KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania said on Tuesday their foreign ministers would boycott a meeting of the OSCE European security watchdog in North Macedonia this week because Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov intends to take part.
It would be the first time that Lavrov takes part in a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, prompting sweeping Western sanctions.
The meeting of the 57-member OSCE is due to take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1 in North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje.
Russia’s top diplomat has said he will join the meeting if Bulgaria, North Macedonia’s eastern neighbour, opens its air space for him. Lavrov said some Western countries had requested meetings with him.
Bulgarian air space is closed to Russian aircraft as part of European Union sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian delegation will not participate in the OSCE ministerial meeting at the level of the minister of foreign affairs,” Oleh Nikolenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian foreign ministry, wrote in a statement on Facebook.
Nikolenko said Russia had abused the rules of consensus in the organisation, resorted to “blackmail and open threats” and had also been holding three Ukrainian OSCE representatives in prison for 500 days.
“In such conditions, the presence of a Russian delegation… at minister-level for the first time since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine will only deepen the crisis into which Russia has driven the OSCE,” he said.
In a gesture of solidarity with Kyiv, the foreign ministers of the three Baltic countries later issued a statement saying they too would not take part in the meeting if Lavrov attends.
His participation “risks legitimizing aggressor Russia as a rightful member of our community of free nations, trivializing the atrocious crimes Russia has been committing”, they said.
Russia has demonstrated “obstructive behaviour” within the OSCE by blocking it from activities in Ukraine, and preventing Estonia’s bid to chair the organisation in 2024, said the joint statement by Estonia’s Margus Tsahkna, Latvia’s Krisjanis Karins and Lithuania’s Gabrielius Landsbegis.
Russia has in the past accused the West of undermining the OSCE through the “reckless enlargement” of NATO into central and eastern Europe.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Max Hunder in Kyiv, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Gareth Jones)