Since the end of the Cold War, European security institutions have pursued the dream of a “Europe whole and free,” in which security is indivisible—the security of each state in the region is linked to the security of every other; comprehensive—the politico-military, economic, environmental, and human dimensions of security are complementary, interconnected, and interdependent; and cooperative—security is achieved through cooperation among the region’s states and organizations. Russia has taken a consistent, long-term approach to those principles, emphasizing the hard security it desired while minimizing the dimension of human rights and democratic governance. It developed a playbook for its approach, one that worked in the 1990s.  Russia has challenged the liberal international order, but has kept its basic playbook for European security. Analyzing how this happened can shed light on the problems faced today and help to evaluate opportunities for practical measures that might shore up transparency and confidence building during what appears to be another long period of adversity.

Forging the Link: Hard Security and Democratic Governance

The concept of comprehensive security was enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, which explicitly linked hard security to human rights.1 The linkage grew stronger with time: on November 19, 1990, twenty-two countries—members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Warsaw Pact—signed the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) in Paris. That same day, those nations and their neutral neighbors adopted the Charter of Paris at the second summit of the Conference on Security and Co-operation (CSCE). The charter further linked security to “democracy as the only system of government of our nations” and established the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Joint Consultative Group (charged with facilitating implementation of the CFE).

Philip Remler
Philip Remler is a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
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In 1999, at the sixth summit—by which point the CSCE had been renamed the OSCE (replacing “conference” with “organization”)2—heads of state and government adopted both an Adapted CFE Treaty and the Istanbul Charter for European Security, which featured military and human dimension principles.3 Later, in 2002, the OSCE created the Open Skies Consultative Commission to help implement the Open Skies Treaty.

The OSCE thus became a nexus for the Western-led order, which promoted rules-based political and security behavior in the international sphere and liberal democratic governance in the domestic sphere. However, the linkage of hard security with liberal democracy challenged autocratic states, which wanted the former without the latter. Unfortunately for them, after World War II, only the liberal democratic idea had legitimacy in the eyes of many of the world’s peoples—to the extent that dictatorships were forced to include the word “democratic” in their names (for example, the German Democratic Republic and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). 

It is not surprising, then, that as the Russian state has grown more autocratic at home since the end of the 1990s, it has been challenging both the rules-based international order and that order’s adherence to liberal democracy. This trend culminated in its 2014 seizure and annexation of Crimea and military intervention in eastern Ukraine. In the human dimension, Russia struck alliances of convenience with autocratic and ultra-right forces in other countries, buttressed by a shared profession of “traditional” values (held up as an alternative to the “decadent” democratic West). Russia causes further concern by its use of digital platforms to undermine democratic forms of government and rules-based multilateral structures. Most recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that “the liberal idea has become obsolete.”4

This is nothing new. The Soviet Union did not subscribe to democratic governance or universal human rights and, from the beginning, sought to deemphasize the human dimension; post-Soviet Russia has done the same. Facing the need to develop an approach to the linkage of hard security and democracy in the international order, Russia developed a new playbook to deal with the OSCE, its related bodies, and the security treaties and agreements undertaken by its participating states. This approach involves limited cooperation on sensitive issues such protracted conflicts, while fighting a rearguard action on the human dimension. But Russia’s approach is no longer working. Use of the playbook—particularly to deal with the annexation of Crimea and other recent actions in Ukraine—has severely isolated Russia, representing a significant threat to the viability of multilateral approaches to European security and to vital fora such as the OSCE.

Laying the Groundwork for an International Order

Adoption of the Helsinki Final Act represented a long-sought victory for the Soviets: it reinforced the West’s recognition of the borders the Soviet Union had established in Central and Eastern Europe, and it implicitly recognized the Soviet sphere of influence.5 In return, the Soviet Union recognized that human rights within its borders and those of its Warsaw Pact allies could be a legitimate focus for all signatories—that human rights violations anywhere are a concern for all. Privately, then general secretary Leonid Brezhnev maintained that the acceptance of Helsinki’s human rights articles was redemption for the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.6 Nonetheless, the Soviets bristled when the West used the CSCE as a platform for human rights criticism. The Soviet Union preferred the CSCE to concentrate on the security “basket” of issues. 

