MODERATOR:  Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub.  I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing.  We’re very honored to be joined by Ambassador Michael Carpenter, the U.S. permanent representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or the OSCE.   

One final note.  We’re just – note that we are – this conversation will be on the record.  And with that, let’s get started.  Ambassador Carpenter, thank you so much for joining us today.  I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks. 

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER:  Great, thank you, and thanks to all of you for being with us.  I will go through some points on the OSCE Ministerial Council that will be held in Skopje, North Macedonia from November 30th to December 1st, and then I’ll take your questions at the end. 

So Secretary of State Blinken will lead the U.S. delegation to this ministerial council.  The Secretary will have an opportunity to underscore a few key messages.  First, to thank North Macedonia for its steadfast and principled defense of the Helsinki Final Act and the core principles and commitments that the OSCE was founded upon.  The Secretary will, of course, on – will elaborate on the U.S. enduring commitment to Ukraine and its people.  The United States is working with our global coalition of more than 50 allies and partners, most of whom are either OSCE participating states or partner states, to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression and its brazen attempts to redraw European borders by force.   

I’d like to recall for you that the U.S. has provided almost $75 billion to Ukraine since February 24th of 2022.  We’re also doing everything we can within the OSCE to support Ukraine.  We have documented Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine from the very start of this war.  The OSCE’s Moscow mechanism was used three times to document Russia’s human rights abuses in Ukraine.  The report was the first by an international organization to conclude that war crimes had been committed and to catalogue crimes against humanity.  In the OSCE, Russia is completely isolated.  No other participating state supports its war of aggression, which is condemned by every single meeting of the Permanent Council.   

Finally, the OSCE is working on the ground inside Ukraine.  It is carrying out 19 – at last count – 19 projects through the donor-funded Support Program for Ukraine.  These projects include support programs for humanitarian demining, mitigating the environmental impacts of the war, and providing psychosocial support for Ukrainian families. 

Another issue that Secretary Blinken will have an opportunity to highlight is the commitment of all OSCE participating states to human rights and democracy.  Some participating states, notably the Russian Federation and Belarus, have of course completely turned their backs on these commitments – which are so clearly enunciated in the Charter of Paris, which I would remind is a document that was signed by all OSCE heads of state.  And though Russia and Belarus have tried to block the OSCE’s signature human rights conference in Warsaw, we have managed for the last two years to hold it anyways, drawing, last year, I think it was 1,400, and this year roughly 1,500 civic activists from North America, across Europe, and Central Asia. 

Thirdly, Secretary Blinken will come to this ministerial council to underscore the firm U.S. support for the OSCE’s core institutions.  This includes our 13 field missions in Central Asia, Moldova, and the Western Balkans; our special representatives on anti-trafficking, antisemitism, anti-corruption, and so much more – I think there’s a total of 15 or 17 of these special representatives, somewhere on that order – and, of course, the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which is the world’s foremost election monitoring organization that also documents human rights abuses and supports rule of law across the OSCE area; the representative on freedom of the media, who steadfastly supports the safety of journalists and media freedom across the area; and the high commissioner on national minorities, whose mandate is so important. 

To carry out all of this work on human rights and democratic governance, the OSCE needs strong executives.  That’s why the U.S. is so grateful to Malta for being willing to step forward at such late notice to assume the role of chairperson-in-office of the OSCE for next year.  We, the United States, will support Malta’s chairpersonship however we can.  We will also support an extension of the mandate of our top leadership in the organization, starting with Secretary General Helga Schmid, Representative on Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro, ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci, and High Commissioner for National Minorities Kairat Abdrakhmanov. 

And that’s, I think, what I’ll start with at the top.  And with that, happy to take your questions. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  We have a couple of hands raised.  Why don’t we first go to Danila Galperovich.  Danila, you have the mike.   

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, John.  And Ambassador, thank you very much indeed.  Danila Galperovich, Voice of America.  So it is good news that chairmanship transferred to Malta, but it’s bad news that Russia is still blocking the work of OSCE, not supporting the transition of the organization’s chairmanship to Estonia.  So what practical ways does the OSCE have to overcome this blockage?  And also, you said that Russia is not supported by any other country in the OSCE, but in fact Belarus supports Russia.  And as I understand it, it makes it impossible to make any decisions at the OSCE, because it’s not minus one but it’s minus two.  So how to overcome this? 

