having open and transparent discussions on issues such as constitutional reform, language and minority rights, and reconstruction will be an important way of building bridges within Ukraine. Such dialogue can help make people in the Eastern parts of the country understand that they are an important part of Ukraine with new prospects and with a stake in the Ukrainian state. It can foster a common sense of purpose. The OSCE has been ready for quite some time now to support any new formats for dialogue if requested.

Let me add one thing: Beyond continuing our efforts to resolve this crisis, we should also think about how to address the larger issues behind it.
Recent developments have left little doubt that 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the strategic task of defining a stable pan-European order remains a work in progress.

One issue that needs to be fixed concerns trade and regional connectivity. Post-Soviet countries seeking both an association agreement with the EU and access to the markets of neighbouring countries to the East that will form the Eurasian Union should be enabled to act as trade bridges rather than trade frontiers. Finding ways that spare these countries from zero-sum choices must be an important component of European security.

The state of European security must be thoroughly addressed too. Why has the consensus on the foundations of European security that was established in Helsinki (1975) and Paris (1990) eroded? How can we renovate major pillars of European security that have been hollowed out in recent years, such as conventional arms control? In what ways must Europe’s security architecture be expanded or modified if we are to bring the indivisibility of security to the fore again?

Establishing consensus on such questions will no doubt take time. Progress will also depend on the ability to resolve the Crimea crisis based on international law. Still, I am convinced that we should start addressing these questions now.

The OSCE is an appropriate framework to address the crisis of European security and discuss the way ahead. Dialogue on these issues should be inclusive. Russia is too big and too important to be left out. Europe’s security architecture can only be stable and in step with modern security challenges if it creates no new dividing lines.

Without cooperative security, the security of all of us will remain fragile. Our task therefore is to reconsolidate European security as a common project.
I am convinced that this will require above all the strengthening of the OSCE. Not at the expense of any other security organization. But as a common anchor of security and stability in Europe.

Switzerland will work hard to this end. We will do so beyond our Chairmanship year. In cooperation with others, including, I trust, Estonia.

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Last update 11.03.2024

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