The OSCE SMM in the Zolote/Pershomaisk area. Photo: OSCE SMM Flickr
“Despite the strict limits imposed on the Observer Mission’s mandate and operating procedures, the Mission has still been able to document Russia’s destabilizing and destructive activity in eastern Ukraine. The Observer Mission has observed more than 30,000 individuals in military-style dress crossing just at the two checkpoints to which it has access.
Imagine, colleagues, what is crossing where we can’t see. […] Untold thousands of additional personnel may have crossed where there are no international observers,” he said.
Apparently, this number has been observed over the SMM’s total monitoring time in Ukraine, as on 16 July 2016 Baer assessed the number as 28,000.
Daniel Baer noted that the individuals reportedly receive weapons once they arrive in separatist-held parts of Ukraine and reported that 20 uniformed persons crossed the border in a single bus with tinted windows in mid-October.
The US representative also stressed that at least 27 different occasions, the Observer Mission has reported seeing funerary vehicles returning to Russia with a sign reading “Cargo 200” or “200,” a well-known code for Russian military casualties, the most recent of which was on October 27. In the last three months alone, 48 ambulances and four unmarked funerary transport crossed the border from Ukraine to Russia.
“It remains a shame and a stain on the Kremlin not only that it sends Russian sons to die in a senseless war of choice, but also that it dishonors their memory by denying their sacrifice,” Baer said.
Additionally, Baer condemned Russia’s continued practice of sending white truck convoys across the border, noting that each convoy sent is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. According to the OSCE SMM, 55 of these convoys have entered Ukraine, with unknown to Ukraine and the rest of the international community.
The September 2014 Minsk Protocol provides that the Russian Federation commits to ensuring the permanent monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian border and verification by the OSCE, yet Russia has rejected its obligation to expand the geographic scope of the OSCE Observer Mission, which remains limited to two out of eleven checkpoints on the border between Russia and separatist-held parts of Ukraine. In Baer’s words, the OSCE is present on the Ukrainian side of its internationally-recognized border with Russia less than 0.1% of the time, not being able to visit, on average, more than a single border crossing per day and having only 33 minutes during daylight to observe.
“Because it takes SMM patrols more than three hours to drive to the border, monitors must drive past numerous separatist checkpoints, giving combined Russian-separatist forces plenty of time to ensure there is nothing of consequence for the SMM to see once it arrives at the Ukrainian border with Russia,” Baer claimed.
On the Russian side of the border, Russia has refused to enable the Observer Mission to fully discharge its mandate, “especially when it comes to detection of people in military-style outfits in vehicles or during unfavorable meteorological conditions.”
Russia has claimed that the Observer Mission is a “goodwill gesture” and not one of its Minsk commitments.