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER:  Great, thanks for your question, Danila.  So let me first start out by clarifying your final point, which is that there is no participating state that defends Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.  Yes, Belarus is a co-aggressor, and they oftentimes act as a Russian proxy, but they do not explicitly support Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.   

So I want to make a few additional points on Russia’s participation in the OSCE.  First of all, since I’m sure some of you will ask, we have no planned interactions with Russia.  We will also not accept any return to business as usual in the midst of this aggression, which has resulted in the largest land war on the European continent since World War Two.  And then finally, there cannot be and there will not be any normalization of brutality.  And we have to remember that the Russian Federation is currently holding three OSCE SMM – that’s the Special Monitoring Mission – staff members – they’re all Ukrainians and they’re being held in detention on spurious charges.   

So last thing I’ll say is this.  Look, the OSCE was an organization that was designed in the 1990s as an instrument for cooperation.  But when one participating state or two violates all the rules, the only recourse for the rest of us is to condemn and isolate those violations of the Helsinki Final Act, to expose atrocity crimes – which, as I said, we have been doing consistently from the very start of this war – and to find ways to work around that – obstructions. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  Let’s go next to Jennifer Hansler.  Jennifer, you have the mike.   

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks so much.  Can you hear me?  



QUESTION:  Great.  Thanks for doing the call.  The Baltic foreign ministers put out a statement today saying they will not attend the ministerial this week.  I was wondering if the U.S. has any reaction to that.  Thank you.   

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER:  Well, as I said, Secretary Blinken will be attending the ministerial as our head of delegation.  It is, of course, up to each participating state to decide at what level they choose to attend.  And I previewed for you already the messages of firm support for North Macedonia over the course of the last year as it has steadfastly defended the principles and commitments of this organization, and raised Russia’s war with Ukraine at every single meeting of the Permanent Council since the very beginning of its chairpersonship.  So we think it’s appropriate to thank North Macedonia for their leadership, for their guidance at this organization during what has been undoubtedly a very challenging year.  And as I said, we plan to speak very forthrightly about Russia’s war of aggression, and we hope that all other delegations will join in that chorus of condemning this egregious act. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go now to Antonio Sanchez.  Antonio, please go ahead.   

Antonio, can you hear us?  We’ll — 

QUESTION:  Can you hear me now? 

MODERATOR:  Yes, I can hear you. 

QUESTION:  Okay, sorry.  Mr. Ambassador, I think this is the first time Secretary Blinken and Minister Lavrov are going to meet in a political forum since the – before the start of the Russian invasion.  Maybe this is a very naïve question, but is there any chance for a kind of bilateral meeting, handshaking, some kind of approach between the two leaders? 

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER:  So I don’t know if you were listening to my last answer; I thought it was pretty unequivocal.  There will be no planned interactions with the Russian Federation.  In fact, I don’t think there will be any crossing of paths at this ministerial council with Secretary Blinken. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We want to go now to Alex Raufoglu.  Alex, please, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Hey, John, thanks so much for doing this.  Ambassador, thanks for your time.  I know you mentioned that you already responded to the questions about Baltic decision to boycott the meeting.  The argument that they have is that Lavrov doesn’t belong to that table; he belongs to the Hague tribunal.  If the Secretary ends up sitting behind the same table with Lavrov in the same room, I understand there will be no one on one, but how do you swallow that, seeing the same pictures with – with him along with the Secretary?   

To follow up on Danila’s question, Malta will be chairperson in 2024.  But can you also fill us in on whether there will be agreement on top four jobs that Russia has been trying to block, including the media representative, as well as high commissioner for national minorities?  There’s a word in town that – impression that Russia want to use this as leverage to secure Lavrov’s participation.  If that’s the case, can you please give us more details about that?  How do you think these differences are going to play out this week? 

And finally, if I may, on NGOs.  Attacks against American NGOs throughout the OSCE region – coming from Russia, of course, but also it’s a reflection in countries such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, particularly targeting USAID.  Let me get your reaction to that.  Thanks so much. 

