The OSCE plays a diplomatic and mediating role in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. 450 monitors are operating in the monitoring mission in the field. But now the 60 year old leader Zannier is being harsh on the separatists for the first time.
Die Welt: The attack by separatists in Mariupol last weekend is another low point in the war in eastern Ukraine. The international community, including the OSCE seems to be powerless.
Zannier: We mustn’t be let down by this. We need to put even more efforts into achieving a reliable truce. We are working on organizing a meeting by the trilateral contact group in Minsk as quickly as possible to work on this situation.
We are risking that our mission is being misused as a tool for propaganda.
Die Welt: The OSCE is supposed to monitor the withdrawal of heavy weapons. This has apparently not happened yet.
Zannier: We can’t assign responsibility for the lack of political progress with our people on the ground. We can only implement what has been agreed upon, and what all the participating parties then allow us to do. Facing the heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine, it is becoming more and more risky for us on the ground. It is almost a “Blue Berets” operation that we have adopted over there without being equipped for this. Therefore, we are now recruiting more civilians with a military background.
Die Welt: Russia and Ukraine are both members of the OSCE. Is this facilitating or complicating your work?
Zannier: It is our strength and weakness at the same time. The debates that we are having in the OSCE are tough. The discussion and atmosphere in the organization remind me of the cold war period. This has, of course, an impact on our work. One of our basic principles is the respect for territorial integrity of the participating States that Russia has violated when it annexed Crimea. Despite the disputes over this question we need to keep the Crimea topic on our agenda. We are indeed the right forum to contribute to an ease of tensions.
Die Welt: Up until now this hasn’t worked out though, what you can see in the course of events in Mariupol…
Zannier: Up until now, not much of what was agreed on in Minsk in September has been implemented. Therefore the OSCE can’t play a big role. We would like to enlarge our presence in the east to the Ukrainian- Russian border. The separatists, though, are blocking this.
Die Welt: Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko speaks about the presence of 9000 Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine. Can you confirm these numbers?
Zannier: We have not seen soldiers. But the reason for this is that we are not allowed to go to the areas where fighting is taking place. The separatists don’t allow us to move freely outside of the city borders of Donetsk and Luhansk, especially not in the direction of the Russian border. We are dependent on collaboration with the militia. But they only take us where they want us to be. As a result we are risking that our mission is being misused as a tool for propaganda.
Die Welt: According to the Minsk Protocol the OSCE is supposed to monitor the border between Russia and Ukraine. How far are you capable of doing so?
Lamberto Zannier: We are only allowed to be in two places, controlling two checkpoints within the radius of 2 kilometres at a border that has 400 kilometres. That is obviously not enough. As Russia is claiming not to support separatists, it should be in it’s own interest to have international patrol on the whole border strip that Ukraine can’t control.
The separatists got a fresh supply of equipment. […] The only other option is that those weapons must come across the Russian border
Die Welt: It is moreover the OSCE’s mandate to document what is happening in Ukraine. Can you tell us whether Russia is supporting the separatists with weapons?
Lamberto Zannier: Well, what we have seen in the last weeks is that the separatists got a fresh supply of equipment, among which there is also heavy weaponry. They don’t get these weapons from Ukraine and they also didn’t capture them. The only other option is that those weapons must come across the Russian border. We don’t have direct proof, but a logical assumption can be made.
Die Welt: Who shelled the bus in Volnovakha, an attack that killed 12 people?
Lamberto Zannier: We assume that this was committed by separatists. The attacks came from a direction that was controlled by the separatists.
Die Welt: But do you have better access to the Ukrainian controlled regions?
Lamberto Zannier: Yes, definitely. Ukraine has invited us to come to their country and is cooperating very well with us. We have free access, can move freely. On the contrary, there are big restrictions on the separatists’ side. However, our presence in the East has allowed us to establish direct contact with the separatists, which has proven to be useful more than once.
Die Welt: But why don’t you make your insights more transparent?
Lamberto Zannier: We can’t speculate in our reporting, but have to be able to verify information on the ground to be completely certain. This takes a lot of time. Until we have secured all the facts, a lot of new events may have occurred in the meantime.
Die Welt: What do you know about the shooting of MH17?
Lamberto Zannier: There are investigations and we have been interviewed on this issue. We have our view on the events, and anybody who compiles the facts that have been verified comes to a logical course of events. A slight uncertainty still remains though. We leave this to the prosecutors.