Moderator: Good afternoon or good morning from the Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. Today we are very honored to be joined by Ambassador Michael Carpenter, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
With that, let’s get started. Ambassador Carpenter, thank you so much for joining us. I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
Ambassador Carpenter: Great. Thank you, Justin, and it’s great to be with you all. I’ll start by saying that, at the present time, we’re facing a crisis in European security. The drumbeat of war is sounding loud and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill. There’s close to 100,000 troops on the Russian side of its border with Ukraine. Their presence and the live-fire measures being carried out are raising many questions about Moscow’s intentions.
So we believe this is a time for diplomacy and dialogue, though as President Biden and Secretary Blinken have made clear, we are prepared with our partners and allies to impose massive and, indeed, unprecedented new costs if Russia escalates the situation militarily in Ukraine. We much prefer the path of dialogue and de-escalation. Today, here at the OSCE, the Polish chairman-in-office proposed a revitalized dialogue at the OSCE on European security. We strongly welcomed that dialogue, and I must say, so did the overwhelming number of participating states around the table.
We very much believe we should have an open and honest dialogue where any state can articulate its security concerns. The OSCE is the right place to have this dialogue. It is inclusive. It includes 57 participating states, including all of the NATO Allies, all of the EU member states, Russia, Ukraine, and all of Russia’s neighbors. We have a 50-year history here at the OSCE of trying to build trust and de-escalate tensions that dates all the way back to the Cold War.
But as we engage in this dialogue, I think it’s also – we have to be clear that we are not going to entertain spheres of influence; we’re not going to entertain restrictions on the right of nations to choose their own alliances; we’re not going to entertain privileging the security requirements of one state over another. The truth be told, there’s only one state in the OSCE that has invaded two of its neighbors and that stations forces on the territory of other states against their will, and that’s Russia.
So we’re prepared to extend, we have already extended a hand to offer a serious, genuine dialogue, but we go into this process wide open. And this is the culmination this week of three series of engagements, as you all know, bilaterally in Geneva in a discussion led by Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman at the NATO-Russia Council, where Deputy Secretary Sherman also led the U.S. delegation, and today here at the OSCE.
So with that, I’ll pause and I’m open to your questions.
Moderator: Thank you very much, Ambassador. We will now turn to the question and answer portion of today’s briefing.
Our first question comes to us from Kristina Zeleniuk with TV Channel 1+1 in Ukraine. “What do you think is the ultimate Russian goal? Is Putin really preparing for a big war, or is it a bluff? And how can the OSCE help here? Because we all know that all decisions are made there by consensus, and Russia can block them.”
Ambassador Carpenter: Well, so thank you, Kristina, for the question. I can’t really speak to Russian intentions. You would have to ask the Kremlin. But as I said earlier, we have seen a massive and unprecedented buildup of Russian forces, tens of thousands, now close to 100,000 combat-ready forces on the international border with Ukraine. We have seen all of the advanced weaponry – artillery systems, electronic warfare systems, ammunition, et cetera – that leaves a lot of questions, begs a lot of questions about what Russia’s intentions are.
So we have to take this very seriously. We have to prepare for the eventuality that there could be an escalation. And that is why President Biden has said that the United States together with our allies and partners are prepared to impose massive costs. But at the same time, that is not the path that we prefer to go. We prefer to take the path of de-escalation and diplomacy, and we want to have serious, vigorous diplomacy to see if there might be areas where we can have common ground and where we can better understand each other’s threat perceptions. And so that’s why we’ve engaged bilaterally in the NATO-Russia Council and here at the OSCE.
Now, you say the decisions here at the OSCE are made by consensus. That is true. The OSCE has also served as a platform where we have devised some of the essential pillars of military transparency in Europe. The Vienna Document is one of those; we have had other pillars in the past, to include – well, we still have the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, although Russia has declared that it is no longer bound by it, declaring suspension, which is not in our view a legally available instrument. But we have devised far-reaching, comprehensive, confidence-building measures here in the OSCE, and so there’s always the possibility that we could augment those, strengthen them, and perhaps come up with new ones in the future.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that, Ambassador. Our next question comes to us from Nick Wadhams with Bloomberg. Please go ahead, Nick. Hey, Nick, I think you need to unmute your computer.
