Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 5:40 pm on 17 October 2023.

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Photo of Lord Smith of Hindhead Lord Smith of Hindhead Conservative 5:40, 17 October 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current state of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe; and what steps they are taking to secure its future.

Photo of Lord Smith of Hindhead Lord Smith of Hindhead Conservative

My Lords, with a 10-minute speaking time, I barely know what to do with myself, having been disciplined over many years to only ever speak for about five minutes.

I start by declaring my interest as a full member of the OSCE parliamentary assembly. I have enjoyed this position for almost two years, having taken the place previously filled by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, who I thank for initiating this important and timely Question for Short Debate. Sadly, the noble Lord is unable to attend your Lordships’ House today. I hope that in the years ahead, I can emulate the service to and support of the OSCE parliamentary assembly which the noble Lord gave over 16 years as a member of the UK delegation, culminating in his role as president. I am pleased to say that I have already started to follow in his footsteps by being appointed chair of the drafting committee—although I do not think there was a particularly long list of eager candidates for that role—and entering the world of soft diplomacy.

This debate relates more to the ambassador-level OSCE permanent council, which is responsible for governing the day-to-day operational work of the OSCE and for regular political consultations between the meetings of the ministerial council, rather than the OSCE parliamentary assembly, which is made up of parliamentarians from the 57 participating states. The purpose of the parliamentary assembly is to act as a forum for interparliamentary dialogue. While it can adopt resolutions and recommendations, it is important to note that it has no decision-making power over OSCE executive institutions.

The other important point to note is that the OSCE itself, the world’s largest security body, stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok, has no legal powers. The OSCE founding documents, the Helsinki Final Act 1975 and the Paris charter of 1990 are statements of political intent and do not have the legal status of international treaties. OSCE bodies can therefore issue recommendations to participating states, but those resolutions have no legal force. Therein lies the fundamental difficulty with an organisation which is undoubtedly a force for good but has recently become paralysed in its decision-making process as a result of the need for unanimous agreement. However, I pay tribute to the current officers and members of the secretariat, who have worked hard to keep OSCE issues in the public domain.

The mandate of the current chair of the OSCE, Mr Osmani, North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister, is coming to an end. The only candidate to take over this position is Estonia’s Foreign Minister, who has been vetoed by Russia and Belarus, leaving the OSCE unable to elect a new chair. Despite offers of help, I understand, from Austria and Kazakhstan, there is no current answer to this deadlock. Of course, it is in Russia’s interests to make the OSCE dysfunctional. Russia has also refused to co-operate with the organisation or to contribute to its budget this year. However, Russian delegates attended the OSCE parliamentary assembly meeting held in Vienna in February this year and are expected to be present at the OSCE’s autumn meeting in Armenia next month.

I do not think it is an over-exaggeration to say that the OSCE is in the biggest crisis of its almost 50-year history. There does not appear to be any clear or easy solution to a problem created by both Russian aggression and what can only be described as a dated and ineffectual constitution—a Cold War relic which contains no creative solutions due to its consensus minus one agreement requirement, which has created institutional gridlock. The OSCE wants the doors open for all dialogue, but not with the right of sabotage.

The sadness of this crisis is that some of the OSCE’s operations and work in, for example, deploying election observation missions, combating human trafficking, promoting media freedom and development, helping to train police and judiciary, border management, refugees, arms control, conflict resolution and democratisation, will be lost in the event of questions being unanswered over the organisation’s purpose.

This follows the successful formation last year of the European Political Community, the EPC, a body that includes many OSCE member countries, other than the USA and Canada, but which excludes the obstructive presence of Russia and Belarus. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the UK Government will take a lead in seeking a solution for the future of the OSCE, finding a way forward for Helsinki +50 in 2025.

