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Ukraine

OSCE has ability to 'craft compromise solutions'

There are calls for the OSCE mission currently in Ukraine to be expanded in the hope that this will enable a diplomatic solution to the crisis. A clever move, says Richard Gowan, an expert on EU security.

DW: Why should the OSCE achieve what the UN didn't?

Richard Gowan: Firstly, the OSCE has long experience in Ukraine. It actually deployed a previous monitoring mission to the Crimea from 1994 to 1998, and there are OSCE officials who really understand the detailed, complex ethnic politics of the region in a way that very few UN officials do or very few European Union officials do.

The second dimension is political. Russia is part of the OSCE. It has a mixed relationship with the organization, but Western governments want to signal to Russia that, by working through the OSCE, it's possible to find a compromise solution in the Ukraine - as opposed to working through NATO or even working through the EU, which has obviously been in a very confrontational situation with Moscow since the Kyiv protests began.

But Russia did not agree to that mission.

Russia actually has negative memories of previous OSCE missions in cases including Georgia and Chechnya. But I think the Russians may start to moderate that position in the weeks ahead. It's clear that President Putin is concerned that he has overreached. He may now be looking for a compromise settlement, what US diplomats are calling an "off-ramp" out of the crisis. And precisely because Russia is a central player in the OSCE this sort of monitoring mission, which isn't very confrontational, may help build a framework for compromise.

What do you hope this mission will find out? And how could this contribute to a solution?

Firstly, having monitors on the ground will create a tripwire, if you will. It is a little harder for Russia to make further military advances if that means directly confronting international monitors. Secondly, the monitors will be able to look at how ethnic Russians are being treated in Ukrainian-controlled territory. They may also - if they are able to get into the Crimea - be able to report on how ethnic Ukrainians are being treated there. So they will start to build up a clearer picture of what is going on, and their reporting, which will hopefully be pretty objective, will be more reliable than a lot of the claims we've seen in the Russian media, and to some extent in the Western media, about the behavior of both sides.

Could this mean a comeback for the OSCE as a key player in European security?

The OSCE has really stagnated for the last 15 years, and there are a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, Russia has very mixed views of the organization and has really blocked it playing a bigger role in many previous crises. For example: Russia insisted that OSCE monitors leave Georgia after the 2008 war.

But actually, the OSCE has also been undermined to some extent by the European Union. EU officials felt 10 years ago that they were writing the future of Europe and that they didn't really need the OSCE's help. I think that we're seeing a slight rebalancing here. We're realizing that in a crisis like the Ukrainian crisis the EU has very powerful tools - most obviously the power of money, and potentially the power of sanctions - but it's the OSCE which has the ability to craft compromise solutions and bring opposed parties together around deals which no one believes are perfect but may be the best available option.

Could this crisis spell the end of the G8?

It's very hard to believe that we're going to see Western leaders go to the G8 summit which was meant to be held in Sochi this summer. But the G8 has been declared dead before. Many critics claimed that the G8 would not be able to survive the 2008 financial crisis. And yet, the G8 is still there today, and has played a moderate but significant role for example in coordinating international responses to the Arab Spring.

My sense is that this year there will be no G8 summit. Instead, there will be some sort of G7 summit and President Putin will be left out in the cold. But diplomacy goes on. This crisis will hopefully end somehow with support from the EU, OSCE and others. And perhaps next year, or perhaps in 2016, there will be an initiative to bring Russia back into the G8 as a friend, as a sign of thawing relations. So the G8 is very sick - but it's not dead yet.

Richard Gowan is Research Director at New York University's Center on International Cooperation and a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

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