Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed his support for Ukraine’s initiative to enhance the OSCE mission in the country with armed monitors. Although this seems to be a good first step, many issues need to be addressed to bring any positive results.
A Ukrainian soldier guards OSCE observers near the village of Shyrokyne, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, April 19, 2015. Photo: AP
As the Ukraine crisis continues to loom on the European continent, the major powers involved in the conflict are not giving up attempts to find a way to decrease the violence and make all parties involved implement the Minsk Agreements.
One of the most controversial ideas was proposed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. He suggested enhancing the monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Ukraine by sending armed police to the conflict zone. This idea raised a number of questions, because such a decision involves defining many details, such as what weapons OSCE monitors could carry, where they are going to be deployed and what their responsibilities will be.
In 2015, the OSCE expressed interest in sending armed international observers to the conflict-hit region, but Moscow blocked such initiatives. However, this year Russia's stance on that issue evolved. Its Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow provisionally agrees to allow an OSCE armed police mission, specifically along the conflict line and at weapons storage sites.
In addition, during the recent St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his general support for the idea to enforce the OSCE mission in Ukraine with armed monitors.
Russia Direct talked with two leading experts to try to figure out the prospects for such an initiative to be implemented and what it might change in the relationship between Ukraine and Russia.
Nadezhda Arbatova, the head of the Department of European Political Studies at the Center for European Integration at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO)
Despite the Minsk II Agreement being approved by the Normandy Four, the concerned parties of the conflict interpret it differently, which leads to misunderstandings and the absence of much-needed progress.
The Minsk Agreements envision restoration of full control over the Russia-Ukraine border by Kiev only after it fulfills the political part of the agreement, which is to adopt a new constitution and conduct elections in the eastern part of Ukraine. Unfortunately, it is hindered by the domestic political struggle in Ukraine and the large-scale media campaign about "Russia’s military threat."
In such circumstances, Moscow views it as risky to withdraw Russian volunteers fighting in Eastern Ukraine because it might lead to another attempt by Kiev to solve the issue militarily. In other words, we should not hope for a swift implementation of the Minsk Agreements. A logical question then follows: What is the way out of the Mink impasse?
The way out may be found in establishing a new international context for the Minsk agreements to be implemented. During his annual Direct Line event on April 14 and later in June at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin expressed his support for Poroshenko’s proposal to deploy OSCE armed monitors to Ukraine along the demarcation line between the concerned parties and endorse the ceasefire. However, despite Putin's general consent, no such official decision was made by Russia.
Poroshenko sees deployment of such a mission as a police mission, which is, in fact, a mistake. A "police mission" implies maintenance of stability, peace and law enforcement in a post-conflict period. However, the situation in Ukraine is different. At the current stage of the conflict, we can talk only about a peacekeeping operation, which can help to hold the ceasefire.
The main issue here is that the OSCE has almost zero experience in providing peacekeeping operations and its monitors are not officially authorized to use the weapons. The new regulations must be prescribed specifically by the example of UN peacekeeper regulations to use weapons.
Another obstacle is that all military hardware and munitions of both sides in the contact zone should be gathered into warehouses and their protection and monitoring of any military hardware movement should be conducted by the OSCE monitors. On top of that, special security zones free of any military presence should be established. However, it is extremely hard to implement, as we can witness.
In addition, Moscow and Kiev still have disagreements on several issues. While in general Russia may agree with the deployment of the armed OSCE monitors along the contact line, it insists that the monitors must be stationed just there and any unsanctioned movements on the territories of Donbas and Luhansk must be excluded. In turn, Kiev wants exactly that – OSCE monitors having access to the areas controlled by rebels.
Moscow also views deployment of the OSCE monitors on the Russia-Ukraine border prior to the stipulation of the special status of Donbas in the new Ukrainian constitution as a violation of the Minsk II Agreements.
Thus, given many disagreements in details between Moscow and Kiev, even if the armed mission will be deployed, it might soon fail in fulfilling its main tasks. In that case parties should consider deployment of the full-scale OSCE peacekeeping mission (including Russian forces) in accordance with the Chapter VI of the UN Charter. So far it seems the only and the most real alternative to the remedial character of the OSCE police mission.
Stefan Meister, th head of the Program for Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia, Robert Bosch Center for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia, German Council on Foreign Relations
Currently, there is no functioning ceasefire in the separatist territories and the civil OSCE mission is attacked nearly every day. It is a very dangerous situation for them and they have no instruments to protect themselves. An armed police mission would be able to at least protect itself from those attacks.
Additionally, it could allow the OSCE to monitor more dangerous situations and handle them more efficiently. Therefore, first of all, I think it will have a positive impact on the observers and their role on the ground.
On the other hand, an armed police mission could possibly escalate some situations, as they will be able to protect themselves. But in general, I think the situation is tense anyway, so it won’t make it much worse.
Much depends on the other OSCE member states - and particularly on Russia - to make the mission successful. If Russia agrees, many other post-Soviet countries will follow the case. I think the prospects for such a decision are growing, because there is an increasing understanding that the situation has become worse in the last months in terms of increasing number of attacks in the region.
But in order to implement this initiative, Russia and all OSCE member states have to agree with it. Russia might establish certain preconditions before it agrees to the OSCE armed police mission in Ukraine.
Moscow may demand that Russian observers participate in the mission or it may require the recognition of the separatists and the progress on the elections in Donetsk and Luhansk. It might also depend on the mandate what the armed police mission can do and where will they have access.
Speaking about an alternative to the OSCE armed police mission, I think armed UN observers could well play that role. But anyways, given the tense and dangerous situation in Eastern Ukraine, I don't see any alternative to an armed international mission that can protect itself.
In addition, we have to remember that Russia might use the mission as a bargaining chip to undermine the credibility of the mission. Moreover, if Russia becomes a part of this OSCE mission, it will automatically lead to a further loss of trust from the Ukrainian side because Moscow will most certainly use the mission to its own benefit.