When the Soviet Union collapsed, most of its successor states viewed CSCE participation, along with United Nations (UN) membership, as affirmation of their independence, and they sought it eagerly. Russia, however, believed for a brief period that the CSCE could be something more: an organization that could supersede NATO to become the forum for all security issues in Europe. In that scenario, Russia could have a greater say and perhaps even a veto, since the CSCE operated by consensus.7 But this hope was dashed by the realities of German reunification, which provoked trepidation among the leaders of Britain, France, Poland, and others. They remembered the dictum of Lord Ismay, NATO’s first secretary general—that NATO existed “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”—and wanted continued U.S. commitment to NATO to ensure the good intentions of a newly enlarged Germany. NATO’s continued existence eventually gave rise to a Russian narrative that accused the United States of sacrificing the CSCE’s potential for real European concord on the altar of old-fashioned Cold War thinking.8

In the early 1990s, a security function of the CSCE made it worthwhile for Russia to accept the security-governance linkage: dealing with the series of small wars that erupted during the collapse of the Soviet Union, including the secessionist wars of Karabakh (Azerbaijan), South Ossetia (Georgia), Abkhazia (Georgia), Transdniestria (Moldova), and Chechnya (Russian Federation). With the exception of Chechnya, these were not wars for independence, as later portrayed. Rather, they were struggles to be part of polities other than the ones to which Soviet (and later international) law assigned them. Karabakh wanted to join the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic; and Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria, fearful of the rise of Georgian nationalism and Moldovan/Romanian unionism, wanted to remain inside the Soviet Union while the union republics of which they were part sought to leave. For this reason, the Soviet military and security services supported the Abkhaz, Ossetians, and Transdniestrians as part of their efforts to keep the union together in its final years. When the collapse of the Soviet Union made annexation of the separatists an untenable position in international law, the secessionists switched their stated goal to independence. However, the initial goals of the separatists and their backers—uniting Karabakh with Armenia and Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria with Russia—never completely disappeared.

Russia’s position toward these conflicts was therefore delicate and appeared from the outside to be contradictory. In the 1990s, Russia, like the Soviet state before it, remained the patron of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria, tacitly guaranteeing their security and demonstrating this by stationing troops in all three places. At the same time, Russia participated as a nominally neutral mediator in international efforts to resolve all the conflicts. This included the Karabakh conflict, in which Russia was not the principal patron of the separatists but instead had deep and enduring interests with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. These included not only state interests but also the mercenary interests of the Russian military. The UN was the principal negotiating forum for the Abkhazia conflict, and it maintained a militarized but unarmed observer mission to monitor Russia’s peacekeeping operation there. The OSCE took an auxiliary role in Abkhazia but was the principal forum for mediating the Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria conflicts. 

Russia’s positions on these conflicts were complicated by its war against separatists in Chechnya, which began covertly in early 1994 but then burst into an open and bloody conflict by the end of the year. Further complicating matters, some North Caucasus fighters from the Russian Federation fought on the Abkhaz side against Georgia, with Moscow’s encouragement, but later fought against Moscow in Chechnya. Most notorious of these fighters was Shamil Basayev, who topped Russia’s terrorist list until his death in 2006. In this difficult situation, Russia approved the April 1995 deployment to Chechnya of an OSCE Assistance Group, which developed into a platform for negotiations between Moscow and the rebels.

Over time, Russia developed a playbook to manage what became protracted conflicts—a playbook in which the OSCE played a significant role. Russia’s goal was to ensure that:

  1. the conflicts did not revert into hot wars against Russia’s desires;
  2. Russia could continue supporting secessionists while playing a mediation role in the settlement process, thus ensuring Russia’s paramount importance to (and enhanced influence on) both sides; and
  3. no settlement, whether comprehensive or interim, could prejudice the composite interests of Russia’s state, clans, and/or institutional groupings.