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER:  Okay, well, thanks for that series of questions, Alex.  Let me try to go one by one.  So on the chair of the organization for next year, you are right that Malta has been chosen unanimously in a Permanent Council vote as the chair for next year.  That decision still has to be ratified by the ministerial council through a consensual vote.  But we are thankful and grateful to Malta for stepping forward at this late stage in the process – really at the 11th hour – to assume the responsibilities of the chairpersonship and to carry forward the work of this organization next year. 

Look, I – on the question of Russia’s participation, of course Russia has participated in G20 meetings, it has participated in the UN General Assembly, it is a participating state of the OSCE, and, whether you like it or not, there is no mechanism in the OSCE for expelling a participating state.  And certainly, especially if you have consensus minus two, there is no mechanism for suspension either. 

So we are in a position where we seek to – and we have; we don’t just seek, but we have successfully isolated Russia in the OSCE and condemned, and documented, and exposed its many atrocities.  Again, I want to point out that the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism was one of the first instances of cataloging the various – excuse me – cataloging the various war crimes committed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine, including an entire Moscow Mechanism report devoted to the horrific practice of separating children from their families and removing them forcibly across the border. 

So a lot has been done to expose Russian atrocities, and I expect that that will be the theme, of condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, in all its forms.  That will be a theme at this ministerial council as well. 

Now finally, to your third question about American NGOs, of course, we steadfastly defend civil society and its right to speak out and to express its opinion, regardless, of course, of the nationality of those NGOs.  There are civil society organizations in every one of the OSCE participating states.  In some places like Russia, Belarus, and some other places, very beleaguered I might add, which is why we think it is so important to be able to give these activists a voice, and which is why – despite Russia’s objection two years in a row now – we have nevertheless managed to find a way to hold our signature annual human rights conference.  It’s called the Warsaw Human Dimension Conference.  It’s held every fall in Warsaw.  As I said, this year we drew roughly 1,500 civil society activists to that conference, where the whole point is that these NGOs get to speak out and get to hold their governments accountable for their principles and commitments in the Helsinki Final Act, in the Charter of Paris, and in other core OSCE documents.   

So we think it’s vital that both civil society be allowed to continue to operate everywhere in the OSCE region and that the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights also be a strong voice in support of civil society and their fundamental freedoms.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  I did lower a couple of hands, because I thought that they were already people who spoke.  So if you’d like to pose another question, please do raise your hand again.  But I will go to Antonio Sanchez.  Antonio, please, go ahead.   

QUESTION:  Mr. Ambassador, as you said, nobody’s talking to Russia right now because of what they are doing in Ukraine.  And at the same time, there is no way to expel or at least suspend its participation at the OSCE.  So that leads to a kind of blockade in the organization, as we have seen.  And are you afraid that the organization will not survive much longer in this situation, or at least won’t be able to function normally?  So how long can the OSCE endure this kind of blockade?  

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER:  Well, look, I hear a lot of this language in the media on blockade and inability of the OSCE to carry out its work, and frankly, I think it’s based on some very superficial understanding of the facts.  Yes, of course, there is political blockage of, for example, the top four leadership jobs, which we and many other participating states – almost everybody around the table – has supported the extension of those jobs.  There’s Russia and just one or two other states who have said they have some reservations or don’t have instructions.  Hopefully we’ll resolve that in the coming days, but we’ll have to see.  

But when it comes to the functioning of the OSCE on the ground, with its 12 field missions in Central Asia, Moldova, and the Western Balkans; when it comes to the representative on antisemitism; when it comes to the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights cataloguing human rights violations, monitoring elections, holding states accountable to their democratic commitments, engaging in things like trial monitoring – all of that work continues.  It is happening as we speak.  It has been happening all year.   

So you all in the media don’t see that, because you don’t cover the work of the field missions.  You don’t travel to a place like Bosnia or Kosovo or Tajikistan or Moldova to understand what’s happening on the ground.  But in fact, all of that very valuable work continues.  So yes, at the political level, I would agree there are some blockages of our work, because of the consensus principle and the inability to find agreement.  But then at the same time, look, we just agreed a couple days ago to Malta as chair of the organization for next year.   

