Despite all the effort Kazakhstan went to in trying to secure and prepare for the first heads of state and government summit in a decade of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the meeting was actually a bit of a letdown.
Unresolved disputes related to the protracted conflicts among the former Soviet republics, as well as disagreements over how to strengthen the OSCE’s crisis prevention and management tools, prevented the Astana Summit attendees from adopting a proposed action plan.
The failure of the proposed Astana Framework for Action would have been a particular blow for Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who topped off extensions to the conference with some personal lobbying to try to secure a deal. In his capacity as host and chief OSCE cheerleader, Nazarbayev told the final session: ‘I’m counting on your flexibility. History has given us a unique chance and it would be unforgivable to lose it.’Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
But it was to no avail, and the OSCE summit only mustered a banal final declaration that repeated the organization’s praiseworthy principles without indicating how they could actually be more effectively achieved.
Indeed, compared with previous OSCE summits, including the last one, which was held in Istanbul in 1999, the Astana incarnation had relatively little to show for itself by the end. The Istanbul meeting, for example, yielded some major agreements, including a revised Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.
Of course, the OSCE’s relative influence in European affairs has declined since 1999, while East-West tensions have deepened. So in a sense, the Kazakh chair had less favourable conditions to work with from the outset. But if the Kazakhs were unable to revive the OSCE despite having made it the focus of their foreign policy in 2010, it’s not clear who can.
The debilitating dispute that arose over Georgia in Astana was perhaps inevitable given the entrenched positions and domestic political imperatives of the parties. The United States and its allies insisted on upholding Georgia’s internationally recognized borders, which include the breakaway regions of Abkhzia and South Ossetia. Western governments also wanted to include a reference to ‘the conflicts in Georgia’ in the summit documents, whereas the Russian government adamantly sought to justify its 2008 detachment and recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states having no legal ties with the central Georgian government in Tbilisi.
Russia also blocked proposals to revive the OSCE missions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which had ceased operating in 2009. Immediately before the summit, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek, said that restoring an international presence in South Ossetia was essential for enabling the Georgian refugees from the region to feel sufficiently confident to return. Meanwhile, in her opening speech, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Russia’s veto of the OSCE missions in Georgia. ‘It is regrettable that a participating state has proposed to host a mission and the OSCE has not been allowed to respond,’ she observed.
But there was more to the failure to make the summit a success than just the prickliness between the US and Russia. Feuding between Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev over which of them was to blame for the failed effort to resolve their Nagorny-Karabakh dispute was also unwelcome, even if predictable.