4 nations to boycott meeting in Balkans

SKOPJE, North Macedonia -- The foreign ministers of the three Baltic states and Ukraine said Tuesday they will boycott a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe being held this week in North Macedonia, in objection to the participation of Russia's foreign minister.

The top diplomats of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania issued a joint statement, saying they "deeply regret the decision enabling the personal participation" of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

"It will only provide Russia with yet another propaganda opportunity," they said.

Lavrov said Monday he planned to travel to North Macedonia's capital, Skopje, for the OSCE foreign ministers' meeting, which would mark a rare visit to a NATO member country since Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Ukraine also said it would boycott the meeting because of Lavrov's participation, with its foreign ministry issuing a statement accusing Russia of "coercing and undermining the OSCE through the abuse of the rule of consensus."

"By resorting to blackmailing and open threats, the Russian Federation systematically blocked the consensus on key issues," the statement said, citing the blocking of Estonia's candidacy for the chairmanship of the organization in 2024.

Alexander Grushko, a Russian deputy foreign minister, told reporters on Tuesday that the Baltic nations' decision to boycott the meeting "doesn't mean anything for the future of the OSCE, either way."

At the meeting, the Russian delegation will "insist ... on the return of the OSCE to its origins, original principles, original purpose," Grushko said.

"Actually, it is called the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but now there is no security or cooperation. If the OSCE wants to play at least some role, then it must return to what it was created for. And if this does not happen, it will not be in demand among the participating states," he added.

He didn't comment on Ukraine's announcement that it was also boycotting the meeting.

With the exception of close Moscow ally Belarus, Lavrov hasn't visited any European country since the war in Ukraine started.

In March 2022, Lavrov was barred from flying to Geneva for a U.N. conference after European Union members banned Russian planes from their skies as part of sanctions against Moscow. He denounced the move as "outrageous" in a video address to the session.

The 57-nation OSCE was set up during the Cold War to help defuse tension between East and West. North Macedonia holds the organization's rotating presidency, and its foreign minister invited Lavrov to the two-day meeting starting Thursday.

"For the past two years we have witnessed how one OSCE participating state has actively and brutally tried to annihilate another," the Baltic foreign ministers said in their statement. "Let us be very clear: Russia's war of aggression and atrocities against its sovereign and peaceful neighbor Ukraine blatantly violate international law."

They also accused Russia of "obstructive behavior within the OSCE itself," citing Russia's prevention of an OSCE presence in Ukraine and the blocking of Estonia's chairmanship of the organization in 2024.

Lavrov's attendance at the Skopje meeting "risks legitimizing aggressor Russia as a rightful member of our community of free nations, trivializing the atrocious crimes Russia has been committing," they added.

Speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels, North Macedonia's foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said he believed that he would be meeting Lavrov in Skopje.

"Lavrov is not coming to Skopje, in a way. Lavrov is coming to the OSCE just as he went to [the] U.N. in New York a few months ago," Osmani said. "I won't be meeting him as the foreign minister of North Macedonia, but as the OSCE chairman in office."

Asked what he would say to Lavrov, Osmani said: "I think the Russian Federation has violated [the] commitments of OSCE principles that we have voluntarily subscribed to 50 years ago."

He added: "We have condemned the aggressor throughout our chairpersonship. And also we have turned [the] OSCE into a platform for political and legal accountability of the Russian Federation for its deeds in Ukraine, and we will continue to do so. And this is what I am going to tell to Mr. Lavrov as well."

Information for this report was contributed by Lorne Cook, Samya Kullab and Elena Becatoros of The Associated Press.