This year was more than difficult for the chairmanship – but never has it been so necessary. Ukraine – your neighbour, Zbigniew – was attacked on 24 February. Since then, we have been seeing a brutal war of aggression in Ukraine, not only against infrastructure, but very deliberately targeting the civilian population.
Over fifteen million people have fled Ukraine to date, most of them to or through Poland. And the scenario is clear: the aim is to destroy Ukraine as an independent state. But it is also about destroying the European peace order, international law and this, our joint organisation, the OSCE.
It is against this background, Zbigniew and Helga, that you have led the OSCE, the epitome of cooperative, values-based security. You have defended the obligations entered into in Helsinki and Paris, preserved our values and kept the focus on the suffering of the people in Ukraine. And for that I as German Foreign Minister, my country, and everyone here in this room are very grateful to you.
Because as was said yesterday evening, what the Russian regime wants is to destroy our European peaceful order. Just as it intended to capture Kyiv within a few days, it wanted to destroy our organisation within a few days. The fact that we were together able to prevent this was not, in my view, something we could take for granted. Rather, it was possible because we recalled our shared values.
At the moment when life, freedom and peace were attacked, together we decided to stand on the side of the attacked, and not on the side of the attacker. We decided – notwithstanding all the differences between us – to remember what is most important to this organisation and to the people in our common Europe. And that is peace, freedom and human rights. 55 countries, different as they are, much as they might argue on other issues, decided to stand on the side of peace and freedom.
One president and his government have decided to set Europe ablaze. And it is up to that one man, it is up to that one government, finally to end this brutal war, this attack on our common order.
I would like to thank the Secretary General and the chairmanship for carrying on – also with the new Support Programme for Ukraine – at this time when Ukraine and our peaceful order have been under attack. We are more united now than ever before. Because we know what the priority is: to support the people in Ukraine, but also in the neighbouring countries.
That is why together we established the Moldova Support Platform. The OSCE is one of the Platform’s supporters on the ground, with its work to promote good governance, combat corruption and curb the proliferation of small arms.
Together we decided – even though we are being faced with the task of defending our own freedom and peace – not to lose sight of other countries, other regions.
Because it is important now to continue and to intensify our work in Central Asia in particular, to expand regional cooperation with the OSCE there – with an eye to securing borders, combating drugs dealing and the arms trade, and containing the climate crisis.
Because, given the complex threats of our age, the OSCE’s comprehensive security concept can provide genuine added value for the people – with arms control, cyber cooperation, counterterrorism, cooperation on climate and environment, but also work on women’s rights, freedom of the media and security.
For we have seen how attacks on women’s rights and civil society are indicators and warning signs in a society. We saw that years ago in Russia. So joining together to expand this field of work is even more of a priority. Because we are seeing how destabilisation is crossing over into other regions as well. And the best protection against disinformation, fake news and manipulation is trust in one’s own government. And trust in one’s own government comes through transparency, self-criticism and self-reflection.
In this context, many tasks lie ahead. By far the most important is to get the people of Ukraine through this dreadful winter. I not only wish us all every success in this task; I am convinced that together we are stronger than this war.
And so, Bujar Osmani, the next year will probably be anything but easy. But we are already looking forward to the OSCE Ministerial Council you will be organising and to meeting again in Skopje.
We do not know whether we will be able to state clearly on that occasion that we have together won this war. What we do already know is that we are standing in solidarity with the people of Ukraine – for peace and freedom.
In conclusion, I would like to quote a woman who is one of the strongest freedom fighters in our common Europe.
Maria Kalesnikava has said: “Freedom is worth fighting for” – and that is why we in the OSCE are together fighting for peace.