Author: Almaz MAHMUD
On 5 March, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev received a delegation led by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Slovak Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Miroslav Lajcak. After informing President Aliyev about the priorities of Slovakia during the OSCE chairmanship, Miroslav Lajcak underlined the conflict prevention and mediation as the most important priorities of OSCE. He added that during this period they intend to contribute to the negotiation process to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Miroslav Lajcak noted that his visit was a good opportunity to learn about the conflict situation and exchange views.We have interviewed Mr. Miroslav Lajcak just before his visit to Azerbaijan asking him about this and other issues on the OSCE agenda.
What are your priorities as new OSCE Chairperson-in-Office?
The Slovak OSCE Chairmanship in 2019 wants to be realistically ambitious, innovative and hands-on for people, dialogue and stability. We have identified three key priorities to do so. First, preventing and resolving conflicts — and doing anything to make life better for the people living through them.
Resolving of the crisis in and around Ukraine will be a top priority for us here. This is not a conflict taking place in a faraway region — it is actually on Slovakia’s border. That is why I went to Ukraine on week after officially resuming office.
Second, we want to make sure the OSCE can respond to the threats not just of today, but also tomorrow. This is why we chose “A Safer Future” as our second priority. Engaging and listening to young people will be crucial in achieving this goal.
The third priority is based on a simple truth: many of us — whether local or regional groups, national governments or international organisations — are all trying to do the same things. We are trying to respond to things like climate change, terrorism, and increasing regional security threats. Yet, as the demand for multilateralism rises, we are seeing our system of rules-based order come under increasing threat. That is why we want to focus on effective multilateralism. The more we can work together — the more we strengthen our multilateral system — the more likely we are to come up with the answers. And already now, my field trips have shown me that there is room for more cooperation on the ground.
As you describe your key areas of activity, you said that the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is a major challenge for our common security, for efforts to reduce tension, to build credibility and to facilitate dialogue. What do you do specifically for this?
As I said, resolving the crisis in and around Ukraine is a top priority of our OSCE Chairmanship. We know very well how urgent this crisis is for all of us in the OSCE region. And it undermines the very principles and commitments we all signed up to.
My first official trip as Chairperson-in-Office was to Ukraine. It took place in mid-January. And the situation on the ground is alarming. Witnessing the daily struggles of people living near the line of contact and crossing the severely damaged bridge in Stanitsa Luhanska — the only open crossing point in the entire Luhansk region — every day, really puts our work into perspective. This is the moment when you realize that all we, politicians and diplomats, do — or fail to do — has an immediate impact on the lives of innocent people. We cannot just sit and watch when people are suffering on our doorsteps.
After returning from Ukraine, my team and I assessed what we have seen and heard on the ground. We came up with some concrete proposals, which focus on what can be done concretely to make life easier for people most affected. I discussed these proposals with my counterparts Foreign Minister of Ukraine Pavel Klimkin and Foreign Minister of Russia, Sergey Lavrov. As I have seen the critical work done by OSCE on the ground first-hand, it goes without saying that we will work closely with the OSCE missions, particularly with the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine. The monitors are the eyes and ears of the organisation and directly contribute to the prevention of further escalation.
I also count on international and regional organisations such as the UN and the EU, as well as partners like ICRC to work with us for all people affected.
As OSCE Chair, we fully support the overall stabilization efforts made by the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) and OSCE SMM, together with the political process of the Normandy Format, as a means to find a peaceful political solution to the crisis.
What are your priorities in the South Caucasus?
It is in our interest, as the OSCE Chair, to maintain close and frank relations with all participating States and to engage on the ground.
We have a shared responsibility to work on a safer future based on the principles and commitments we all committed to in Helsinki.
As the 2019 OSCE Chair, we do not want to do that just from Vienna; it needs to come from the ground. That is why I travel to the regions — to meet with and listen to the people most involved to better understand the situation on the ground and the challenges of local people.