Question: Hi, sorry about that. Ambassador Carpenter, I’m just wondering if you can talk a little bit about what was actually achieved today, whether you got a sense that there was any movement or progress or whether this was a situation where there was just lots of talk but no actual talks. Can you point to any specific progress or a sense of elucidation of what or illumination of what Russia might actually be thinking, and where you go from there? Thank you.
Ambassador Carpenter: Yeah, thanks, Nick. Well, today was the first inaugural Permanent Council meeting of 2022. It’s usually a meeting that is devoted to having the chairperson-in-office present their priorities for the year, which is what Foreign Minister Rau did. The significant new element to his address today was his proposal to launch a revitalized European security dialogue, which, as I mentioned, was endorsed by the overwhelming number of participating states sitting around the table. So that is significant. So we have decided that we are going to launch a new process that will debate issues of European security, the key concerns of all the states around the table.
Look, I’ve been doing negotiations for long enough to know that first you have to have a discussion; you have to air your differences; you have to find out where you might have common ground. And then you have to test whether there’s any willingness to engage on specific measures that might accommodate those threat perceptions. They would have to be reciprocal, of course, and they would have to be agreed in the OSCE by all 57 participating states. So that’s a lengthy process. If you look at historical precedent, if you look at the process here of negotiating the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty or the Vienna Document or any of the other confidence- and security-building measures, these are complex, technical negotiations that take time.
So there’s – there was never any expectation that there would be some sort of agreement today. Today is the beginning or the announcement of the beginning of a process. That process will get underway shortly. And we hope to have an open and sincere dialogue, as I said earlier. But we’re going to have to test that. We’re going to have to see if the Russians are prepared to engage.
Moderator: Thank you for that. Our next question comes to us from Elena Chernenko with Kommersant newspaper. Her question is: “Russian officials said today that they expect their U.S. and NATO colleagues to provide them next week with written comments to the two draft agreement proposals on European security they sent them in December. Is the U.S. ready to provide such written comment next week?”
Ambassador Carpenter: Look, I know that the Russian side has presented written proposals for what they would like to see. I am the Ambassador here to the OSCE, and so I am not as closely involved in the bilateral process or in the NATO-Russia Council discussions. I know that our – that Deputy Secretary Sherman, who led the U.S. delegation to the Strategic Stability Dialogue, has listened carefully to what her Russian counterparts proposed and will undoubtedly respond, has responded in the most recent meeting and will continue to respond to those concerns and to state frankly our own concerns about Russian behavior. So that discussion will get underway. Whether it includes written – an exchange of written ideas, I don’t know. And the same goes for the NATO-Russia discussion.
Here at the OSCE I can say that we’re going to launch an exploratory dialogue and see, again, as I said, where we have divergences and where we might have common areas that we feel we could potentially address together. But that process is just getting underway.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Karol Darmoros with Polskie Radio in Poland. “On January 1st, Poland took over the OSCE chair. Which issues do you see as the main challenges for the Polish leadership? How will the U.S. assist Warsaw’s activities?”
Ambassador Carpenter: Well, thank you, Karol, for the question. There are a lot of challenges that face the Polish chairmanship going into 2022. I’d say the first issue at the top of the agenda is the security situation in and around Ukraine. I already previewed that in my opening remarks. I don’t think I need to repeat that. We face a genuine crisis with very bellicose rhetoric coming from Moscow with a massive troop concentration on the borders and with, unfortunately, a precedent of Russia having invaded Ukraine in 2014. So the diplomacy that surrounds this conflict is going to be crucial going forward. Foreign Minister Rau alluded to it. He spoke to it in his remarks today. We also believe —
Moderator: Ambassador, can you hear us?
Ambassador Carpenter: — this is a priority. Can you hear me?
Moderator: Let’s give the Ambassador a few minutes to get back on with us.
