Russia agreed to the deployment of an observer mission from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to Ukraine on Friday, but a senior Russian envoy said access would not include Crimea.
Russia stonewalled for more than a week under pressure from the OSCE to be allowed to send such a mission, which the organisation hopes will prevent an escalation of tensions in Ukraine’s east and south – regions that have large Russian-speaking populations like Crimea.
Friday’s decision calls for advance teams to be deployed within 24 hours. The mission, which has a six-month mandate, will initially consist of 100 observers, with up to 400 additional monitors ready to be deployed if necessary.
The 57-nation OSCE, of which Russia is a member, said the civilian observer team will gather information and report on the security situation “throughout the country” but did not specify whether that included Crimea, which Russia is in the process of formally annexing following a referendum last week in which Crimeans overwhelmingly voted to join the Russian Federation.
The United States and the European Union rejected the referendum as illegitimate and moved to impose sanctions on Russia the day after the vote.
The OSCE makes most decisions by consensus, but member countries have yet to agree on how unfettered the mission's access will be once in the region. Russia’s chief OSCE envoy, Andrei Kelin, said the Black Sea peninsula would be off limits for the observers because Crimea "is a part of the Russian Federation”.
'A step towards de-escalation’
But US chief envoy Daniel Baer told reporters said that because “Crimea is Ukraine ... they should have access to Crimea”.
Two previous observer teams – unarmed military missions – didn’t need Russian approval because they were asked for by Ukraine under a special provision. But they returned without ever entering Crimea after being stopped repeatedly over the past two weeks by pro-Russian forces.
Russia’s approval of the new mission appeared to signify that it was ready to work toward easing sanctions – now that its goal of annexing Crimea was nearly accomplished.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that, although agreeing to the monitors was “not the end of the crisis”, it is “a step that helps support our efforts toward de-escalation”.
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic arrived in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, on Friday for a two-day visit to lay the groundwork for a UN human rights monitoring mission in the peninsula, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Simonovic plans to visit the port of Sevastopol on Saturday.
The UN has four international monitors and seven national monitors in Ukraine – a number that will increase – and is already operating in two major cities in the pro-Russian east, Donetsk and Kharkiv, Dujarric said.
Protesters storm Ukraine base
On Saturday, tension rose again, however, as a group of about 200 pro-Russian protesters stormed a Ukrainian air force base in Novofedorivka in western Crimea, smashing windows and replacing the Ukrainian flag with that of the Russian navy.
The spokesman of the Ukraine defence ministry in Crimea, Vladislav Seleznyov, said most of the attackers did not appear to be of local origin.
The Ukrainian troops initially barricaded themselves inside buildings, trying to protect their base by throwing smoke bombs at the unarmed attackers, but eventually abandoned the base after a Russian officer encouraged them to leave.
During the scuffle, Russian officers reportedly stood idly outside the base, quietly observing as the protesters brought down the Ukrainian flag.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
Date created : 2014-03-22