LODZ, Poland — Europe’s largest security organization, one founded to maintain peace and stability on the continent, opened a meeting Thursday with strong denunciations of Russia’s war against Ukraine, a conflict that is among the greatest challenges the body has faced in its nearly half-century of existence.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has been a rare international forum — along with the United Nations — where Russia and Western powers have been able meet to discuss security matters, and the meeting in Lodz, Poland, is the first high-level meeting of its kind since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
But since the war began, the OSCE has been another forum for the bitter clash to play out between Russia and the West, even as the OSCE’s own powers to help resolve conflict have waned.
Notably absent was Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who wanted to join the meeting but was banned by Poland, the current chair of the OSCE, from entering the country. Poland is a member of the 27-member European Union, which has put Lavrov on a sanctions list.
Lavrov himself denounced the ban on Thursday.
“I can say responsibly that Poland’s anti-chairmanship of the OSCE will take the most miserable place ever in this organization’s history,” Lavrov said. “Nobody has ever caused such damage to the OSCE while being at its helm.”
“Our Polish neighbors have been digging a grave for the organization by destroying the last remains of the consensus culture,” he said in a video call with reporters.
The Polish chairman in office, Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, said he had a responsibility to defend the OSCE’s “fundamental principles,” and argued that it was not Poland but Russia which has hollowed out the organization by blocking much of its work. He accused Russia of spreading disinformation against Poland.
“I would say it’s outrageous to hear Russia accusing the chairmanship of pushing the OSCE into the abyss, destroying its foundations and breaking its procedural rules,” Rau said.
The OSCE’s effectiveness has been harmed by the war in Ukraine. Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the OSCE acted as a mediator in Ukraine, negotiating the peace deals for eastern Ukraine following a Russian-backed separatist war that began there in 2014.
The Vienna-headquartered OSCE, founded in 1975, also is engaged in conflict prevention efforts in other places, including Moldova, the Western Balkans, the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
Also missing from the meeting in Lodz was Belarus Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, who died suddenly last weekend at the age of 64 and was buried earlier this week. Belarusian authorities didn’t give the cause of Makei’s death, and he wasn’t known to suffer from any chronic illness, triggering speculation about possible foul play.
Officials at the conference lamented the loss of the security order in Europe which had prevailed since the end of World War II.
“For the first time since the end of World War II, we are dealing with such a glaring, armed act against the principles that we all voluntarily agreed to in order to prevent the outbreak of another war in Europe,” Polish President Andrzej Duda told the gathered representatives.