Estonia's bid for the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was not confirmed on Tuesday after Russia and Belarus blocked its application, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
"It is regrettable that due to the veto imposed by Russia and, at their instigation, Belarus today in Vienna, Estonia's candidacy for the Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2024 was not confirmed," Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) said in a statement.
"Because of Russia and Belarus, we now find ourselves in a situation where a mere six weeks before the new year, the OSCE does not have a confirmed chairmanship, even though Estonia has been the joint candidate of the European Union since 2020."
Russia and Belarus said they opposed Estonia's candidacy in May. OSCE rules state the rotating chairmanship needs to be approved by all 57 members.
The issue will be discussed again at a meeting in Skopje on November 30-December 1.
The minister reiterated his call to not give in to "Moscow's demands and blackmail". This includes its wish that the next chairman is not held by a NATO member.
"At this moment, instead of looking for solutions that would please Moscow, we must isolate Russia in every way on the international arena," he said.
Russia's actions are currently "blocking" the whole organization's work, including preventing the adoption of the budget, holding official events, and extending foreign missions. This has resulted in halting all OSCE foreign missions in Ukraine, he said.
"Estonia continues to hold the position that the OSCE must stand resolutely for its fundamental values and concessions to the aggressor should be ruled out," the minister said.
"Although the activities of the OSCE have been beset by confrontations from the start, the organization has never faced a graver crisis than now."
North Macedonia is the current chair. The organization's work is curated by the contributing country's foreign minister.
MP: Only a small step away from spheres of influence politics
Chairman of the Riigikogu's Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson said Russia has been against Estonia's candidacy since 2020, but the reasons have changed during that time. For example, evoking its NATO membership was only raised recently.
"Initially, one of the main reasons was simply that Estonia is a hostile country to Russia. I would remind you that only recently Poland was chosen to hold the presidency and its relations with Russia have not been any easier," Mihkelson wrote on social media on Tuesday.
Russia is consciously using the OSCE to break Western unity, which is part of Moscow's broader strategy, the MP believes.
"They feel the U.S. cannot afford to give up on the OSCE and are therefore putting pressure on by blocking the budget and vetoing Estonia's candidacy," he said.
It is technically possible for North Macedonia to extend its chairmanship. But if the EU and NATO members cave into Russia's demands, it would give Moscow a big diplomatic victory, Mihkelson added.
"This unfortunately suggests that the US has no strategy to win the war in Ukraine, or that the strategy is still to get to the negotiating table with Russia. In order to do this, it also tries to make the major Western powers believe that the OSCE platform could be one of the points of contact," he said.
"The aim of Russia's activities in the OSCE is, among other things, to make the West agree to pressure, which would at least leave the impression, that the sovereignty of Estonia and the other Baltic states is less important than that of the Western powers. From here, it is would only a small step to the politics of spheres of influence," he added.
The OSCE is a regional security-oriented intergovernmental organization that includes member states in Europe, North America, and Asia. Its mandate includes issues such as arms control, the promotion of human rights, freedom of the press, and free and fair elections.
This article was updated to add comments from Marko Mihkelson.
Editor: Helen Wright, Mait Ots