In Russia’s playbook, the OSCE was a neutral platform to cooperate with the West while pursuing goals that Russia did not share with the West. An astute Russian commentator remarked on “the fundamental difference between the approaches of the Russian Federation and the West to conflicts (‘freezing’ as a priority option for Moscow, and intervention to ensure its ‘settlement’ as the foundation for the approach of the U.S. and the EU).” Key to Russia’s playbook were its peacekeeping operations for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniestria, which ensured that Russia could freeze the conflicts in an unresolved state. Keeping them alive but frozen achieved the three goals outlined above. Russia began to hand out large numbers of passports in the separatist areas, producing Russian citizens on whose behalf Russia claimed the right to intervene (Russia has recently extended this “passportization” process to separatists in Ukraine).9 The net result was that Russia could exert maximum leverage on both the separatists and the states party to the conflict (including Armenia, in the case of Karabakh) and could also minimize rivalries and territorial claims that complicated and endangered Russia’s delicate position in its own North Caucasus (for example, the Chechen/Ingush irredentist claims against North Ossetia and Dagestan peoples such as the Avars and Laks).10 Participation in the OSCE’s mediation processes as presumed neutrals helped Russia manage these disparate but vital interests.

That is not to say that all OSCE participating countries viewed Russia’s activities with equanimity; even some states close to or allied with Russia were wary. Informal policies kept Russian participation in the OSCE’s Conflict Prevention Center and field presences to a minimum. 

Meanwhile, on the wider security front, Russia’s influence was declining internationally and its armed forces were deteriorating. Thus, in 1999, despite president Boris Yeltsin’s resentment of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Russia made extensive unilateral commitments at the sixth OSCE summit, including to withdraw troops from Georgia and Moldova. He knew that without those commitments, the Adapted CFE Treaty would stand no chance of being signed by the Western states. In the following years, however, it became increasingly clear that, owing to changing international and domestic political conditions, the Adapted CFE Treaty would not be signed by the Baltics (a key Russian goal for the adapted treaty) or ratified by the United States.

In addition, NATO continued to accept new members. This was in strict accordance with the language adopted by all OSCE participants, including Russia, in the Istanbul Charter for European Security:

<EXT>Each participating State has an equal right to security. We reaffirm the inherent right of each and every participating State to be free to choose or change its security arrangements, including treaties of alliance, as they evolve. Each State also has the right to neutrality. Each participating State will respect the rights of all others in these regards. They will not strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other States. Within the OSCE no State, group of States or organization can have any pre-eminent responsibility for maintaining peace and stability in the OSCE area or can consider any part of the OSCE area as its sphere of influence.</EXT>

However, Russia has claimed that NATO accession by the previous Warsaw Pact members amounted to “strengthen[ing] their security at the expense of the security of other States,” namely Russia. This is an issue on which Russia and the West have continued to be diametrically opposed and which led to the Georgia war in 2008. With Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012, Russia began applying analogous thinking to European Union (EU) accession as well, leading to the Ukraine crisis of 2013–2014.

Since Russia’s main goals for the Adapted CFE Treaty, including Baltic treaty accession, could no longer be met—nor could the CFE or Adapted CFE guarantee Russian security by stopping the enlargement of NATO—its interest in conventional arms control waned. In November 2004, Russia announced in the Joint Consultative Group that its troop withdrawals from Moldova and Georgia were complete (though Western states pointed out that Russian troops remained in both). In December 2007, Russia announced that it was suspending compliance with the CFE. In March 2015, Russia suspended its participation in the Joint Consultative Group. Hard security and arms control were the main reasons Moscow accepted the international order laid out in the Helsinki Act, Charter of Paris, and OSCE. As arms control faded, so did Russia’s reasons for committing to the order.

