Slovakia is starting its 12-month chairmanship in OSCE with Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak at its lead. Back in December, Lajcak announced that he would make his first Donbas visit as a chair.
Ukraine has high hopes for the new head of the OSCE and counts on "effective cooperation and a more proactive and ambitious role of the OSCE SMM in relation to Donbas and Crimea, as well as the waters of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait." In particular, this is what Poroshenko and Klimkin said, congratulating Slovakia and Mr Lajcak on the matter.
Russia in the OSCE very often exploits the right to veto
However, usually, no fundamental changes occur in the OSCE work after the change of presidency in the organization. Since the OSCE is a collective body, the decisions are made there in a very well-known method, traditional for the UN Security Council. Namely, decisions are made by a cardinal majority, with an advantage in arguments, but most importantly, there is a veto power.
Russia in the OSCE very often exploits the right to veto. Moreover, this right can be used not only for decision-making, but also for expressing the official position of OSCE leaders, official statements by OSCE mission chiefs, etc.
Ukraine was often outraged by certain OSCE statements related to the events in Donbas, amazed by their blindness to the obvious things. But in reality, members of the mission do see everything, while also understanding two things.
The first one is that Russia is one of the OSCE sponsors. Accordingly, if it ceases to sponsor the organization, the OSCE office will have to significantly reduce its salaries and expenses.
For Ukraine, Slovakia's chairmanship in the OSCE will perhaps be beneficial due to the fact that it will be easier for the Ukrainian authorities to get in touch with Slovak leaders and to pitch Ukraine's position
The second thing is that Russia, as well as any other country (but others have never abused this right), can very easily force the speakers and the missions to refrain from tough statements.
However, the latter does not apply to the formal OSCE leaders – such as the leaders of Slovakia will now be. However, one should admit that the influence of the OSCE chair is rather small.
Therefore, For Ukraine, Slovakia's chairmanship in the OSCE will perhaps be beneficial due to the fact that it will be easier for the Ukrainian authorities to get in touch with Slovak leaders and to pitch Ukraine's position. After all, Slovakia is a rather small country, which tends to be closer to Ukraine in many respects due to economic relations and certain interests of its own. Plus, Slovakia has good relations and contacts with Poland, the country that protects the interests of Ukraine in international organizations. Therefore, Ukraine can more easily convey its position to the leaders of Slovakia and expect them to be more proactive in lobbying for its positions than, say, representatives of larger states, where such procedure is too complicated.
But, be aware, this will not have a direct impact on the OSCE decision-making, because the OSCE is a collective body.
With regard to the internal position of Slovakia itself, on the one hand, rather warm personal relations have formed between Poroshenko and the president of Slovakia.
But, on the other hand, there is a big problem, that is, the presence in Slovakia of pro-Russian politicians and large groups supporting such political forces. Thus, thanks to this, a pro-Russian Andrej Danko managed to become speaker of the Slovak Parliament. And he's not some marginal politician in Slovakia. Pro-Russian parties in Slovakia enjoy a significant influence there. But we need to pay our dues to the Slovak parliament that does not pass decisions that are disadvantageous to Ukraine. Its head though does make some unpleasant statements.
Therefore, it will be a little easier for Ukraine in a purely technical way, in terms of reaching understanding between OSCE and Ukrainian leaders
So, during OSCE's interparliamentary contacts (there is a format for parliamentary delegations there), Ukraine should be prepared for the fact that Slovakia's voice will not always be too pleasing, to put it mildly.
But the voice of formal OSCE leaders, the leaders of the Slovak state, will be acceptable for Ukraine today. But once again, I emphasize that this can only be a statement of Ukraine's position in the general forums and a more proactive policy to advance Ukraine's requirements and ideas. Perhaps, it will channel Ukraine's ideas quicker. That's because Ukraine's relations with Slovakia are simpler and less formal. That is, Poroshenko or Klimkin could simply phone their Slovak counterparts at any time and ask for a certain initiative at the OSCE – and there will be no need to go through a chain of previous agreements through the embassies and ministries of foreign affairs.
Therefore, the contacts between the Ukrainian and Slovak leadership will be easier, the pace of initiatives will grow, while consequences will depend on the general position of the OSCE and Russia's veto.
But should Ukraine hope that the OSCE observers monitoring the situation in Donbas "see things clearer"? OSCE observers are part of a completely different structure that is controlled by the OSCE Office, which is formed for a long period of time. When OSCE observers are brought to Donbas, they suddenly begin "seeing things better" and making certain statements that are promising for Ukraine. But this is just because they feel like heroes because they "went to war," some 500 meters from the line of demarcation. Remember, when Austria chaired the OSCE, Sebastian Kurtz tried to somehow influence the formation of the OSCE mission, its composition, and position, but this never yielded any result.
So, it will be a little easier for Ukraine in a purely technical way, in terms of reaching understanding between OSCE and Ukrainian leaders. But in terms of effectiveness, Ukraine should not expect radical changes in the OSCE work in its favor.
Taras Chornovil is a Ukrainian political analyst, expert on international politics, and a former MP