Swiss-led OSCE seen as ideal mediator in Ukraine

Mass demonstrations on Kiev's Independence Square helped to bring down the government of Viktor Yanukovych AFP

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is perfect to act as mediator in crisis-ridden Ukraine, according to a foreign policy expert of a Swiss think-tank. David Svarin says the Swiss government is a credible player to help the 57-nation body gain renewed importance on the international stage.

This content was published on February 26, 2014 - 16:26

Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter – who this year also acts as Swiss president and OSCE chairman – appointed senior diplomat Tim Guldimann as special envoy for Ukraine at the beginning of the week.

Burkhalter also travelled to New York and Washington to discuss and present a possible role for the OSCE in Ukraine’s transition period following the ousting of the country’s leader over the weekend.

Svarin is a project coordinator for the Swiss foreign policy Foraus think-tank and is doing his PhD at King’s College in London.

Foraus is a Swiss grassroots organisation, founded in 2009, based on voluntary work by aspiring academics and young professionals.

Tim Guldimann

Tim Guldimann, 63, has a long career as a top diplomat and conflict mediator.

Posted to Moscow as Swiss ambassador to Russia in 1996/7, he led an OSCE mission to Chechnya where he mediated a first peace treaty.

He also headed OSCE missions to Croatia (1997-99) and Kosovo (2007-8).

From 1999 to 2004 he was Swiss ambassador to Tehran, where he also represented the interests of the US in Iran.

Guldimann is currently Switzerland’s ambassador to Germany.

End of insertion Is it realistic for the OSCE to mediate in Ukraine given that the United States and the European Union are the ‘competition’ when it comes to resolving the conflict?

David Svarin: Certainly. Besides, I doubt whether the US and the EU are really trying to compete with the OSCE for the mediation.

Washington has not been very active during the crisis in Ukraine, unlike the EU. But Brussels does not have the legitimacy the OSCE can provide. It is a unique institution with 57 members, of which four are members of the United Nations Security Council.

The OSCE represents both the western and eastern hemisphere and boosts its credibility to act as mediator in Ukraine.

Burkhalter described the OSCE as a “common roof for the Euro-Atlantic and Euro-Asian regions”. It’s this bridge-building role between different regions that increases the chances of a mission to Ukraine. There simply is no better impartial forum. There’s no better mediator for Ukraine than the OSCE?

D.S.: Absolutely. The organisation was founded in the 1970s with the aim of ensuring peace and stability in Europe, and Ukraine is a European country. But the OSCE’s credibility and capacity to act has suffered in the past few years. What can Burkhalter offer in Kiev?

D.S.: The OSCE has come in for a lot of criticism, that’s true. This was partly justified, but it was aimed primarily at its political mission. But as far as practical missions go, for instance the monitoring of elections, it has proven its ability to act. No member country has left the organisation so far.

It is a great opportunity for Switzerland to revitalise the OSCE, particularly because of its credibility within the organisation. Switzerland is well known in Eastern Europe for its conflict mediation. This in turn will help the OSCE to rebound and consolidate its reputation.

The Swiss special envoy, Tim Guldimann, is a highly experienced mediator who has worked for the OSCE before. He also speaks Russian. Guldimann is the trump card Switzerland had up its sleeve to put on the table.

It is also an asset for an OSCE envoy to be Swiss. He is considered neutral and less likely to be subject to potential attempts to influence him, for instance from the EU.

Burkhalter’s plans for Ukraine

The Swiss foreign minister in his capacity as OSCE chairman has called for the creation of an international contact group to come up with possible solutions for the crisis in Ukraine.

It foresees the participation of Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the US.

Burkhalter outlined the proposals in the UN Security Council and to US Vice-President Joe Biden, who reportedly welcomed them.

Former Swiss diplomat François Nordmann is optimistic. He is quoted as saying Washington wanted Switzerland to press for Kosovo’s membership in the OSCE. He also says southeastern Europe is a priority for Swiss diplomacy.

End of insertion There is a timetable for the transition of Ukraine, including new elections, an interim government of national unity. What major difficulties is Guldimann facing?

D.S.: The situation in Ukraine remains very volatile. Everything happened quickly, also the creation of an interim government.

The OSCE has to try to be in touch with all the actors in the conflict to be able to follow developments. There is no united opposition, but it is made up of a number of groups and political parties.

The OSCE also has to try to overcome tensions between the eastern and western part of the country, to engage the different political movements in the process.

It will be essential to monitor the presidential elections to prevent electoral fraud.

Within all this, special attention must be given to the Crimea region, with a predominantly Russian mentality and even a Russian military base. There have been calls for autonomy for this region. But it is crucial to involve this part of the country in the political transition. In your opinion a successful mission could create a win-win situation for Ukraine, the OSCE and for Switzerland. How could Switzerland benefit?

D.S.: Switzerland can boost its reputation as a neutral and credible actor, trying to promote peace and stability in Europe and the world. Switzerland is a small country and is not very powerful. Therefore it is all the more important to foster its image as an impartial mediator.

In a certain way, the OSCE is an opportunity for Switzerland to play a greater role in international diplomacy.

In addition, many of the 57-member countries are important bilateral partners of Switzerland. Russia, one of the key OSCE members, and Switzerland have good relations. A successful OSCE chairmanship of Switzerland may have a positive impact on bilateral cooperation.

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