by Oliver Noyan
Foreign ministers of five central European states met in Vienna and urged that lines of communication with Russia be kept open through the OSCE to facilitate a path to peace in Ukraine.
The foreign ministers of Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czechia and Hungary met in Vienna on Wednesday in the so-called “Central 5” format to discuss several issues of common interest.
Among them was a plea to ensure the continued relevance of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), one of the few pan-European organisations of which Russia is still a member.
“I believe that we have to keep open the necessary lines of communication and platforms that we might need when the time comes,” Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, who hosted the event, told a press conference.
While stressing his unconditional support for Ukraine, Schallenberg said that the OSCE was “the only pan-European platform for dialogue, and I believe it will play and can play a crucial role in the future”.
His counterparts also stressed the importance of the OSCE, with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in particular emphasising that “channels of communication must be kept open”.
However, Hungary has been repeatedly criticised for its more conciliatory approach towards Russia. In April, the country, which receives around 80% of its gas from Russia, signed a new energy deal with the country to ensure continued supplies of oil and gas despite European pledges to phase out Russian energy imports.
Szijjarto will return to Russia in mid-October to participate in the Russian Energy Week.
But Austria has also been criticised for taking a softer line on Russia.
As of July, the country imported around 66% of its gas from Russia, down from 79% before the war. The EU’s representative in Vienna, Martin Selmayr, went so far as to describe the high level of energy imports from Russia as “blood money” – much to the dismay of the Austrian government.
Austria was also heavily criticised for allowing Russian delegates to the OSCE to enter Austria to participate in the organisation’s meetings. However, Schallenberg stressed that including Belarus and Russia would be vital for the organisation’s functioning.
Slovenia, Czechia and Slovakia also stressed the need to save the OSCE from irrelevance.
The OSCE is the “only organisation that has an open dialogue with Russia”, said Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon, while her Czech counterpart Jan Lipavsky added that it is “one of the pillars of the European security architecture”.
The OSCE is currently under pressure, with Russia blocking the institution from playing a major role in the ongoing war.
Due to Russia’s veto, there is also no agreement on which country will chair the institution in 2024, and discussions on the organisation’s budget have been stalled for months.
*first published in: Euractiv.com