So look, I don’t want to sugarcoat the disagreements.  The difference of opinions, the difference of perspective on the horrific, brutal war of aggression that Russia is waging, is stark.  As I said, Russia has its narrative built on propaganda and lies, and all of the other participating states call that out and condemn it.  There is no meeting of the minds.  So to this extent, yes, there is a great deal of opposition in the OSCE.  But many other things carry on, and a lot of valuable work ends up being done. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  We got one more question that just came in from Lusine from Hraparak Daily in Armenia.  She asks:  “Recently some estimates were voiced by State Department high-ranking officials suggesting that the upcoming several weeks may be crucial for the Armenian and Azerbaijani peace negotiations.  May I ask what place does the issue of the unsolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict take in these negotiations, and particularly what international involvement (inaudible) should be considered for securing the safe return of Armenian population to NK?” 

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER:  Well, we, the United States, have consistently said that we would like to see a normalization of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  We have supported a number of talks over the course of the last year between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Secretary Blinken has been personally involved in this effort to try to find a peace agreement that would pave the way for normalization of relations, open communications, and trade throughout the region, which we think is in the interests of all countries in the South Caucasus.   

And we will continue to support and offer our good offices for meetings between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Ultimately, it’s up to the parties, of course, to avail themselves of those good offices or those offers of mediation to support their efforts to reach a normalization agreement, but we will continue to do this.  And as for the international principle of safe and dignified return of refugees and sustainable reintegration, of course, we will support that as well. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  I’ll just leave the line open for about 30 seconds.  I think we have time for one more question, so if there’s anybody else that would like to submit a question or raise your hand, please, go ahead. 

It looks like those are the questions that – oh, I’m sorry.  We got one more follow-up from Danila.  Danila, go ahead, please. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Ambassador, can you please clarify the – any attempts to change the procedures in the OSCE?  Because as many mentioned, it’s a problem now to take decisions, although you underlining the importance of OSCE (inaudible).  So what do you think about possible efforts to change the procedures? 

AMBASSADOR CARPENTER:  Well, it’s a good question, Danila, and I’m afraid I don’t have a single blanket answer to your question, because there are certain rules of procedure where it is very clearly defined how, for example, we choose a chairperson in office of the organization.  Has to be done by consensus; there is a series of votes that have to happen sequentially in what’s called a preparatory committee, the permanent council, and then the ministerial council. 

On other issues, however, there is more room for creative solutions by those states that are likeminded, that share the same values.  And so as I mentioned, we – for example, despite Russia’s objection, we have held this Warsaw Human Dimension Conference two years running.  So we found a way to do it, despite the rules of procedure.  And we have also managed to use the Moscow Mechanism, which is a great tool that does not require consensus that allows us to deploy fact-finding teams to investigate gross violations of human rights, war crimes, atrocities, and the like. 

We have also found other ways to work around the – or I shouldn’t say “around,” but to work with likeminded partners and not to be hamstrung by the consensus rule to, for example, support Ukraine.  So as I mentioned in my opening remarks, there is a support program for Ukraine that is currently operating.  It’s an OSCE program, a field mission, currently operating inside Ukraine.  There’s roughly 75 staff attached to this operation and it engages in all kinds of meaningful projects – as I mentioned, humanitarian demining, psychosocial support for children, many other programs as well.  A total of 19 projects are underway currently. 

This has been accomplished despite Russia’s fervent opposition to any OSCE support for Ukraine.  Why?  Because we’ve managed to find likeminded countries to support this program through donor contributions.  And so we have managed to find creative ways to do business like this, but it doesn’t apply across the board to every single decision that we take. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  Unfortunately, that’s all the time that we have today.  Thank you, Ambassador Carpenter, so much for joining us, and of course, thanks to all the journalists that dialed in as well.  Shortly, we will send an audio recording of the briefing to all participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available.  Always love to hear your feedback.  If you have any, you can reach us at TheBrusselsHub – it’s one word –  Thanks again to everyone for participating.  This ends today’s briefing. 

# # # 

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future