Russia continued to push back against Western human rights criticism. In particular, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) became a focus of Russian ire. The office, headquartered in Warsaw, monitors the national elections of all OSCE states but pays extra attention to countries formerly governed by authoritarian regimes. It found plenty to criticize in its reports on Russia and its friends and allies. ODIHR also holds an annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, which is heavily attended by human rights nongovernmental organizations. The meetings have developed into celebrations of Central Europe’s newly regained liberties and condemnations of human rights abuses by autocratic regimes further east. ODIHR’s efforts have clearly irritated Putin. In his well-known 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference, he called the OSCE “a vulgar instrument designed to promote the foreign policy interests of one or a group of countries.”11

To be sure, Russia did not view all OSCE institutions negatively. The High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) consistently monitored and spoke out about the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. All three countries adopted restrictive citizenship laws after gaining independence, resulting in a large number of stateless permanent residents whose families had settled in these republics during Soviet times. Promoting the status of the Russian language, and of an implicit Russian right to speak for a loosely defined group of “Russian speakers,” has been a mainstay of Russian foreign policy not only in the Baltics but also throughout the former Soviet Union. The HCNM’s monitoring was therefore welcome to Russia, as were the efforts of two other OSCE institutions: the Representative to the Latvian-Russian Joint Commission on Military Pensioners and the Representative to the Estonian Expert Commission on Military Pensioners. Both dealt with claims of Soviet military veterans residing in those countries. As a marker of its importance to Russia, the Latvian-Russian commission still serves, although there has not been a claim by a pensioner since 2008 and the commission has not met since 2013.12

Storm Clouds Gather

An important inflection point in Russia’s ambiguous attitude toward the multilateral cooperative security system came with the 2008 Georgia war. Tensions had been rising since late 2003, when Mikheil Saakashvili replaced Eduard Shevardnadze as the president of Georgia. The colorful and ambitious Saakashvili gained power by activating the Zviadists (supporters of Georgia’s ultra-nationalist first president); they had loathed Shevardnadze, who had marginalized them from electoral politics. With the ascent of nationalists, Georgia employed harsher rhetoric against Russia. And, in turn, Russia imposed punitive economic measures on Georgia, such as bans on imports and direct flights; harassed Georgians inside Russia; and began preparations for a military intervention. 

In the aftermath of the August 2008 war, Western attitudes toward the Russian invasion were mixed. Western leaders decried Russia’s invasion of Georgia and seizure of territory but also believed that Saakashvili’s erratic behavior was partly to blame. Nevertheless, the war doomed Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s proposed European Security Treaty, which he hoped would give Russia a greater say in security issues throughout Europe. In June 2009, the OSCE responded to Medvedev’s proposal by creating the Corfu Process to discuss it. The goal was to ensure that the OSCE remained a serious forum for dialogue between Russia and the West—especially as the other possible forum, the NATO-Russia Council, was mainly being used by the ultra-nationalist Russian envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, to vent his grievances against the West. The Corfu Process helped to keep the door open for dialogue, but other OSCE states were not interested in Medvedev’s goal of increasing Russia’s say in Europe’s security. Both the European Security Treaty and the Corfu Process died slow deaths. 

Russia continued, however, to employ its playbook in dealing with protracted conflicts. That included an anomalous sustained drive by Medvedev to resolve the Karabakh conflict, in which Russia was a neutral mediator but had enormous interests on both sides. From 2008 until he left office, Medvedev personally invested in the negotiations between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and then Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan. The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs, comprised since 1997 of Russia, France, and the United States, became for the duration of Medvedev’s initiative a Russian-led process, with the acquiescence of both France and the United States. Medvedev gave up a number of long-held aims to assume this leadership, including Russia’s desire to employ its own peacekeeping operation in the conflict zone (a goal Russia had pursued since the early 1990s).

Despite the OSCE’s usefulness in maintaining dialogue and managing conflict, Russian resentment of the organization’s work on the human dimension “basket” of issues, as an embodiment of the linkage between security and democratic governance, continued at full strength. ODIHR’s criticisms of Russia’s shortcomings in democratic governance and human rights continued to call into question the legitimacy of a state increasingly suspicious of those ideals. In return, by 2010, Andrey Kelin, then the Russian permanent representative to the OSCE, was castigating the OSCE’s “practice of double standards; thematic and geographic distortions: attempts to use the OSCE’s institutions to mechanically implant neoliberal democratic models in post-Soviet and other countries outside NATO and the EU, without taking into account their national characteristics, civilizations and cultures.”13 In these and similar statements, Russia was giving voice to the resentments of autocratic regimes elsewhere in the OSCE region. These regimes were shaken by the democratic “color revolutions” in former Soviet republics and later by the Arab Spring and the 2013 Euromaidan in Ukraine. And like Russia, they believed that human rights as a concept was a sham designed to promote Western control and that nongovernmental organizations advocating that concept were a fifth column built solely to implement that control.

