North Macedonia tries to get Russian foreign minister to Skopje for crucial OSCE meeting

North Macedonia tries to get Russian foreign minister to Skopje for crucial OSCE meeting
It is unclear how Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would get to Skopje as North Macedonia's airspace is currently closed to Russian state aircraft. / bne IntelliNews
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje November 6, 2023

North Macedonia, as the current holder of the OSCE presidency, is seeking ways to secure the presence of Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at the upcoming OSCE Ministerial Council in Skopje.

The Skopje Ministerial Council is crucial to prevent a deep existential crisis within the organisation, which has been grappling with a blocked budget since 2021 due to Russian obstructions. This impasse has also led to a standstill in the appointment of a country-chairman for 2024.

However, logistical challenges arise as North Macedonia's airspace is currently closed to Russian state aircraft, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Efforts will need to be made to address this issue.

The council, taking place from November 29 to December 1, will welcome 76 delegations representing 57 member countries and 19 partner nations. Anticipated to draw a total of 1,000 guests, this event will mark the end of North Macedonia's presidency of the organisation.

North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, as OSCE chairman-in-office, revealed that he received a letter expressing interest from the Russian minister of foreign affairs to participate at the Skopje event, broadcaster Telma reported.

Although Lavrov's name was not explicitly mentioned, Osmani indicated that decisions will soon be made regarding the participation of specific individuals in the conference in Skopje.

"As a rule, all participating countries should participate in the ministerial council, but whether they will be specific persons, however, will depend on certain decisions that will have to be made in the coming days. I hope that we'll succeed in having all participants present in Skopje," said Osmani.

Irrespective of Lavrov's attendance, Russia, as a country, will have its representatives participating in the event.

Osmani also said that in Skopje, there will be an opportunity for two conflicting parties, Russia and Ukraine, who currently lack communication and dialogue, to come together.

Although there is a theoretical possibility of the OSCE facing an existential crisis if crucial issues regarding its future functioning are not addressed, Osmani said he is confident that member states will collaborate effectively to avert such a scenario.

Regarding the future OSCE presidency, Estonia is the only formal candidate, but Russia has vetoed Estonia, making that option the least feasible. The second option is to find an alternative country, which Osmani has discussed with almost all foreign ministers, Radio Free Europe reported.

"If that option is exhausted, then despite the challenges, North Macedonia is committed to ensuring the organisation does not go without a chairman. I will continue working diligently until the end of our presidency to identify an alternative country. Progress has been made, but it's premature to disclose names as further consultations with participating nations are needed," Osmani was cited as saying.

The absence of a chairman is just one of the hurdles the OSCE is currently facing. On December 4, the mandates of four key executive leaders within the organisation will also expire: the secretary general, the director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the high representative for national minorities, and the representative for freedom of the media. Additionally, there is the unresolved budget issue dating back to 2021, and the 13 ongoing field operations under the organisation's purview.

"I have faith that member countries will prevent such a scenario, given that the OSCE has undeniably proven to be a significant asset for this region of the world. It stands as the world's largest security organisation, with 1.3bn people residing in the region," Osmani stated.