Every year, when the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office is renewed, Azerbaijani society expects support a solution that is related to the settlement of that Nagorno-Karabakh and surroundings areas. I think that within your appointment you research this conflict too. What do you think, why your predecessors did not achieve anything in this conflict?
It depends on how you measure success. The conflict has not been resolved yet, but gradually and through continuous and increasing dialogue, small achievements to improve the lives of the people most affected can be made.
But most importantly, the conflict concerns Azerbaijanis and Armenians. Both nations have to be ready for the next step. As the OSCE, we can only play a facilitating role.
The attention of the international community is high and the OSCE stands ready to continue its long-term facilitation and engagement via the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs.
This year our Chairmanship is focused on people, dialogue, and stability, and in all three regards we see reason for optimism. The human toll of violence along the line of contact has decreased. We are seeing accelerated momentum around high-level dialogue. And the result of these developments can be increased stability in the OSCE space and more opportunity for progress.
In general, why is this conflict still unsolved?
Solving a longstanding conflict is a complex task requiring stability in the regional context, active dialogue, and the readiness of people to move forward.
Experience and data have shown that inclusive processes are more likely to lead to real, lasting peace and stability.
The notion that populations have to be prepared for peace is an important element. That is why we need to listen to voices from the ground – from those most affected by the conflict – and tailor our actions in response.
Our Chairmanship is committed to supporting the process for a peaceful and sustainable resolution of the conflict.
Do you have new suggestions in contrast to the ones of your predecessors?
Our role as Chair is an opportunity to support small achievements on the ground. However, there will be no drastic changes in our work compared to that of our predecessors. In fact, one of the crucial elements when it comes to conflict resolution is certainly continuity. I share my predecessors’ belief that the OSCE is uniquely positioned to create a more stable and resilient Caucasus region. In the short term, the OSCE can provide a forum for discussion and mediation.
But just as importantly, I share the perspective that, in the longer term, the OSCE Chair, Secretariat, and its institutions can together contribute to the region’s resilience to security challenges and contribute to creating the space for conflict settlement. No other organisation takes such a comprehensive approach to security. When we say “comprehensive,” we mean on all levels - from geopolitical to individual. That is why Slovakia will be unrelenting in placing a focus on people throughout its 2019 OSCE Chairmanship.
For many years, Azerbaijan’s society is sceptical of the Minsk Group of OSCE. That there is no progress towards the settlement of the conflict. How do you value the activity of this organisation?
We fully support the work and engagement of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs. The Minsk Group – which includes Armenia and Azerbaijan – in its broad constellation also reflects international support and interest in a peaceful solution to the conflict. This platform has existed for almost 25 years and one has to see the value in such consistent and high level of engagement.
I have reappointed Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk as my Personal Representative on the Conflict dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference. We have faith in the Minsk Process, and will ensure it has the support needed to succeed if the parties get to this stage.
I am in close contact with the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and took positive note of the recent meetings between senior officials. These leaders’ understanding that concrete measures are needed to prepare the populations for peace deserves our support.
As you know, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict prevents development and stability in the South Caucasus region. In this case, how do you see tomorrow's large-scale projects that Azerbaijan is leading and organizing Europe's energy security?
As the OSCE Chair, we take positive note of the activities of the State Agency on Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources of Azerbaijan. Implementing 23 projects, including construction of wind, hydro and biofuel power plants with a total capacity of 420 megawatts, as part of the Strategic Roadmap for the Development of Public Utilities, is a big step towards a safer future for all people and certainly an ambitious project.
Other strategic projects, for example Shah Deniz-2, which is connected to TANAP and TAP, help to ensure energy security and gas diversification. And this is so important for the region and the people living there.
Is tension in the region a pressure on the future of these projects?
Tensions always have negative impacts on economic and energy cooperation. The Southern Caucasus is not different. To ensure the future success of these projects - and by that I mean security and economic development for all people - we have to ensure dialogue, stability and cooperation in the region.