The agendas of Governments are, of course, preoccupied with the terrible events in the Middle East and Ukraine, but there will always be something which seems more important than the OSCE. If we are not careful, we will lose something which does so much good but largely unnoticed work. If the OSCE’s influence drains away, I fear that all the work I have mentioned will wither on the vine. Smaller states will not have the will or resources to keep the organisation going. It will fall to the major players—the US, the EU and, I hope, the UK—to ensure that action is taken.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 5:46, 17 October 2023

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and welcome the fact he initiated this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, was a member of the OSCE parliamentary assembly for quite a number of years and was held in incredibly high regard by parliamentarians from a range of countries. He really enhanced this country’s reputation because of the high regard in which he was held. I am not saying the noble Lord, Lord Smith, will not emulate that, but he has not had as long a go at it as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. I saw the way noble Lord, Lord Bowness, handled things and was respected; it was quite a nice thing for this country that we had somebody who was so well regarded.

My experience is primarily of the parliamentary assembly, with a membership of 57 countries. I will say a little about the OSCE and the parliamentary assembly, then look at the difficulties we are facing because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its consequences.

I have one criticism. The OSCE as a body does a lot of good work. The parliamentary assembly, which also does good work, does not link closely with the OSCE. I think the two should be brought more closely together. This is a matter of the management of the OSCE and the parliamentary assembly. It would be healthier if we could scrutinise the work of the OSCE in rather more detail than we normally can in the parliamentary assembly. This difficulty has bedevilled the organisation for some time; I am sure it can be solved. Given the United Kingdom’s generous contributions to the work of the OSCE—I understand they were generous—we have some influence and ought to be able to do something about it.

I will say a little about how the parliamentary assembly is working, and then I will get on to the position of Russia. There are three plenary assemblies of the parliamentary assembly. I do not understand where this has come from, but by convention the British delegation only goes to two: Vienna in the spring and the main assembly in the summer. We tend not to go to the autumn assembly, unless you are the leader of the delegation or serving on a committee that is meeting at the same time, which occasionally happens. It is a little odd that we do not attend the third. I do not think we got to this position because of cost, but it is certainly a little odd. We have to explain to our fellow parliamentarians from other countries why we will not be at the plenary, when they are all going.

I have a criticism of the way in which the parliamentary assembly works. It is meant to be an assembly of parliamentarians, and we understand what that means, but, in some countries, parliamentarians see themselves not as independent people who give their voice to the issues but as people who put forward the views of their own Government. They do not seem to have any independence of mind or attitude, whereas parliamentarians from the British, German, Canadian, French and American delegations, and from most of western Europe, all feel that we should contribute as parliamentarians.

I remember there was a resolution some years ago— I cannot remember whether it was about Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan or wherever—and the ambassador of that country asked to come and see me. We had a cup of coffee, and he demanded that we oppose the resolution. I said, “First of all, you and I have never met and you come here only when you want me to oppose something on the order paper. That is not quite the way to behave. We are totally independent. With due respect, I do not think you, an ambassador, should tell British parliamentarians how they should vote. We are independent of government—we are independent of the British Government and we are certainly independent of your Government”, and he disappeared. I hope I did not cause him too much upset—I did not mean to, but it was a bit of cheek, frankly. But that was some years ago, and it has not happened since then.

Inevitably—but still unhelpfully—we find that, from time to time, whatever the topic of debate at a plenary, the old arguments are always brought forward; for example, the tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan. That has been going for a long time—long before the present crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh—but it tends to come in whatever the ostensible topic of the debate is, as do arguments about Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. We cannot do anything about that. If parliamentarians feel extremely strongly about those issues—in some cases, their Governments obviously feel extremely strongly —I understand why they give voice to this. We are used to parliamentarians being independent, and it is a bit unusual that it does not always work that way.

I am most honoured to be a member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly migration committee—it is a mouthful—which has parliamentarians from about 15 countries and debates issues to do with refugees and migration. We get a different perspective there from what we get here simply because of the nature of the membership of the committee. There is an excellent clerk, Farimah Daftary, who keeps it going brilliantly and provides excellent briefings. Frankly, to me, it is as useful as anything that I have done on the parliamentary assembly.

The other issue mentioned in the noble Lord’s introduction is election monitoring. This is important because, although we do not identify many examples of blatant fraud or cheating, the fact that there is an international monitoring force keeps the thing a bit cleaner than it would otherwise be. The trouble is that there are other issues that you cannot spot on the day, such as whether the media have given the opposition parties in any country a fair chance in the run-up to the election. These can be highlighted by the OSCE itself, which looks at this over the longer term.

