Ian Borg is to visit Kyiv next week as the chair of the world’s largest regional security body in a show of “unwavering support” to Ukraine while demanding that Russia withdraws unconditionally and immediately from the territory.

He announced the visit to a room full of diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, the United States and more than 50 other countries across North America, Europe and Central Asia on Thursday, as he takes the helm of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) amid heightened tensions in the region and within the organisation.

“Next week I will visit Kyiv to demonstrate our unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

“I, and the Maltese Chairpersonship will continue to demand Russia’s full, unconditional and immediate withdrawal from the entire territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. 

“I reiterate my strongest condemnation of the intensified attacks witnessed in the last weeks.”

Video: OSCE

Keeping Ukraine war at top of agenda

It was an inaugural address that officially launched Malta’s last-minute takeover of the significantly organisation, which has lately been grappling with finding common ground between the West and Russia and its allies.

In the presence of Russian and Ukrainian diplomats, Borg made it clear that Malta’s primary priority for the OSCE is the “unequivocal commitment to keeping Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine at the top of the OSCE agenda”.

“Let us do everything possible to break the chain of relentless violence, anguish, and suffering we are witnessing, not only in this war but in conflicts around the world. Let us halt all deliberate destruction of vital infrastructure and all civilian deaths. Let us reverse the normalisation of this callous indifference to human life,” he said. 

“What we do for peace today will help determine whether we live in war tomorrow.”

The OSCE was founded in the 1970s to ease tensions between the East and the West during the Cold War and to this day remains one of the only remaining political communication platforms between the West and Russia and its allies.

'Our principles are not optional'

Borg said Malta’s leadership will work tirelessly to safeguard and uphold the principles and commitments set out when the OSCE was founded in 1975.

“Let me remind you that these are not optional – they are shared obligations to which we have all collectively agreed,” he told diplomats.

The OSCE brings together 57 states from the global north to discuss and take action on conflict prevention and arms control and to foster economic development in the region, ensure sustainable use of natural resources, promote human rights, fundamental freedoms, freedom of the press and free and fair elections. 

They represent around one billion people and the decisions they take are politically, but not legally binding.

Moscow, however, has been increasingly accusing the bloc of turning away from its founding principles.

This complicates things further, as the OSCE works with unanimity.

No decision can be made, no action can be taken and no successor can be chosen unless all countries agree to it.

This is essentially why late last year Malta was unexpectedly chosen to lead the OSCE throughout 2024, after Russia vetoed Estonia’s bid for the chairpersonship.

The presidency rotates annually and Malta was the only country all participating states – including the US and Russia – could agree on, despite its clear stand in favour of Ukraine in the ongoing war.

'We are not out of the woods'

On Thursday Borg said Malta’s other “overarching priority” for this presidency is to secure a budget and future leadership for the OSCE. The states’ unanimous agreement to appoint Malta as head “was a glimmer of hope, but we are not out of the woods”.

Borg also called for a more secure Mediterranean region, reiterating that “there could be no European security without Mediterranean security”.

The OSCE will also strengthen resilience against cyber threats, promote compliance with conventional arms control commitments, pursue closer cooperation on climate resilience and mitigation, combat corruption, violence against women and human trafficking, enhance food security, and push initiatives on media literacy and the safety of journalists online and offline, particularly female journalists, he said.

“Our engagement is governed by our conviction in the imperative need of restoring our planet to a state of peace,” he said.

“Our engagement is governed by our sense of purpose to serve as a bridge in the world around us, inspired by Malta’s unique position at the crossroads of East and West, of Europe and Africa.”

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