OSCE in Donbas: mission-hostage

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In the night from 8 to 9 August 2015 were burned the armored vehicles of Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) of the OSCE, parked near the headquarters of the mission at the “Park Inn” hotel in Donetsk. Over the last month is the third case of pressure on the staff of an international organization, which took over the functions of an observer for the ceasefire on the line of contact of the conflicting parties in the Donbas.

The OSCE mission, which works in the Donbas since March 2014, from the beginning was in a position to justify itself. With a rather limited function – to monitor and report on the crisis, as well as promote dialogue between the parties to the conflict, the organization over the past year was used by both parties for mutual accusations of non-compliance with the Minsk Agreement. Ukrainian media have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that the mission had disproportionately large number of Russians who allegedly engaged in espionage activities and revealing the positions of Ukrainian army to separatists forces. The “DPR” and “LPR” attitude towards the OSCE has changed drastically after the mission started regularly to report that the shelling of separatist-controlled territory originate from the point where the dislocation of the Ukrainian army is ruled out.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has quite a lot of experience in the countries with ongoing military conflicts. OSCE Mission worked in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Tajikistan, Macedonia and many other post-communist states. However, despite its big name organization does not have effective tools to resolve crises. All of these conflicts were resolved only after the intervention of NATO, the EU and Russia, in the case of Tajikistan. Consisting of 57 countries in Europe, North America and Central Asia, the OSCE is essentially a forum on security issues, where the members of the delegation met to discuss topical issues, but no more. It is thanks to its “toothlessness” that SMM OSCE in Ukraine could gain access to the territory under the control of pro-Russian separatists and to stay in the heart of Donetsk in the hotel “Park Inn”, which is under the control of “Esta Holding”, belonging to the group “SCM” of R. Akhmetov.

The daily work of the Mission is to monitor the ceasefire, shells landing site survey, verification of the number of victims and destruction. Reports of mission employees regularly mention that the pro-Russian separatists refuse to provide access to certain objects. Frequent are the cases when the representatives of the monitoring mission leave the place because of the dangerous situation. SMM staff is unarmed and it consists of civilian persons. Their main attribute is armored “Toyota» cars white labeled “OSCE”. Not surprisingly, these machines have become the object of attack to put pressure on the organization.

July 23, 2015 saw the first rally near the hotel “Park Inn” in Donetsk, which was attended by about 200 people. Main action person was “mayor” of Donetsk Igor Martynov. The rally seemed quite organized, and guarded by law enforcement officials of “DPR” on the perimeter. Parked SMM cars were blocked and representatives of protesters painted about 30 cars with slogans about peace and callings for the OSCE to “open the eyes”. Many of the slogans from the protesters looked like a threat.

On the morning of August 6, 2015, action repeated. The protesters, disgruntled by the work of monitoring mission of the OSCE, chanted slogans accusing the organization in silencing “crimes.” There was even arranged a kind of performance – parking lot have been filled with red paint and toys. Thus, the protesters accused the mission with a death of Donbas children. Deputy Chief of the OSCE SMM in Ukraine Alexander Hug said that the protesters did not go to the contact with the mission, were quite organized and left the scene of the action on the buses. Separatist channel “Oplot” in the story about the rally showed the flash interview with a representative of the initiative group of protesters Oksana Snegireva, who said that the meetings will continue for as long as the representatives of the OSCE “will not leave.” Snegireva is a manager of the former dormitory of the Donetsk National University, where live refugees from the cities in the contact line. The newspaper “Segodnya” a part of the media holding of R. Akhmetov at the end of July 2015 published a report about the life in this dormitory. The leitmotif of the article is information that the government of “DPR” in exchange for a roof over their heads, and free meals require hostel residents to participate in community service. It is possible that participation in the meetings is part of this “social contract”.

Rallies in “DPR” may be a topic for another article, but for the last six months, protest activity in the “republic” has undergone a significant evolution. Back in February 2015, protesters held a picket at the prosecutor’s office of “DPR”, during which the participants demanded a transparent examination of the case of the former minister of energy of “DPR” A. Granovsky who was in custody. As a result, after the end of the picket several people were arrested, including the wife of A. Granovsky. June 15, 2015 residents of the most shelled areas of Donetsk organized a rally during which required provision of housing in the safe areas. It was remembered by the appearance of “the head of DPR” Zakharchenko in front of the protesters, and amusing dialogue with local resident, who refused to give her name, explaining that she does not want “to be shot again”. The last two months the situation in the “republic” remains acute in social and economic terms and shelling continues along the line of contact. However, the relative truce in hostilities puts “DPR” and “LPR” in an awkward position – in peacetime, people expect to improve their financial situation. Instead, even the talks in Minsk went to the deadlock. In this situation, search for a newsbreak that could divert people’s attention, has coincided with the real problem with the activities of the OSCE.

For example, consider the mission report for August 7, 2015. It states that members of the mission visited the territory of the “DNR” location where they wanted to verify the equipment and weapons, taken from the line of contact in accordance with the Minsk Agreement. As a result, free access was granted to only 2 of 6 locations. In one of the places where OSCE observers were not able to gain access they noticed the absence of the two systems “Grad” and four 122-mm howitzers. These messages are present in almost every report.

It is obvious that such OSCE activities are undesirable in almost complete information blockade about the real state of affairs in the “republic.” The main sources of news for the local population are Russian channels, local media, which highlight developments on the ground only in a positive way. On the Internet, the people of “DPR” and “LPR” get their information mainly from the Russian social networks “Vkontakte” and “Odnoklassniki”. Ukrainian media as a source of information, they often see only in the “revelation” stories of A. Shariy.

Therefore, the statements of “DPR” that the burning of OSCE cars was a sabotage organized by Ukrainian special units, will be unanimously accepted by the local population as the only true version. Ironically, the OSCE mission published in their reports information contradicting the statements of the pro-Russian separatists about ubiquitous “Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance special units”.

August 9, 2015 a similar rally as August 6, 2015 in Donetsk occurred in the city of Luhansk. Several dozen people demanded that the members of the OSCE mission “to stop to sit in restaurants.” Representatives of the organization refused to talk with protesters and they announced that they are to repeat the rally.

We can observe a planned action aimed at discrediting and intimidating employees of OSCE SMM. In fact, they received a warning that during the execution of their duties, members of the organization will face hostile local population. Provocations, attacks on personnel and equipment are possible, which will greatly complicate the operation of the SMM in the uncontrolled territories of Ukraine. Moreover, all this happens in the most crucial moment of the implementation of paragraph Minsk Agreement on the establishment of a 30-kilometer buffer zone.

Representatives of the organization have already declared that they will not leave the Donetsk and work as usual. They expect to continue the impartial coverage of the situation in the Donbas. However, how do OSCE staff willing to work in this situation, only time will tell.

Andriy Karakuts, Centre for International Security

OSCE in Donbas: mission-hostage” was first published by Ukrainian Pravda

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