Election monitoring is a fascinating process. I remember going to eastern Turkey, Serbia and the United States, and one gets an insight into the country in question that one would not get on a normal parliamentary visit. It is fascinating to go to obscure parts of the country to visit polling stations and see how it all operates. If it helps to keep the elections respectable and clean, it is a good thing. Sometimes, we have to be careful not to tell them what to do. We are tempted to because we have seen some of the issues in our own elections and want to say, “Please don’t do it like that”. We have to keep clear of that: we are there to monitor.

Normally, they welcome us. There was an issue in the United States where, in some parts of the country, they did not want us to go into polling stations. In any case, because of the voting machines, it is a bit different: one does not have to watch how they deal with bits of paper. A lot of the accountability, particularly in countries where all the counting is done at individual polling stations, involves recording how many ballot papers they got and then making sure that they have accounted for them with votes cast and surplus ballot papers returned. I observed an election in Serbia where there were four elections on the same day, including for the President, a mayor and members of the assembly. The ballot papers were slightly different in colour only, and confusion was therefore possible—but it got sorted. With a bit more thought beforehand, they could have avoided this by having clearly distinguishable ballot papers. Every voter had to go in and sign for each of the four ballot papers, and, if the number of signatures did not tally with the number of ballot papers issued, there was a problem. Of course, in the rush of an election day, it did not always work out, but it was an interesting experience.

On Russia’s and Belarus’s membership, it is a tragedy that the work of the OSCE itself and the parliamentary assembly is being hampered, handicapped and made much more difficult by the Russians’ attitude, aided by Belarus. As the noble Lord said, we have the “minus one” formula and cannot just expel the Russians because if two countries oppose anything, we are stymied, even if the other 55 countries want it. I hope that will not be a reason for stopping the OSCE; we should keep going, because the Russian invasion and what Russia is doing in Ukraine will surely not last for ever, and it would be a pity if an international organisation and initiative that has so much potential—it stretches from the United States and Canada right through into the former Soviet republics—were to stop. So I hope that the Government will see the OSCE as something positive and go on supporting its work.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 5:57, 17 October 2023

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for his introduction and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for recounting what goes on in these parliamentary assemblies. I am a member of the UK-EU parliamentary assembly, set up under the trade and co-operation agreement, and I often feel that there is a lack of feedback to our own Parliament—here and the other place—when these assemblies take place. Although that is not a matter to concern the Minister, it is maybe for the House authorities to consider how to have better feedback on how these parliamentary assemblies work.

I am not a great expert on the OSCE, but I wanted to take part in this debate because it is important and I am interested to understand from the Minister how the UK Government look upon the organisation, as it moves into the future. I have to admit that my interest came from when, some 50 years ago, the Helsinki Final Act was made. Even in those days, I took a great interest in international relations, and it seemed to me that that Act was a major step forward not just for the Cold War and a dialogue between the two sides but for the first steps of liberation of the citizens whose freedom was contained by the Soviet empire at that time.

Although that may not have been the actual factor that caused the fall of the Soviet empire and the liberation of those eastern and central European and Baltic states, as well as central Asia, it was an important step towards that. But all the good work that the organisation has been doing on elections and human rights has clearly become very difficult since the invasion of Ukraine, first in 2014 and, latterly and particularly, last year. Because of that, and in the ways that the noble Lord, Lord Smith, explained very well, there has been paralysis inside the organisation—very much as the Arctic Council, further north, has found it very difficult to operate a consensus organisation, as the OSCE is, and cannot now operate properly.

From my point of view on European security, I hope that, although the OSCE is very much now constrained, it will survive and we can manage to keep it working, despite the problem over the Estonian presidency and the budget. I hope that we can optimistically look forward to better days for liberal democracy in Europe so that the organisation can fulfil its much broader functions in future. I may be a little too optimistic about that.

