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Home News The OSCE: a trusted player in Ukraine

The OSCE: a trusted player in Ukraine

Published on 05/05/2014

International security body the OSCE is emerging as an important player in the Ukraine crisis, with both the West and Moscow calling for it to perform an even bigger role.

Herewith are some facts about the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and its current activities in Ukraine.

Cold War beginnings

Based in Vienna, the OSCE began life in the 1970s as a forum for dialogue between East and West and after the Cold War ended in 1990-91 it took on a broader role.

It is now made up of 57 participating states — including Russia, Ukraine and the United States — on three continents. An additional 11 countries are partner nations. The current chair is Switzerland.

Its activities include election monitoring, conflict prevention and resolution, helping states to develop democratic institutions, training police and assisting in military reforms.

There are currently OSCE activities in around 15 countries including parts of the former Yugoslavia — torn apart by wars in the 1990s — as well as former Soviet republics Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Ukraine missions

In Ukraine, the OSCE has nine different fields of activity including an observation mission for the planned presidential election on May 25, a “national dialogue project” and a human rights assessment mission.

There is also a military verification mission, eight members of which were kidnapped by pro-Russian militants in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slavyansk on April 25. One was released two days later and the others only on May 3.

This mission is not however staffed by the OSCE but by military experts from OSCE member states. It was not approved by Russia but was deployed in accordance with the OSCE’s so-called Vienna Document agreement of 2011.

Requested by Ukraine, the unarmed mission’s aim is to “dispel concerns about unusual military activities”. It attempted but failed to enter the annexed peninsula of Crimea four times, with warning shots fired on March 8.

Special Monitoring Mission

The OSCE’s principal “Special Monitoring Mission”, which was approved by all states including Russia on March 21 but with no access to Crimea, currently numbers 120 civilian unarmed monitors from 45 countries, supported by local staff.

The mission can expand in scope to up to 500 monitors. The monitors’ job is to meet with authorities, NGOs, ethnic and religious groups and local communities, gathering facts on the ground and information on the security situation.

Its headquarters are in Kiev, with monitors deployed in teams of 10 across the country including areas in the east and south with large ethnic Russian populations such as Donetsk and Odessa, where dozens of people have died in clashes this month.

Bigger role

The OSCE’s current chairman, Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, is due in Moscow on Wednesday on a visit agreed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call on Sunday.

“Putin and Merkel stressed the importance of effective international action — especially by the OSCE — in reducing the tensions in Ukraine,” Russia said in a statement.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told German television he was in talks with Russia, the United States, the European Union — and the OSCE — to hold a second peace conference in Geneva.

A first effort to defuse the crisis was agreed in the Swiss city on April 17. But Russia last week pronounced the accord dead after Kiev stepped up military operations that Moscow slammed as “war against its own people”.