VIENNA -- A meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's parliamentary assembly got underway Thursday without the Ukrainian delegation, which described the presence of Russian lawmakers as “an affront.”
The two-day meeting of the normally low-profile assembly is coinciding with the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The attendance of the Russian lawmakers has overshadowed the event. Austria granted them visas even though they are under European Union sanctions and despite protests from 20 countries including Britain, France and Canada.
Austria's government said that as host nation it was obliged to grant visas to representatives from all OSCE member nations. Ukraine said its delegates wouldn't attend if the Russians were present, as did Lithuania.
The Vienna-based OSCE, whose 57 members include both Ukraine and Russia, was created during the Cold War as a platform for dialogue between East and West.
The group has a wide-ranging mission, including peace, human rights, arms control and other security issues.
Austria had a “duty not to slam the door on diplomacy,” Wolfgang Sobotka, the speaker of the Austrian parliament said. “The OSCE, with its inclusive approach and comprehensive security concept, can and above all should be part of a solution to this conflict.”
“I do sympathize with the fact that some members find it unbearable to sit in the same room as the aggressors,” the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's president, Margareta Cederfelt, told the opening session. “But for those present today, this is your opportunity to stand up for Ukraine and to confront the lies from the aggressors.”
A Slovak delegate read out a statement from the Ukrainian delegation that said “the presence of these warmongers in Vienna is an affront to everything that the OSCE stands for.”
“They are not here for genuine dialogue nor for cooperation,” it added. “They are here to spread their propaganda ... they are here to try and justify the war crimes they have committed and desecrate the principles of international law and human decency.”
During the session, some delegates walked out as Russian lawmakers spoke.
Later Thursday, the head of the U.S. delegation, Sen. Ben Cardin, told reporters in Vienna that the delegation supported excluding the Russians from the meeting.
“We strongly believe that the Russian parliamentarians, all of whom have been sanctioned by the United States, the six that are here, should not have been permitted visas to come to this meeting," Cardin said.
The Democratic senator from Maryland said he thought Ukraine's supporters nonetheless “have strongly isolated Russia at this meeting."
"The debate that took place this morning and will continue through tomorrow has made it clear that Russia must be held accountable for the atrocities that they have committed,” Cardin added.
The head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly, Mykyta Poturaiev, said during a joint press conference with Cardin that his country has drafted an amendment stating that any OSCE country that starts a war against another member should be suspended from the group.
Referring to Russia's brutal war in Ukraine, Poturaiev said: "Let’s not forget that in Ukraine they’re killing every day the elderly, men, women, children, kids, newly born and even unborn, because a lot of Ukrainian pregnant women were killed together with their unborn children.”
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