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Friday, February 23, 2024
Feb. 23, 2024

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Baltic nations’ foreign ministers to boycott OSCE meeting over Russian foreign minister’s attendance

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — The foreign ministers of the three Baltic states said Tuesday they will boycott a meeting by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe being held this week in North Macedonia, in objection to the participation of Russia’s foreign minister.

The foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania issued a joint statement saying they “deeply regret the decision enabling the personal participation” of Russia’s Sergey Lavrov: “It will only provide Russia with yet another propaganda opportunity.”

Lavrov said Monday he planned to travel to Skopje for the OSCE foreign ministers’ meeting, which would mark a rare visit to a NATO member country since Russia invaded Ukraine. He also has visited NATO member Turkey, which has no ban on Russian flights. In September, he was in New York to attend the United Nations’ annual gathering of world leaders.

There was no immediate reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry to the statement by the Baltic states.

With the exception of close Moscow ally Belarus, Lavrov has not visited any European country since the war in Ukraine started.

In March 2022, Lavrov was barred from flying to Geneva for a U.N. conference after European Union members banned Russian planes from their skies as part of sanctions against Moscow. He denounced the move as “outrageous” in a video address to the session, charging that “the EU countries are trying to avoid a candid face-to-face dialogue or direct contacts designed to help identify political solutions to pressing international issues.”

The 57-nation OSCE was set up during the Cold War to help defuse tension between East and West. North Macedonia holds the organization’s rotating presidency, and its foreign minister invited Lavrov to the two-day meeting starting Thursday.

“For the past two years we have witnessed how one OSCE participating state has actively and brutally tried to annihilate another,” the Baltic foreign ministers said in their statement. “Let us be very clear: Russia’s war of aggression and atrocities against its sovereign and peaceful neighbor Ukraine blatantly violate international law.”

They also accused Russia of “obstructive behavior within the OSCE itself,” citing Russia’s prevention of an OSCE presence in Ukraine and the blocking of Estonia’s chairmanship of the organization in 2024. Lavrov’s attendance at the Skopje meeting “risks legitimizing aggressor Russia as a rightful member of our community of free nations, trivializing the atrocious crimes Russia has been committing,” they added.

Speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels, North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said he believed he would be meeting Lavrov in Skopje.

“Lavrov is not coming to Skopje, in a way. Lavrov is coming to the OSCE just as he went to (the) U.N. in New York a few months ago,” Osmani said. “I won’t be meeting him as the foreign minister of North Macedonia, but as the OSCE chairman in office.”

Asked what he would say to Lavrov, Osmani said: “I think the Russian Federation has violated (the) commitments of OSCE principles that we have voluntarily subscribed to 50 years ago.”

He added: “We have condemned the aggressor throughout our chairpersonship. And also we have turned (the) OSCE into a platform for political and legal accountability of the Russian Federation for its deeds in Ukraine, and we will continue to do so. And this is what I am going to tell to Mr. Lavrov as well.”

This version corrects to say this would be a rare visit by Lavrov to a NATO country since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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