Ambassador Carpenter: Can you not hear me? Hello? Can you hear me?
Staff: We can hear you loud and clear, Ambassador. Please continue.
Ambassador Carpenter: I could keep going, but I’m not sure if I’m being heard on the other end. Justin, can you confirm? Okay.
Staff: Apologies to all people on the line. The Ambassador apparently got disconnected. We’ll continue the call in one moment.
Ambassador Carpenter: Hello? Can you hear me?
Staff: We can hear you loud and clear, Mr. Ambassador. Please continue.
Ambassador Carpenter: Okay, thank you. So I was addressing Karol’s question on the Polish chairmanship’s challenges going forward, so the situation in and around Ukraine, but I would also note the unprecedented repression in Belarus, the use of torture, the hundreds and hundreds – it’s close to a thousand political prisoners now in Belarus, very tense atmosphere there, widespread restrictions on civil society. That’s obviously one of Poland’s neighbors, and so a very troubling situation.
And then the other conflicts in the OSCE area. So we have the Transnistrian conflict. We have the conflicts in Georgia, in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And then the situation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where we have just had clashes on the border over the last couple days. So unfortunately there is a lot of – there a lot of conflicts in different parts of the OSCE space, and those are all areas that are dealt with, by the way, by the OSCE and so those will have to be addressed going forward.
And then finally, I would say also the issue of human rights and democracy, repression of journalists, an unprecedented number of journalists across the OSCE space who are imprisoned or being harassed, restrictions on freedom of assembly, freedom of media, on civil society organizations. We’ve recently had the closing of Memorial, an esteemed group that actually dates back to the Helsinki Committee in the Soviet Union. And so all of these challenges are following on the Polish chair. It’s got a lot to deal with going forward.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that. We have a – we have David Sanger who has raised his hand. Please go ahead, David.
Question: Thanks very much and thanks for doing this briefing. As you said, this – these have gone on now in three different iterations, but this was the only one in which we saw Ukraine also participate. And I’m wondering if you heard anything from the Ukrainians, who of course have had their own channels to Russia, that made you think that there may be other ways other than the public diplomacy that you’re conducting right now underway that might lead us to something on the immediate crisis.
Ambassador Carpenter: Well, yes. So Ukraine is a participating state here at the OSCE and that’s why we see value in this format, because this is where they have a seat at the table and they get to discuss all of the proposals just like everyone else around the table. And that is hugely important. In terms of the conflict in Ukraine, the Ukrainian side has said that it is dedicated to the implementation of the Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015 as a way to resolving the conflict. They have taken extensive measures towards that end. We support them in this endeavor.
However, I would point out that the Minsk Agreement of February 2015 lays out a series of points that need to be fulfilled in order for Ukraine to secure its sovereignty and territorial integrity with full control over its international borders. And the first elements of that agreement call for a durable ceasefire, a withdrawal of heavy weapons from agreed zones, and unfettered access for OSCE monitors throughout the Russian-controlled parts of eastern Donbas. And those three conditions have not been fulfilled, so the ball is really in the – in the Russians’ court. Once those basic security preconditions are filled, then we can continue to work on implementation of the Minsk Agreement.
But all of that is also discussed – can be discussed here in the OSCE. The OSCE plays a vital role as a signatory to the Minsk agreements. We have the special monitoring mission on the ground. The OSCE is also involved in the so-called Trilateral Contact Group. So the tools are there. It is just – it depends on political will on the side of – on the side of Moscow at this point, frankly.
Moderator: Great. Thank you very much for that. We have a question here from Ivan Pilshchikov with TASS News Agency: “May I ask if the OSCE meeting in Vienna contributed in any way to the understanding between the West and Russia in the current situation? Do you think that after this meeting in Vienna, Washington and Moscow are somehow closer to finding a solution in terms of Russia’s proposals? Do you expect further and more detailed consultations through the OSCE regarding Russian proposals to follow?”
Ambassador Carpenter: So I – here at the OSCE, I do expect that there will be further consultations. I think it’s an important venue, as I said earlier, for every participating state to come to the table and voice its security concerns. We will hear everyone out. Everyone can state their concerns and what they perceive to be threats. And that has to be – we have to come prepared to listen to those concerns in an honest and genuine and open way.