I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Hindhead, brought up the European Political Community. That was my major question for the Minister—first, to congratulate the Government on getting fully involved in President Macron’s grand design last year in Prague. There have been two further meetings in Moldova and—maybe not so successfully—in Granada. This is a way forward; there are only 44 members, obviously not with North America or central Asia. I am very interested to understand how the Government see that the European Political Community should move forward on a defence dialogue for Europe and for our liberal democracies in the West and Europe. How could that organisation move forward, and how can we ensure that the OSCE itself does not grind to a complete halt due to the intransigence of Russia and Belarus? I would be very interested to hear how we can be optimistic and move forward this agenda of European security in a more substantial way—not least because of the potential challenges of the next American general election, given that we do not know what sort of European security regime we will have in future.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Liberal Democrat 6:02, 17 October 2023

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Hindhead, for introducing this debate so helpfully. Like him and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. He and I came into your Lordships’ House in the same year, 1996, and I have always found him a most effective and courteous gentleman. He has done our country proud in the work that he has done in the OSCE and elsewhere.

After 9/11, I was invited to get involved with the World Federation of Scientists, because it had divided over how to respond to 9/11, with western scientists saying that it was their responsibility to use their scientific acumen to defeat al-Qaeda and eastern scientists saying that we must use our intellectual abilities to understand why we had the emergence of al-Qaeda and the terrible events of 9/11. This was notable, because the World Federation of Scientists had come together in the early 1970s because a number of nuclear physicists from the East and the West—from opposite sides in the Cold War—had become increasingly concerned that the use of their science in the cause of war rather than in the cause of peace threatened global survival. They shared their research, first of all with each other, across those divisions, then with their paymasters—the generals and politicians—to demonstrate to them that a nuclear war would destroy not just our side but all of us.

This contributed to an increasing appetite for engagement across the deepest divisions of our world at that time, between the United States and the USSR. Not because they agreed but precisely because they disagreed, it was necessary to find a way in which they could represent their disagreement without it leading to nuclear war. It was that kind of concern that led to the establishment of the CSCE and, ultimately, the OSCE. The Russians made a proposition for their own reasons, and the United States was mature enough to look beyond the Russian intent and see the possibility that this could take us all into a better place. The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and the further developments have already been mentioned. The key was the acceptance that, in matters of war and peace in our region, we needed a forum where those who disagreed could engage with each other. Therefore, it was a matter of concern to me that in 2004 the scientists who had found that they could come together across the divisions in the early 1970s on the nuclear question were disagreeing on how to address the post-9/11 situation.

Since then, relationships have deteriorated further, and it seems to have become impossible for western states to retain a sufficient relationship with Russia, for example, to ensure that the forum of the OSCE is maintained—and the organisation, as has already been said, is now in crisis. Interestingly, in the Economist of 11 October 2023, just very recently, there is an important article pointing out how American and Chinese scientists are decoupling from each other. The Economist, which is always very good at measuring these things, demonstrates how the result of that unhealthy competition is a diminution in our own scientific advances and in achievement—including in the United States, which has been the primary achiever in these matters.

In other words, the problems of the OSCE that have been mentioned are part of a wider and deeper problem of polarisation. For example, the Council of Europe, another body in Europe, has found it impossible to sustain a relationship between East and West, with the expulsion of Russia last year. I appreciate the frustration of trying to engage with those one profoundly disagrees with and disapproves of, but the ramifications of either the collapse of the OSCE or excluding Russia and Belarus, following the Council of Europe example, could be disastrous.

It is tempting to say that this is because of the impossibility of working with Russia, and I am sure that there is a great deal of truth in that. I disagree profoundly with Russia on Ukraine and much else besides. But we must listen, for example, to what the Russian ambassador said at the United Nations Security Council last month, when he complained about the chairs of the United Nations Security Council and the OSCE showing a degree of anti-Russian partiality. I have great sympathy with them but, as a former Speaker in our strictly non-partisan British tradition of Speakers—as distinct from the partisan American tradition of Speakers— I understand how a chair in particular needs to be exquisitely sensitive to any perception of partiality, if such a divided body is to be able to survive and function across the lines of division.

