Over the past days, the Russian Federation, through its warlord minions, managed to suspend the work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in the occupied areas of Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
After OSCE monitors were practically taken hostage in their hotels in Donetsk and Horlivka, the situation proves the Mission has no security guarantees for further monitoring efforts in the conflict zone. The “hostage situation” developed rather rapidly after Russia staged an aggressive rally outside the OSCE Headquarters in occupied Donetsk.
The staged act set grounds for the Russian-controlled militants to prevent OSCE monitors’ movement in and out the premises, thus putting to a halt the Mission’s work.
In fact, the move pursues various goals and is part of a wider multidimensional effort by the Kremlin to discredit the OSCE as a valid monitor, gain more favors in the Normandy Four negotiation process, and attempt to present the self-styled statelets in eastern Ukraine, the so-called “LPR” and “DPR” as independent actors and a party to the conflict with Ukraine. Which they are not, for reasons too obvious for the major part of the international community, much to the Kremlin’s disappointment.
What preceded the blocking of OSCE monitors in the hotels they resided was Ukraine apprehending a Russian national in the disengagement area near Zolote (Luhansk region). Ukraine authorities have reported that the suspect was in fact a Russian spy operating as part of the Russia-controlled “LPR.” He was nabbed red-handed on his recon mission under the guise of a demining effort. Moreover – and this is a really important point – he posed as a member of the Joint Center for Ceasefire Control and Coordination (JCCC), sporting a relevant armband.
Once realizing their man was detained, Russians threw fits and went all in with an asymmetrical response targeting the OSCE – the move widely seen as an act of international terrorism.
Worth noting is that the JCCC was established in 2014 in line with the agreements reached in the Minsk format where the parties are Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE as a mediator). Then, in 2017, the Russians unilaterally withdrew from the Center so since then, the body has remained virtually dysfunctional. Any attempts by Russia and its proxies at claiming that the “LPR/DPR” representatives are also part of the JCCC are null and void. Ukrainian experts have directly highlighted Russia’s efforts to legitimize “LPR/DPR” in the eyes of the international community, including through the JCCC participation claims.
Besides pursuing the said goal, Russia is also clearly set to discredit the OSCE SMM in Ukraine and create preconditions for the organization to fully wrap up its work in the conflict zone.
And to this end, Russia employs its favorite tactic of first creating a problem they intend to resolve themselves, posing as effective “mediators” and “peacekeepers.”
Amid the apparent lack of tools for the OSCE to independently address the crisis situation related to its monitors held in the occupied areas, Russia intends to “step in” and restore order. This way, Russia works to water down the OSCE authority.
Also, Moscow seeks to win itself more negotiating space and a better tactical position in the Normandy Four foreign ministers’ talks, including finding a pretext to terminate the format as such if Russia decides to do so.
At the same time, the international community and the Normandy Four leaders must not allow themselves to be fooled by Russia attempting to “resolve” the crisis with the OSCE monitors. After all, it’s Russia-controlled entities that obstruct the OSCE SMM’s work. The final document of the Normandy Four summit in Paris in December 2019 clearly laid down obligations to guarantee the safe operation and full access of the OSCE SMM throughout Ukraine. Now it’s Russia that bears direct responsibility for blocking the SMM’s work in the occupied territories.
So whenever Russia tries to bring up its latest “peacekeeping” and “mediating” successes in the Normandy Four negotiations or elsewhere, the least its counterparts could do is ignore such claims. At the same time, calling Russia out for initially creating a problem would be an even better option.