And I – and I think just everybody around the table is prepared to do exactly that. That does not mean that everything that is said is legitimate. As I said earlier, we’re not going to entertain spheres of influence. We’re not going to restrict sovereign states’ rights to choose their alliances. And we’re not going to privilege one state’s security over that of another. But if we can find reciprocal restraint, if we can find areas for confidence building, for risk reduction, for crisis communication, then we’re ready to get down to business.
Moderator: Great. Thank you very much for that. We are – we have a question from Paul Sonne with The Washington Post. Paul, if you’re on the line, please go ahead.
Question: Yeah, thanks for doing this, Ambassador Carpenter. I just wanted to see if you could comment on Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov’s comments to Russian television today, where he said that the United States and its allies have rejected Russia’s key demands and are offering to negotiate only on topics of secondary interest. He said, “There is, to a certain extent, a dead end or a difference in approaches. I do not see reasons to sit down in the coming days, to gather again to start these same discussions.”
Ambassador Carpenter: Yeah, thanks, Paul. Can you repeat the last sentence of your question? I only heard the first part.
Question: He said – the quote that he said is, “There is, to a certain extent, a dead end or a difference in approaches. I do not see reasons to sit down in the coming days, to gather again and start these same discussions.”
Ambassador Carpenter: Yeah, so here’s what I’d say. We’re approaching this very seriously. We have said that we are open to a genuine, serious, and high-level dialogue, and we’ve demonstrated that through participation in the bilateral strategic stability talks, in the NATO-Russia Council at a senior level, and now we’re going to get a process underway here at the OSCE. So there’s ample opportunity to listen honestly to the concerns of all states.
But we are not going to renegotiate core principles. We’re not going to dilute the key elements of the Helsinki Final Act or the UN Charter or the Charter of Paris. Those are sacrosanct. Those are bedrock. Those are the basic principals of the international system. And they’re not for negotiation. So we’re happy to talk about the elements I described earlier. We’re talk – happy to talk about conflict resolution mechanisms, happy to talk about reciprocal restraint and risk reduction and confidence building, military transparency. All of those things are on the table. If we approach it from a reciprocal viewpoint, we can talk about all kinds of things.
But look, if the Russians walk away from these talks, it’ll be clear that they were never serious about diplomacy in the first place. If they’re interested in these topics that I’ve listed, then they’re going to find that we’re ready to engage.
Moderator: Great. We have time for one last question. This was sent to us from Ia Meurmishvili with Voice of America. The question is: “What are the next steps for OSCE after this week’s meeting? Any additional activities, programs, or initiatives in Ukraine and Georgia?”
Ambassador Carpenter: Yeah, so as far as the next steps here at the OSCE, the chair today proposed a revitalized dialogue. I expect that the chair is going to be consulting with everybody and doing an inclusive process of meetings with all the various participating states that have voiced interest in this dialogue to determine the format and the exact process going forward. I think we’re going to probably be able to get that underway fairly quickly in a matter of weeks most likely.
And then we will sit down and have the discussions most likely bucketed into various different themes. And we will drill down occasionally with experts, occasionally with senior-level reps at the table, and see where we can get traction on some of these issues. As I said, we’re approaching this very seriously. We’re going to come to the table prepared to have a serious conversation about where we can either augment existing tools for confidence building and risk reduction, where we might be able to find new measures for reciprocal restraint. We’re prepared to have that discussion, but we need – it takes two to tango. We need a partner that’s willing to engage on these things.
Moderator: Thank you very much Ambassador. Unfortunately, that is all the time we have for today. Do you have any closing remarks you’d like to offer to the group?
Ambassador Carpenter: I think I’ve covered everything, so I think I’m just going to leave it at that.
Moderator: Great. Well, thank you very much again, Ambassador, for your time. Very shortly we will send the audio recording of this briefing to all the participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it becomes available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another press briefing. This concludes the call.