Do His Majesty’s Government appreciate that, when we use terms such as

“weaponisation of the consensus principle”, as was recently done in a report, however accurate that may be, it is important not only to be careful about simply portraying us as the good guys and the others as the bad guys? Rather, we need to see that the problem is that the relationship between our countries is breaking down in a catastrophic way. Allowing a good/bad split will simply result in either the collapse of the organisation, in the case of the OSCE, or it no longer representing both sides and no longer being able to fulfil the function for which it was founded 50 years ago, when it achieved such a great deal. It would simply become a kind of political representation of a military alliance on one side rather than being able to reach across.

Do His Majesty’s Government recognise the danger of OSCE collapse and therefore its inability to fulfil its purpose? Do they feel able to do something at a time of profound and deepening global polarisation to reach across the divisions to enable the survival and at least the functioning, if not the thriving, of the OSCE? Can the Minister help us understand what they hope, intend and—we all hope and pray—will be able to do?

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 6:10, 17 October 2023

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for his introduction to this debate. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for his consistent and solid work in the parliamentary assembly and in ensuring that we debate these fundamental issues of how the OSCE operates. I was reflecting on how many times I have participated in a debate initiated by the noble Lord. My first was a general discussion about the role of the OSCE in 2012; we had a further one in 2013 on priorities for the Helsinki +40 process; then in March 2017 we had a discussion on the OSCE’s role in addressing the conflict in the east of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Now, we have a debate in the context of the full-blown invasion of Ukraine and the impact it will have on the organisation.

The theme that has come through in this debate, answering some of the questions that people have raised, is this: the fact that the OSCE included the Russian Federation and a lot of eastern European countries was seen as an important strength. It was a forum that the western powers, and the US in particular, could use to de-escalate dangerous situations. That forum, by necessity, cannot be one to make decisions by majority. It must be a forum for all opinions, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, just said.

However, that does not change the seriousness of the situation we now face. Budget decisions and the election of the chair have been blocked by Moscow. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said, the current chair, Osmani, said that Russia’s zero-sum game approach has escalated since the start of the war in Ukraine and paralysed the institution. His mandate expires in December and his replacement will require unanimous backing from all OSCE members. I repeat the question of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice: how do we resolve that? How do we ensure that this is about facilitating something that is not about taking sides but ensuring that a forum for discussion remains?

Mr Osmani has suggested that his office could be extended, but that could still be blocked by Russia. I would be keen to hear from the Minister whether we are in discussions with all our allies to see whether it is possible to break the impasse and ensure that we can continue. Russia has refused to co-operate with the organisation or contribute to its budget this year. According to the news agency Interfax, the speaker of the Russian Duma said in April:

“We should not pay for what we did not take part in”.

This is a real problem.

At the end of the day, we have to face the reality that a lot of the discussions we might wish to have, supporting the continuation of the important work of the OSCE, will not necessarily be possible in the way that they were in the past because of the war in Ukraine. We must recognise that fact. That is why, as noble Lords have mentioned, the establishment of the European Political Community, a 57-member organisation for European strategic discussions initiated by Emmanuel Macron and excluding Russia, might be able to address those security issues that we are all concerned about.

However, that does not take away from the fact that, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, it is still worth pursuing the principles contained in the original Helsinki declaration and ensuring that the organisation does not completely collapse. We should not forget that there will be a time when we will want a forum where dialogue about the fundamental principles of human rights can take place. I have often said in this Chamber that human rights cannot be left to politicians, parliaments and Governments. The most important element of supporting and defending human rights, and the most important ingredient of a healthy democracy, is often a healthy civil society. I know the Government are committed to that, but I would like to see more of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly focusing on how we can support civil society, as my noble friend said. The statement issued last month in Vienna by the Irish ambassador, on behalf of all participating states apart from Russia and Belarus, focused on the important element of civil society and the importance of ensuring that human rights are defended and that human rights abuses should be highlighted and exposed.

