Ukraine claims Russian bias among frontline observers after Western withdrawal | Ukraine

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Ukrainian officials have accused international monitors working in the eastern conflict zone of succumbing to pro-Russian bias, after the mission was exhausted when the US, UK and Canadian governments withdrew their citizens .

The mission, led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), is made up of hundreds of unarmed observers, often former diplomats from OSCE member states. Their armored vehicles crisscross the territory on both sides of the lines to report violations of the ceasefire.

As Moscow appears ready to exploit the tense situation in the conflict zone to provide a pretext for another invasion of Ukraine, the work of observers is more important than ever. However, just when they are most needed, their ability to work has been hampered by the decision of several countries to evacuate, due to the risk of Russian invasion.

“We have asked France and Germany to increase the number of observers they have in place, and we want the OSCE to resume its work in accordance with its mandate,” the deputy prime minister said. Ukrainian, Iryna Vereschuk, speaking on Saturday at Stanytsia Luhanska. , a town in Ukrainian-controlled territory directly on the frontline.

Russia insists that Ukraine is planning an offensive in the east. Ukraine and Western countries believe the Russian allegations of escalation are just a smokescreen to give it a pretext to launch a military assault.

“It is very important that everyone understands that it is the Russian Federation that is behind all this. Ukraine has no offensive plans,” Vereschuk said, after visiting a kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska which was shelled on Thursday.

Impact marks suggest the kindergarten was hit from the south, where Russian-backed separatists have positions, but Russian media have suggested the incident could have been staged.

Although reporters had access to the scene on Thursday and again on Saturday, in their daily report the OSCE said its staff were not allowed to come within 50 meters of the school and were therefore “unable to determine weapons used or direction of fire”. Fire”.

“That didn’t happen,” Vereschuk said. “Unfortunately, we are able to state that the OSCE special monitoring mission was not completely objective about the situation with the kindergarten.”

Serhiy Haidai, the Kyiv-appointed governor of the Luhansk region, went further, suggesting that the departure of British, American and Canadian monitors had led to a pro-Russian bias.

“Those who remain are representatives of Russia and former Soviet countries, and they can see things very one-sidedly. They are not going where they know they will find evidence of bombings of civilian buildings, but they are very happy to look at our military installations, and that creates a big question for us,” he told the Guardian at Stanytsia Luhanska.

The mission’s 680 monitors come from more than 40 countries, and the withdrawn American, British, Canadian and Dutch delegations number 57, 40, 28 and seven respectively, according to a OSCE January Report.

The OSCE mission has long been suspected on both sides of the lines, although obstacles to work on the separatist side have generally been more frequent and greater. “The Ukrainians have always been wary of Russian and Belarusian monitors, while the separatists have been wary of Americans and Poles,” said Nikolaus von Twickel, a Berlin-based analyst who previously worked for the mission.

Sources within the OSCE mission dismissed Ukrainian allegations of bias. “The idea that a change in personnel would influence the report… that’s just not how it works. There are so many layers of controls,” said a source within the mission, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

However, there is great unease with the decision of some countries to withdraw the monitors. During a video call with around 450 employees last Monday, the head of the monitoring mission, Yaşar Halit Çevik, said that evacuated staff with office jobs would not be able to work remotely, according to a source who was on the phone. .

Çevik also said that if monitors from countries that had not ordered evacuations were concerned about the situation, they could take annual leave. Many personnel did so, further exhausting the mission.

A member of the mission described the OSCE’s evacuation plans in the event of a Russian escalation as “shaky at best, and still ongoing”, leading many to choose to take leave.

However, among observers stationed in the most dangerous parts of eastern Ukraine, there is a feeling that the US, British and Canadian withdrawal is an overreaction. “There is a strong opinion among colleagues that this is a bad idea,” said one observer, from a country that has not evacuated its citizens.

“There are colleagues who have served in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq. People knew they were signing up to be sent to a war zone. And now, when the mission is more important than ever, they are being withdrawn.


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