Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will not be attending the OSCE meeting in North Macedonia’s capital Skopje this week, his press service said, after Bulgaria and North Macedonia allowed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s plane to fly in to the summit, making an exception to EU sanctions.
The Foreign Ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also said they are not attending. In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, they said they “deeply regret” the decision to allow Lavrov’s visit, adding that his attendance at the meeting “risks legitimizing aggressor Russia as a rightful member of our community of free nations, trivializing the atrocious crimes Russia has been committing”.
North Macedonia expects the arrival of more than 70 delegations with more than 1,000 official guests from OSCE member and partner countries, including from the United States, Canada, Britain and other NATO and EU countries, plus representatives of Central Asian countries.
The official part of the Ministerial Meeting will be held on Thursday and Friday.
North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister, Bujar Osmani, whose country has presided over the OSCE this year, previously said they were making efforts for everyone, including the Russian FM, to attend.
In light of the cancelations, Osmani said Lavrov’s arrival should not be viewed as a bilateral visit to North Macedonia but as a visit to the OSCE. The delegations were “coming to the OSCE and by chance, North Macedonia is this year’s chair and that is why the ministerial conference is being organised here,” Osmani said.
The move to allow Lavrov’s visit angered some civic organisations in North Macedonia who said this would be the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine that a NATO member country had hosted Lavrov, which could be used by the Kremlin as a publicity stunt.
The association of Ukrainians in North Macedonia, Lesya Ukrainka, on Tuesday said that the argument that Lavrov was merely visiting the OSCE and not North Macedonia was “incomprehensible and unacceptable”.
North Macedonia’s Defence Minister, Slavjanka Petrovska, also voiced reservations. Speaking on the national broadcaster, MRTV, last week, she said that considering Russia’s conduct over the past two years over Ukraine, “I don’t’ see a reason for his [Lavrov’s] presence here”.
The agenda of the OSCE mieeting in Skopje is packed with important issues for the organisation itself, including electing a new country president and adopting a budget.
With the presence of top diplomats like US State Secretary Antony Blinken and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, as well as Lavrov, the question was raised whether the margins of the summit would be used for talks over Ukraine.
So far, all hints from the West as well as from Moscow suggest this will not be the case.