Crimea and Isolation

The sequence of events leading to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in eastern Ukraine is well-known but not perceived the same in Russia and the West. As a Russian scholar has pointed out, the East and West “do not share a common baseline of facts,” much less an agreement on how to interpret them.14 To the West, the phrasing “Russia’s annexation of Crimea” and “its military intervention in eastern Ukraine” reflect an indisputable set of facts, but to Russia, these descriptions are vicious slander. These vastly different perspectives have clear consequences for discussions in multilateral fora such as the OSCE, where virtually all participating states other than Russia share the West’s baseline of facts.

At the same time, the OSCE has played a central role in international peacemaking efforts in Ukraine, and its efforts have, paradoxically, improved Russia’s view of the organization. The OSCE has become the institutional underpinning of the Normandy Format, the Trilateral Contact Group, and the Minsk Protocol. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) and the OSCE Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk have helped to keep the fighting in eastern Ukraine from getting out of hand—in other words, they fit into the existing Russian playbook for managing and “freezing” protracted conflicts. The SMM is not deployed in Crimea; this was the price for Russian acceptance of the mission, ensuring that the OSCE would not be involved in monitoring what the West considers to be Russia’s most blatant violation of international law. As a Russian observer points out, under current operating constraints, the SMM cannot establish a universally accepted baseline of facts, and neither can the checkpoint observer mission, which is confined to only 1 kilometer of the 400 kilometer border that Russia shares with the Donetsk and Luhansk separatists.15

OSCE efforts in Ukraine have generally earned positive reviews from Russian writers. Andrey Kelin—who, as noted earlier, denounced the OSCE for hypocrisy and neo-imperialism—declared in 2015 that “the OSCE is now working the way it always should have.”16 Russia’s closest observer of the OSCE, Andrei Zagorski, praised the “remarkable role” that OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Didier Burkhalter (Switzerland) played in 2014.17

But attempts to protract and manage the conflict in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea, ended up overstraining the mechanism that served Russia so well in the past. The OSCE remains the only platform for sustained, formal dialogue between Russia and the West, but Russia’s adamant denials on Ukraine—and especially its insistence that Crimea is a closed case—have made all dialogue problematic. The West still firmly believes that Russia has engaged in a process of crude territorial conquest, going against the universal border settlement that underlies the entire Helsinki agreement. As one Western official put it, “Russia is signaling the intention to create a ‘new normal,’” and it “behaves as a typical post-hegemon, using [the OSCE] as an instrument to secure its interests. There is space for interaction and recognizing agreed rules to the extent that they meet [Russia’s] own interests.”18

The West’s reaction to this perceived behavior has been to isolate Russia in the OSCE. Even Russia’s closest allies, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, do not defend Russia from Western criticism. Armenia does, but only sporadically. Russia has assumed a defensive position, and its officials in Vienna now grimly recite the adage repeated by Putin: “Russia has only two allies: its army and navy.” Aside from the SMM in Ukraine, Russia appears to be focused on two areas: the “integration of integrations” and the OSCE Structured Dialogue. 

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko first introduced the concept of integration of integrations in a 2011 article. It emanated from Putin’s announcement of the creation of a Single Economic Space (later named the Eurasian Economic Union or EEU), which would establish a common market for Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Putin called various integration projects, such as the EU and the new Eurasian market, the building blocks of a new European security and economic space.

In 2015, then Russian deputy foreign minister Alexey Meshkov elaborated on the concept, stating that it means cooperation between the EEU and the EU on economic matters and between European and Eurasian security structures (including the OSCE and the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization) on European security matters.19 Westerners in both the EU and OSCE dismissed this idea as an attempt to create a “Russian-led Camp” whose members possessed joint institutions that could be considered equal to those of a “Western Camp,” despite the lack of capacity in the Russian-led institutions.20 Westerners view these institutions as little more than vehicles for Russian hegemonic ambitions and treat the concept of integration of integrations with suspicion.

