Thank you, Mr. President, and let me add our voice to the others in congratulating you on assuming the presidency of the Council for this month and congratulations to Equatorial Guinea on completing their hard work as president during a very challenging February. Mr. President, thank you for hosting todays briefing. We recognize and greatly appreciate the invaluable contributions of the OSCE to regional peace and security for more than 40 years.
As a former State Department OSCE desk officer, I am personally particularly pleased to be participating in today’s discussion. Thank you, Minister Lajčák, for your briefing on recent OSCE activities and thank you for your leadership of the organization. The United States applauds the OSCE for its critical role in developing a robust regional security architecture and promoting human rights, democracy, peace, and stability across the vast area of its participating States since 1975.
As a pillar of the international rules-based system, the OSCE’s fundamental principles must be upheld. We underscore the OSCE’s invaluable role as a forum to address the most challenging issues of the day through an open and comprehensive dialogue. Its unique field office presence, particularly in the Western Balkans, has played and continues to play a significant and influential role.
Nowhere is the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security and its contributions to promoting peaceful settlement of conflicts more important than in Ukraine. As has been pointed out, last month marked the fifth year anniversary of Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea and its instigation of conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow’s aggression beginning in 2014 marked the first instance since World War II that a European country sought to redraw the boundaries of another by force. It is particularly egregious that the aggression was carried out by one OSCE member against another.
Last November, Russia escalated its aggressive activities against Ukraine when it attacked Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea. The United States again, strongly condemns this unjustified use of force and again calls on Russia to return to Ukraine its detained personnel and seized ships.
The United States commends the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, which provides the international community with the best source of impartial information on the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The OSCE’s work in negotiating ceasefires has also been critical in alleviating the suffering caused by Russia’s aggression. We applaud the courage and dedication of the SMM’s unarmed monitors.
Mr. President, as we have stated repeatedly in this chamber: the United States fully supports Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, including its territorial waters. As should all OSCE member states. We do not, nor will we ever, recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea.
We join our European and other partners in affirming that our Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia will remain in place until Russia fully implements its Minsk commitments and Crimea-focused sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine.
Mr. President, the United States also opposes Russia’s continuing occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are part of Georgia. There too, Russia’s actions contravene its international commitments and violate Georgia’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. And, again, in Georgia we have a concerted effort by one OSCE member to destabilize another.
Although Russia participates in the OSCE’s 5+2 Transnistria settlement negotiations, it has failed to honor its 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit commitments to withdraw its forces from Moldova. Russia has used the protracted conflicts in these nations to hinder the regions’ gravitation toward European and western institutions, and to slow the development of rules-based order.
Mr. President we have urged the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Slovakia, to support ongoing initiatives by the OSCE and participating States, including the Geneva International Discussions and 5+2 talks. The international community must counter one state’s actions that fly in the face of OSCE principals and commitments, undermining the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other OSCE participating member states. The international community must also help prepare the ground for peaceful resolutions of these protracted conflicts. Which as Foreign Minister Lajčák noted, have undeniably gone on for far too long.
Additionally, Mr. President, we thank the OSCE Chair and participating States for their support of the Minsk Group process. The United States, Russia, and France are working together productively as Co-Chairs to help the sides reach a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The OSCE’s crucial role in strengthening human rights, democracy, peace, and stability in Europe for more than 40 years cannot be overstated. The United States reaffirms the OSCE’s importance as a partner to the UN and particularly to the Security Council in addressing critical security challenges. We will continue to support the OSCE’s vital work in these and other conflicts.
Thank you for your attention.