I hope the Minister can give us some indication of how we will work with our allies to ensure the continuation of the organisation. Obviously, at the moment, the European Union is its biggest contributor, and we need to ensure that that can continue, bearing in mind the European Political Community. I also hope the Minister can respond positively on how we ensure that the work of the parliamentary assembly is enhanced and that, as my noble friend said, we do not restrict ourselves simply to the old debates about which side you are on but discuss how we can support a really healthy civil society as we move forward in Europe.

Photo of Lord Mott Lord Mott Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:18, 17 October 2023

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, for tabling the debate and all noble Lords for their contributions. My personal thanks go to him, although he sadly cannot be here today, for his years of service with the parliamentary assembly, which we have heard about in this short debate, and his dedication to the OSCE and its principles. I know few others who have done more to advance the principles of multilateralism and to hold us all to the commitments under the Helsinki Final Act.

I also personally thank my noble friend Lord Smith for his important work with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly over the past two years. Chairing the drafting committee may be one of the drier roles but, as all noble colleagues recognise, it is no less important. I also put on record my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for his work. This Government share noble Lords’ concerns about the state of deadlock in the OSCE, and my closing remarks are likely to echo many of the points made already.

The OSCE would not be facing this situation today were it not for Russia’s reckless disregard for the rules-based international order. While Russia’s behaviours in the OSCE stretch back further than February 2022, there is no doubt that the illegal full-scale invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated an already challenging situation for the organisation.

It is worth noting that the OSCE has never been a club of like-minded states; its predecessor, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, was established to facilitate dialogue between adversaries to calm tensions and reduce the threat of mutual destruction. Even during the high-point of East-West relations in the early 1990s, discussions were difficult and debates heated. However, progress was made and, over the decades, the OSCE built up an important body of normative commitments on how states should behave towards each other and their citizens.

Unfortunately, in the last decade and a half, we have seen Russia slowly erode the organisation from within. It forced the closure of the field mission in Georgia, undermined election monitoring and blocked the OSCE’s investigation into the deterioration of its own human rights record. In 2021, we saw a ramping up of destabilising behaviours and delaying tactics, culminating in the political deadlock we see today.

While the organisation has been severely tested before, it is now facing its most serious threat in its 48-year history, as many noble Lords mentioned today. In the last 20 months alone, the OSCE’s border observation mission, special monitoring mission and project co-ordinator in Ukraine were all disbanded following Russia’s refusal to extend their mandates. The mission in Moldova is in question. Failure to agree a budget is starving the organisation and its institutions of much-needed funds. We are facing a potential leadership vacuum as Russia refuses to countenance Estonia’s candidacy as chair-in-office in 2024. The four top executive jobs all end this year, with as yet no agreement on their successors, as my noble friend Lord Smith stated earlier.

In each case, Russia weaponised the OSCE’s consensus principle, or else has threatened to do so to force its will. The consensus principle—it has always been a defining feature of the organisation and a way of keeping everyone in the tent—has proven a weakness in times of crisis. Unlike the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which can operate on a simple majority, there are almost no provisions to allow the OSCE to operate without consensus. On the rare occasions when consensus is not required, progress can usually be blocked by one other participating state—in this case, Russia’s accomplice, Belarus. So long as Russia and Belarus prop up each other’s bad behaviour, we should be clear-eyed about our chances for reforming the organisation.

However, this does not mean we should give up. Since 2021, the UK, with like-minded partners, has drawn extensively on the toolkit available to shed light on Russia’s behaviour and to mitigate the worst of its actions in the organisation. In the months leading up to February 2022, we supported Ukraine’s and others’ use of the OSCE’s risk reduction tools to seek transparency surrounding Russia’s build-up of troops on the border and in Crimea. Russia’s refusal to engage in that process helped to demonstrate its malign intentions to the world. Following the full-scale invasion, the UK responded swiftly, robustly and in lockstep with our international allies and partners to shore up Ukraine diplomatically, financially and militarily. The OSCE has been a critical part of that effort.

In response to the increasing number of horrific accounts coming out of Ukraine, we, along with others, invoked the OSCE Moscow mechanism to shed much-needed light on human rights violations and war crimes being committed. The resulting report was the first by an international organisation into Russian abuses in Ukraine. We later invoked the Moscow mechanism again to document domestic repression in both Russia and Belarus.

