Proposals for armed members from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) to police Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region have been debated for several months. Most recently, President Petro Poroshenko said the leaders of France, Germany and Russia had ‘expressed support for the deployment’. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov later added any deployment across the contact line must be agreed with the bosses of the Russian-separatist forces in Donetsk and Luhansk. There are several main issues with this:
> Ukraine officially refuses to negotiate with the so-called ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ militant groups (although trade across the de-facto border of government-controlled and occupied territory continues to a certain degree)
> Alexander Zakharchenko, the Kremlin’s unofficial spokesman in Donetsk, has already made open threats to OSCE personnel in such an armed mission. On April 25, news portal Ukraine Today citing Interfax-Ukraine reported him as saying:
“If they have a desire to come here armed, I will consider this as an intervention. I will shoot down all armed OSCE mission representatives,”
> German FM Frank-Walter Steinmeier has appeared to link any deployment of an armed OSCE mission to holding elections in occupied Donbas. Despite much diplomatic wrangling, any realistic proposals for a fair ballot seem far off.
The OSCE is neither hurrying to arm observers nor giving up on the idea entirely. The organization’s leaders are open to debate the proposal but warn launching such a police mission would be unprecedented. Until now, remaining a civilian mission is one of the cornerstones of the OSCE Charter.
What does Ukraine want?
The initial idea for an armed OSCE police mission sprung up during a ‘Normandy Four’ meeting in March, the Jamestown Foundation writes. It wasn’t until April 25 when Poroshenko outlined the three main responsibilities for such an operation.
> Efficient monitoring of the contact line in order to accurately pinpoint who broke the ceasefire and where - so a prompt response can follow.
> Permanent deployment of military checkpoints in the areas where tanks, artillery, mortars, and heavy equipment have been withdrawn (plus measures to ensure this weaponry can not be accessed by the combined Russian-separatist forces.
> Establishment of observation posts in the uncontrolled area of the Ukrainian-Russian border in order to stop the supply of Russian troops, equipment, and ammunition. After that, a political settlement can be arranged to hand these posts over to Ukrainian border guards.
The president says any OSCE police mission would provide security for future elections, the electoral commissions and during the transfer of power to elected representatives of the Ukrainian Donbas.
"Upon completion of this process, the mission functions will be fulfilled," Poroshenko said.
The Ukrainian side has highlighted nine of the most problematic points along the front line, according to journalist Serhiy Rakhmanin, writing in the Ukrainian publication ‘Zerkalo Nedeli’.
He says the number of OSCE members in any future police contingent should be debated by the negotiators. The minimum is 1,500 (Kyiv finds this number too low). The maximum possible is up to 11,000 (Moscow is against). Presumably, the mission will be equipped with light weapons and armored vehicles. This isn't about tanks, but the presence of AVVs (Armored vanguard Vehicles) is totally justified, Rakhmanin argues.
Olga Aivazovska, a representative for Ukraine in the so-called ‘trilateral Contact group’ (set up to resolve the conflict in Ukraine) said a 7,000-strong force could be deployed. According to her, it is not clear what exactly is meant by a police mission: the introduction of new observers or the expansion of the mandate of the monitoring mission.
Analysts predict Russia will prevent the introduction of an OSCE police mission on the conditions of Ukraine. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov clarified the Kremlin’s position on May 24. He not only stressed Ukraine should consult the occupying administrations in Donetsk and Luhansk but also said the military observers might not appear along the Russian-Ukrainian border.
The OSCE is a long way off from deploying any armed police mission to Donbas.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said on April 27 the monitoring mission in the east of Ukraine is a civilian, unarmed mission. This decision was agreed by 57 OSCE participating States, news portal Ukraine Today reported. To change its format is only possible with the consent of all of them.
OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier stressed the OSCE has the potential to carry out "strengthened operations" and can send hundreds of police to maintain law and order during the vote, with the consent of all parties.
"We are discussing it but we should see the parameters of what is proposed. It is necessary to have a clear proposal on the table and discuss this proposal. All OSCE members must give their consent”, he said.
"None of the OSCE will come here armed"
Meanwhile, the combined Russian-separatist forces broadly agree such an OSCE police mission is out of the Minsk Agreement and claim that its introduction could provoke ‘a real war, which will involve the West directly’.
"The monitoring mission has a mandate to monitor, therefore, none of the OSCE observers will come here with arms," said Zakharchenko.
Criticism in Ukraine
Not all Ukrainian politicians have a positive view of armed OSCE police mission.
Oleg Berezyuk, the ‘Samopomich’ faction leader in the Ukrainian parliament believes the organization has a strong Russian lobby (a statement the OSCE itself denies).
"We must remember the OSCE police mission is not even a police mission. Moreover, the OSCE, as an organization, especially one that works in Donbas, is greatly influenced from the Russian territory and it is even dependent on them," he said.