U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sparred over human rights and European security before meeting with UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to discuss cooperation in Syria.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, entrusted with overseeing border agreements during the Cold War, convened its annual summit today in Dublin. Clinton and Lavrov joined other ministers and officials from the OSCE’s 58 members in the Irish capital.
The OSCE stands between diverging Russian and U.S. visions of Europe. Russia has proposed replacing the Helsinki Accords, the 1975 treaty guaranteeing national sovereignty upon which the OSCE is based, with a new European security arrangement. The U.S. wants to use the OSCE to promote human rights in former Soviet territories in eastern Europe and central Asia.
“I am here today to express a growing concern for the future of this organization and the values it has always championed,” Clinton said in a speech. “More than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, the work of creating a Europe that is whole, free and at peace remains unfinished.”
She criticized “democratic backsliding” in Hungary, human-rights “oppression” in Belarus and pending Russian legislation that would require journalists to register as foreign agents.
Lavrov attacked “unilateralist” efforts to control the Vienna-base OSCE. Plans to build an anti-missile shield and looser control over conventional weapons stockpiles threaten the region, he said.
In 2007, Russia suspended the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, an agreement to balance its military power with that of Western Europe. Russia has also objected to North Atlantic Treaty Organization expansion and the U.S. use of bases in former Soviet republics for military operations.
Clinton met privately with a group of human-rights activists from seven OSCE member countries, mainly in eastern Europe and central Asia. She told them Russia is leading an effort to “re-Sovietize” the region.
“It’s going to be called a customs union,” she said. “It will be called the Eurasian Union and all of that, but let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”
Clinton and Lavrov will meet Brahimi later today to discuss options for ending the Syrian conflict, said a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. While the two have discussed Syria several times in recent months, Brahimi’s involvement suggests today’s meeting may offer an opportunity for a breakthrough.