Russia tells OSCE to leave Ukraine
The Russian Foreign Ministry has called on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Secretariat “to immediately launch measures for winding down” its Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a lengthy statement on Friday that “in the current political and legal realities,” the mission cannot work in accordance with the previous mandate anymore. It expired on Thursday and covered the territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, now recognized by Russia as independent states.
“This means that its further activities do not have the consensus support of the participating States and, therefore, cannot be carried out de jure. We urge the OSCE Secretariat to immediately begin measures to wind down the SMM, sell its property, terminate employment contracts with its personnel, and settle contractual obligations to service providers and landlords,” Zakharova wrote.
All monitoring and reporting functions of the SMM were de facto terminated on March 7. On that day, the OSCE evacuated its last international monitors, who for eight years have been watching over the conflict between Ukraine and the two breakaway republics of Donbass.
“We draw special attention to the unacceptability of a repetition of such cases in which OSCE property temporarily remaining in Ukraine, especially armored vehicles, ended up in the hands of the Ukrainian armed forces,” Zakharova said.
While expressing respect for the work of the SMM staff, the spokeswoman noted that “due to constant opposition and pressure from Kiev and its Western patrons,” the SMM’s professionalism and impartiality was increasingly giving way to “a selective approach to facts and political bias.”
She also said the SMM leadership “openly played along with Kiev,” did not establish normal working contacts with Donbass, and did not really monitor the human rights situation, including the situation with national minorities and media throughout Ukraine.
“It did not react in any way to the growth of the ulcer of aggressive Russophobic nationalism in the country, the spread of neo-Nazi ideology. The contrast between the rosy picture painted by the SMM reports and the real state of affairs, which is now becoming more and more clear, was striking,” Zakharova claimed.
She expressed hope that the participating states and the OSCE Secretariat “would draw appropriate lessons from the achievements and shortcomings of the SMM’s eight-year work.”
Meanwhile, the OSCE leadership on Thursday expressed “deepest regret” that it had been unable to reach an agreement on the extension of the mandate of the SMM, which it considers to be a “key component of its response to the crisis in and around Ukraine.”
According to OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, the mission “has been playing crucial role by providing objective information on the security and humanitarian situation on the ground and relentlessly working to ease the effects of the conflict on the civilian population.”
Rau also said the Polish Chairmanship would continue consultations with the participating states “on the OSCE’s future role and presence in Ukraine.”
“While those discussions continue, the SMM will maintain its administrative status as an OSCE field operation, and continue to carry out functions including ensuring the safety and security of mission members, assets and premises,” the OSCE said in a statement.
OSCE monitors were deployed in 2014 to chronicle the conflict and later the ceasefire between Ukraine and the Donbass republics. The mission was established following a request by the Ukrainian government, and a consensus decision by all 57 participating states. With 1,291 mission members, the SMM was the biggest mission in the OSCE.
The Vienna-based organization began evacuating staff after Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24.
Russia launched the military offensive following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements signed in 2014, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered Minsk Protocol was designed to regularize the status of the regions within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.