In the absence of another suitable forum, the OSCE Structured Dialogue was launched in December 2016 to discuss concerns surrounding arms control, military exercises, and military encounters. Russia takes the Structured Dialogue seriously, sending senior officials from Moscow to participate. But the Structured Dialogue is hampered by lack of agreement on its goals, including among Western countries. For the Germans who proposed the dialogue, and the “Like-Minded Group” supporting them, the purpose is to lay the groundwork for a quick transition from incident prevention and confidence-building measures—of the sort embodied in the OSCE Vienna Document (VDOC)—to a new, full-blown arms control agreement regulating conventional forces in Europe. The agreement would replace both the original CFE (from which Russia withdrew) and the Adapted CFE (which the United States and some other countries did not ratify). 

The United States and some other NATO states reject the idea of a new conventional arms treaty as part of their policy of “no business as usual” with Russia in the wake of its annexation of Crimea and support for separatism in Ukraine. In their view, Russia is not in a position to make credible guarantees on respect for international borders. In addition, practical, on-the-ground application of such a treaty would be problematic as long as Russia maintains that Crimea and its surrounding waters are Russian territory and that it has no military forces in the Donbass that might come under the treaty’s purview. The United States and its supporters still favor the type of incident prevention and confidence-building measures embodied in the VDOC, but they call for its modernization. Updates would include sharing more information on new weapons systems and military exercises. 

Russia agrees with the Like-Minded Group that a new CFE Treaty is needed, but rejects incident prevention and confidence-building measures, which it fears would put Russia at a disadvantage in light of NATO’s military strength. In 2016, Russia blocked the regularly scheduled revision of the VDOC, stating, “We can envisage prospects for the modernization of the Vienna Document 2011 only if the North Atlantic Alliance abandons its policy of containment of Russia, recognizes and respects Russian interests, and restores normal relations with the Russian Federation, including in the military sphere.”

Further obscuring the issue, both Russia and the United States say they support “risk reduction” while defining the term in opposite ways. To the United States, it means incident prevention and confidence-building measures, while to Russia, it means an arms control agreement, if recent discussions in OSCE fora are any guide. OSCE officials have admitted that the Structured Dialogue cannot be continued much longer if such basic disconnects cannot be resolved.

Moving Forward

Russia’s long-time playbook for multilateral conflict management in Europe, including via the OSCE, no longer works. Crimea has made it impossible to continue as before. Although Russia will never acknowledge that fact publicly, it will, or has, surely come to this conclusion privately. The question now becomes how to break the stalemate and restore the value of multilateralism. Any progress on the issues themselves can come only after this first step.

With the continued paralysis of the NATO-Russia Council and the suspension of a high-level political dialogue between Russia and the EU, it is fair to say that the OSCE is currently the only active platform for East-West dialogue.21 But dialogue between Russia and the West at the OSCE has stagnated. The West lectures Russia about international law, which Russia views as hypocritical, and Russia maintains a fortress mentality that is geared toward domestic political consumption.

A sustainable, effective dialogue can only be restarted if both sides tone down the rhetoric, agree not to lecture one another, and compartmentalize major demands (on the understanding that they are not dropping those demands). The process should start with an agreement to talk about specific, circumscribed topics that cannot be highly politicized, setting modest goals. There is good precedent for compartmentalization. Former U.S. president Richard Nixon and Brezhnev signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972 and negotiated in the SALT talks while the Soviets were fighting a proxy war against the United States in Vietnam. Former U.S. president Ronald Reagan and former general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and negotiated the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty while the United States was fighting a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Compartmentalization is difficult, but the OSCE and neutral states can help. If non-NATO states, such as Austria, Finland, or Switzerland, are looking for roles to play—whether within the Structured Dialogue or on the margins—a productive starting point might be to try to broker a gentlemen’s agreement on compartmentalization.


1 The Act was adopted by thirty-five states at the first summit of the CSCE, a forum created in the early 1970s to facilitate negotiations between the East and West. Both the Act and the CSCE, which represented the political process that gave it birth, played fundamental roles in increased cooperation between Eastern and Western Europe and in the establishment of a network of treaties and their governing institutions embodying the comprehensive security concept.

