WASHINGTON – Ukraine on Friday launched an inquiry through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in an attempt to make Russia explain its massive troop buildup near the border, after a similar maneuver by the Baltic nations directed at Belarus went nowhere.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba announced on Twitter Friday that Kyiv had triggered the so-called “risk-reduction” mechanism of the OSCE Vienna Document, to which both Belarus and Russia are parties. The process amounts to a request for information regarding a member nation’s military activities that other members perceive as threatening.
Moscow has until Sunday to respond, per OSCE rules, though it’s unlikely Ukraine will get a substantive answer to the one question Western officials have been asking themselves since the standoff began: What is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin up to?
The Ukrainian government asked Moscow for “detailed explanations on military activities in the areas adjacent to the territory of Ukraine and in the temporarily occupied Crimea,” Kuleba wrote. “We will keep using all diplomatic means to ensure security of Ukraine.”
Kyiv’s use of the Vienna Document route came after Baltic nations tried to extract information from Belarus on the ongoing Union Resolve 2022 exercise, which entails military drills of Russian and Belarusian troops.
The Estonian government on Friday characterized the response from Minsk as “insufficient.” Baltic officials said Minsk’s missive claimed the exercise was too small in scope to be subject to Vienna Document reporting requirements, leaving them under the impression that the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko had no interest in transparency and confidence building.
A similar reaction is expected from Moscow, said Alex Tiersky, a senior policy adviser at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the U.S. arm of the Vienna-based OSCE.
“Moscow’s threatening posture is intended to maximize instability and unpredictability in order to gain the upper hand, whether through diplomatic concessions or battlefield advantages,” he told Defense News. “In this environment, it would be extremely surprising if the Kremlin — or authorities in Minsk — would choose to break recent precedent to meet either the letter or spirit of their OSCE-based transparency commitments such as the Vienna Document.”
That said, Tiersky argued the diplomatic inquiries are still worth pursing. “Invoking these measures — and the inevitably duplicitous Russian responses which will surely follow — underlines the commitment of other OSCE states to using every tool at our disposal to seek a diplomatic solution, as well as laying bare the dishonesty of Russian rhetoric blaming others for escalation and aggression,” he said.
The Baltic governments are expected to huddle next week to coordinate their next move following the Belarusian response. Per the Vienna Document, members can call for additional consultations if the risk-reduction request left them unsatisfied.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.