A gay U.S. ambassador is taking center stage in the crisis over Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine by representing American interests at the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe.
Daniel Baer, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August to his seat at the Vienna-based international conference, has his work cut out for him in one of the most daunting foreign policy challenges faced by the Obama administration.
As widely reported, after turmoil in Ukraine leading to the ouster of the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, Russian military forces under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin occupied buildings, airports and other assets in Crimea for what he’s said is ensuring the safety of ethnic Russians living on the peninsula. Both the United States and the Ukraine government have deemed the incursion an act of invasion and occupation by Russian forces.
From his Twitter account, Baer has posted updates about efforts to mitigate the crisis, which include attending emergency meetings to deliver the U.S. call to send an international observer mission to Ukraine.
The OSCE was set up during the Cold War as a forum where the United States could raise human rights and security issues with countries aligned with the Soviet Union. After the Cold War, the OSCE has served as a pan-Atlantic forum now comprising 57 European, Asian and North American countries for conversations on conflict management and human rights, although the most recent crisis in Ukraine recalls the original purpose of the organization.
In his prepared remarks for an initial emergency meeting on Sunday, Baer said Putin is breaking various international agreements by intervening in Crimea, such as its 1994 Budapest Summit commitments that enabled the de-nuclearization of Ukraine.
“The effects on relations between the Russian Federation and every single participating state around this table, to which the Russian Federation has pledged its commitment to abide by principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, will be profound,” Baer said.
Baer also lists the times Russian diplomats were critical of military incursions in the Middle East, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sri Lanka, saying Russia can’t selectively apply this principle to its foreign policy.
In response, the Russian government insists it has undertaken the incursion into Crimea out of concern for the Russian ethnic minority. But Baer asserts an international monitoring team would be an appropriate way to handle the situation.
“Now just a moment ago we heard from the delegate of the Russian Federation a repeat of their concerns about the protection of Russian citizens, the treatment of minorities, and the security of Russian military installations and personnel in Crimea,” Baer said. “An international monitoring mission is the right way to address these concerns.”
Following the meeting, Baer was photographed speaking with the media as he spoke about the U.S. call for an OSCE-led monitoring mission to Ukraine. According to Reuters, Baer told reporters the United states has won tentative support for a many members for a monitoring mission, including “openness” from the Russian delegation. Moscow has veto power on the OSCE.
— U.S. Mission to OSCE (@usosce) March 2, 2014
Recently via Twitter, Baer said he’s hearing “worrying” multiple reports that paramilitaries are going house to house in Crimea and issuing threats if residents don’t attend pro-Russia rallies.
It should be noted that Baer is taking a lead role during the Ukraine crisis, but isn’t the top U.S. diplomat handling the situation. Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, was also set to participate in the OSCE meetings along with Baer.
An initial emergency ambassadorial meeting of the 57 OSCE participating states called by the Swiss chairman took place Sunday. Following a special meeting Monday in which Nuland spoke for the United States, Baer said via Twitter yet another meeting was set for Wednesday “in response to Ukraine’s activation of Vienna Document Ch III mechanisms.”
Prior to his assignment as U.S. ambassador to OSCE, Baer was the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor, where he took a lead role in shaping policy for international LGBT affairs. In his new post, Baer has moved to Vienna with his partner Brian Walsh.
Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said Baer was “a strong and vibrant voice for human rights” at the bureau, so his role in mitigating the Ukraine crisis is reassuring.
“The OSCE was originally created to engage the former Soviet Union on human rights issues, and so it’s fitting that Dan is representing our country there now as we come – once again – to a confrontation with Russia over human rights with a leader who looks increasingly like a Soviet-era dictator,” Bromley said.
Recalling the anti-gay laws — including a controversial law banning anti-gay propaganda to minors — already put in place under Putin’s regime, Bromley said Putin has shown his targets for persecution aren’t limited to his own LGBT citizens.
“It’s important that we have a strong ambassador at the OSCE, and one who, as a gay American, understands that persecution of just one small minority in a country rarely ends with that one group, but, as history has shown repeatedly, almost always ends with a more aggressive assault on the rights of a broader group of people,” Bromley said.