After Russia forced the closure of the OSCE’s field operations in Ukraine, we, along with 30 like-minded partners, supported a new support programme for Ukraine, committing £1 million and using models of funding to avoid Russian blocking. That has allowed critical reform and humanitarian, environmental and demining efforts to continue despite Russia’s destructive efforts. Weekly meetings of the OSCE, including the permanent council, provide a platform to hold Russia to account for its behaviour, including its ongoing and numerous breaches of OSCE commitments. We will continue to use those fora to isolate Russia and counter its disinformation.

In response to the point on Helsinki +50, Russia’s current behaviour sadly means that the OSCE will not be able to mark its 50th anniversary as we might have wished, but it is important that we continue to recognise the positive role of the organisation, its achievements over the past five decades and its potential for the coming years. The UK will work with Finland as chair-in-office for 2025 to ensure that the anniversary is marked appropriately. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that the OSCE matters and makes a difference.

Despite the political deadlock, the OSCE is still doing a huge amount of good. It provides a forum to demonstrate our support for Ukraine, in front of Russia, on a weekly basis. As the world’s largest regional security organisation, with a uniquely comprehensive approach to security, its impact and influence extends far and wide. At its heart lies a set of core principles and commitments which have governed the reasonable behaviours of countries around the world and under- pinned our collective security for nearly five decades. In essence, if the OSCE did not exist, it would very likely have to be recreated.

As my noble friend Lord Smith mentioned, the OSCE’s field operations carry out important work on the rule of law, policing reform, counterterrorism and conflict prevention. Its election observation missions deliver great value, as was mentioned earlier. Its human rights work on freedom of the media and minorities is widely admired by all but the most authoritarian of states. Its work on climate impacts, food security, energy and biodiversity helps states to increase their resilience to the climate crisis and bolsters transboundary co-operation. Through events such as its annual human dimension meeting, it provides a valuable opportunity for NGOs and human rights defenders in the post-Soviet space to engage internationally.

Most importantly, due to its unique membership, it remains a key forum for addressing relations between the West, Russia and Russia’s neighbours, including central Asian states who value the OSCE as a key pillar in their foreign and security policy with the West. When this war comes to an end, the OSCE will contribute to helping implement and reinforce any settlement—politically, operationally and normatively. With an annual budget of €138 million, covering a region of over 1 billion people, the OSCE does all that at a cost of approximately 12p per year for each citizen. For all those reasons and more, it is worth fighting for. Ministers have committed to preserve and protect the organisation and the principles underpinning it, as evidenced by their regular engagement. I will certainly go away and take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on regular attendance and closer working, but I can say that two Members of the UK Parliament will attend the meeting taking place this autumn.

On the first day of the invasion, the then Foreign Secretary’s first multilateral engagement was at the OSCE, where she denounced Russia’s unprovoked and premediated war of aggression against Ukraine. The Foreign Secretary has spoken at the OSCE three times in the past 12 months alone and will attend the ministerial council in November. He and the Minister for Europe regularly speak with the OSCE chair, the North Macedonian Foreign Minister, while my noble friend Lord Ahmad regularly engages with the secretary- general, including representing the Government at last year’s OSCE Parliamentary Assembly annual session in Birmingham.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, raised the role of the chair and the work that we need to do. The UK is working incredibly closely with the current North Macedonian chair and like-minded partners to identify a consensus candidate for the 2020-24 chair. As I said earlier, the Foreign Secretary is attending the OSCE ministerial council in November with a view to securing a decision before the end of the year to stave off the leadership crisis.

In regard to human rights and more activity in regard to civic society, that is an important point and I will certainly come back to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, after this debate.

The Government’s high-level engagement is matched by senior officials, who regularly raise OSCE matters in security fora.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, we are totally committed to the OSCE. There is unity among like-minded countries on the need to do our utmost through innovation, agility and resilience to support the principles and commitments underpinning the organisation and Euro-Atlantic security in the face of Russian assault. We will continue to work with our partners to support the OSCE and to urge Russia to change its approach and engage constructively. I thank noble Lords again for their interest in this important topic.