2 The OSCE became a permanent organization during the fourth summit in December 1994. The name change reflected its expanding institutional and operational functions.

3 The CFE was adapted in response to the end of the Warsaw Pact and the NATO accession of ex-Soviet bloc countries.

4 Lionel Barber and Henry Foy, “The Liberal Idea Has Become Obsolete,” Financial Times, June 28, 2019,

5 West Germany agreed in 1970 that the Oder-Neisse line (the Soviet-imposed border between East Germany and Poland) could not be changed by force. The United States, which earlier refused to recognize East Germany’s existence, opened an embassy in East Berlin in 1974.

6 Author interview with Russian official, 2019.

7 William Hill, No Place for Russia: European Security Institutions Since 1989 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018), 90–91.

8 Christian Nünlist (principal author), Juhana Aunesluoma, and Benno Zogg, “The Road to the Charter of Paris: Historical Narratives and Lessons for the OSCE Today,” OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions, Vienna, December 2017, 17–23,

9 “Passportization” was a byproduct of wider citizenship issues. As the Soviet Union collapsed, Germany and Romania began offering citizenship to ethnic kin. By 1992, Russia was offering passports to residents of newly independent states who could not receive citizenship in their country of residence. Passportization was selective. For example, South Ossetians could receive Russian passports, but only if they lived in South Ossetia when they applied; Ossetian refugees residing in Russia were not eligible.

10 After Stalin deported the Ingush along with the Chechens in 1944, the Prigorodnyy district of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) was transferred to the North Ossetian ASSR. Tensions developed as many Ingush tried to return from exile after de-Stalinization, and the two sides fought a small war as the Soviet Union was collapsing, leaving displaced persons in camps for decades. Though nominally Islamist, the September 1, 2004, terrorist attack on a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, was carried out by Chechen and Ingush fighters, and many of the Ossetian victims were Muslims.

11 Frank Evers, “In Retrospect: Points for Dialogue with Russia in the OSCE Context: 

Conclusions from Russian Scientific Periodicals, 2010–2015,” CORE Working Paper 31, Centre for OSCE Research at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, University of Hamburg, May 2018, 5. 

12 The Estonian commission was terminated in 2006.

13 Andrey Kelin, “Russia and the OSCE,” Russia in International Affairs 1 (2013): 89, quoted in Evers, “In Retrospect: Points for Dialogue with Russia in the OSCE Context: Conclusions from Russian Scientific Periodicals, 2010–2015,” 6.

14 Personal interview, 2014.

15 Andrei Zagorski, “The OSCE and the Ukraine Crisis,” in Russia: Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security:  IMEMO Supplement to the Russian Edition of the SIPRI Yearbook 2014, eds. Alexey Arbatov and Sergey Oznobishchev (Moscow: Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO RAN), 2015), 57–60,

16 Andrey Kelin, “ОБСЕ Наконец-то работает так, как должна была работать всегда” [The OSCE Is Finally Working the Way It Always Should Have], 2015 interview in Индекс Безопасности 3, 114 (2015): 17–21,

17 Zagorski, “The OSCE and the Ukraine Crisis,” 50.

18 Personal interview, February 2019.

19 Alexey Meshkov, “Russia and Europe: What Next?” International Affairs 6 (2015): 45. For a discussion of Russia’s belief in the distinction between “sovereign” and “dependent” states; the spheres of influence or “camps” this implies; and the idea of a “concert,” dominated by great powers, to make important international decisions, see Bobo Lo, Russia and the New World Disorder (Washington, DC, and London: Brookings Institution and Chatham House, 2015), 40.

20 For example, according to one OSCE official, Russia pushed the OSCE to cooperate with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on transnational threats. But when the OSCE asked the CSTO to co-sponsor a one-day workshop on counterterrorism, the CSTO was bewildered, as it did not have the funds, staff, or infrastructure to participate.

21 Andrei Zagorski, “Russian Views of the OSCE and the 2016 German Chairmanship,” Security and Human Rights 26, 1 (2015): 29.