Top diplomats arrive in North Macedonia for security meeting as some boycott Russia’s participation

Top diplomats arrive in North Macedonia for security meeting as some boycott Russia’s participation

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Top diplomats from more than 50 countries arrived in North Macedonia on Wednesday for a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, while others boycotted the expected presence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had said they would not attend the talks due to Lavrov’s participation and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a brief stop in North Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, for the meeting but left for Israel hours later. He did not encounter Lavrov, who was due in Skopje late Wednesday.

Blinken accused Russia of “flagrant violations of every single core principle” of Cold War efforts to ease East-West tensions that led to the creation of the OSCE, and “relentless efforts to obstruct the OSCE’s work.”

Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels earlier Wednesday, Blinken said that the other OSCE member nations “are showing determination to make sure the organization continues to fulfil its purpose to advance European security.”

North Macedonia, a NATO member who holds the OSCE’s rotating chairmanship until Dec. 31, briefly suspended its ban on flights from Russia for Lavrov to fly in.

Russia’s top diplomat is making a rare visit to a NATO member country during the war that started with his country’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Lavrov also has visited NATO ally Turkey, which has no ban on Russian flights. In September, he was in New York to attend the U.N. gathering of world leaders.

In remarks with Blinken, North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said his country’s chairmanship had sought to turn the OSCE into “a platform for political and legal accountability of (Russia) for its atrocities in Ukraine.”

The OSCE meeting started with a working dinner on Wednesday. Formal talks over the next two days will discuss the future of the organization and the challenges it faces.

The participating ministers are expected to decide whether Malta will be elected chair for next year. Other decisions include the OSCE budget and filling key positions.

In a joint statement Tuesday, the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania said Lavrov’s presence at the meetings “will only provide Russia with yet another propaganda opportunity.” Separately, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry claimed that Russia “systematically blocked the consensus on key issues,” citing its opposition to Estonia’s candidacy for chair of the organization in 2024.

Security will be high in Skopje. Police sealed off a sports venue where the talks are talking place. The government declared Thursday a public sector and school holiday to reduce traffic.

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