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Russian hybrid forces block OSCE monitors inside base, demanding Ukraine release their spy

OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine on patrol in Donetsk Oblast on 17 March 2016. Photo: Flickr/OSCE, credit: OSCE/Evgeniy Maloletka
Russian hybrid forces block OSCE monitors inside base, demanding Ukraine release their spy
On 17 October in Horlivka, a city controlled by Russian hybrid forces of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DNR”), the occupation authorities blocked monitors of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) of the pan-European security body OSCE at its base. Monitors are banned from leaving the premises until Ukraine releases a member of the Russian-separatist militants that the Ukrainian army detained earlier the same day in Luhansk Oblast.

In the Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine’s easternmost Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, armed Russian-separatist groups deny the OSCE monitors entrance to certain areas on a regular basis. The latest reported instance was on the very same day, 17 October, when the OSCE SMM reported their monitors were denied passage at the checkpoint near occupied Kreminets. However, the Mission’s members haven’t been under de-facto arrest since summer 2014, when the Russian-separatist forces kidnapped eight SMM monitors to hold them hostage for over a month.

Now, the SMM Spot Report titled "Members of the armed formations prevented the SMM from leaving its Forward Patrol Base in Horlivka" of 17 October goes as follows,

"On 17 October, at 16:03, the SMM observed that the vehicle gates of its Forward Patrol Base (FPB) in Horlivka (non-government-controlled, 39km north-east of Donetsk) was being locked with a chain and a padlock, and that a vehicle with blue 'DNR' plates was parked south of its gates, blocking the exit. It also saw two members of the armed formations standing next to the vehicle."

The report further reveals that the hotel's owner where the forward base is located said the monitors that "the Mayor of Horlivka" had ordered to prevent the Mission from leaving the hotel premises and armed formations blocked all exits. Later, the report specifies, two men in civilian clothing came and informed the OSCE observers that the Mission members were

"not allowed to leave the hotel premises until the member of the armed formations reportedly detained by the Ukrainian Armed Forces inside the disengagement area near Zolote on 13 October had been released."

Serhiy Harmash, Ukraine's representative of Donetsk in the Trilateral Contact Group on Donbas (TCG), wrote on his Facebook page,

"In Horlivka, the OSCE Monitoring Mission (OSCE SMM) members are de-facto taken hostage."

Harmash puts the situation in a terrorism-related context not without a reason. Placing the monitors under home arrest violates not only their basic human rights but also their immunities and privileges provided under the Mission's mandate. Meanwhile, using them as a bargaining chip in blackmailing Ukraine and demanding the release of a detained spy for the Russian hybrid forces is treating the SMM observers as hostages.

Whom Russian hybrid forces demand Ukraine set free

Detainment of Andrey Kosyak, who posed as a JCCC observer, near the Ukrainian army positions in Luhansk Oblast. Source: TSN

Allegedly on 13 October in the Donbas war zone, Ukrainian counterintelligence officers detained Andrey Kosyak, a "Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) militant," who reportedly scouted Ukrainian positions near the settlement of Zolote, Luhansk Oblast.

The arrest was met with threats in the Russian-run "people's republics," where authorities vowed to escalate hostilities in the Donbas unless Ukraine releases Kosyak. Russian TCG representative Boris Gryzlov blamed Ukraine for worsening the situation, while the occupation authorities of Donetsk staged a rally on 16 October to pressure the OSCE in front of the hotel where the observers are staying.

The OSCE SMM statement of 16 October assured,

"...the SMM stands ready to facilitate the dialogue on the ground between the sides should they wish to seek such facilitation, and this readiness has already been communicated to the sides."

However, this did not assuage the occupation authorities. The next day, they started blocking the SMM base in Horlivka to further press on Ukraine.

According to TSN, Andrey Kosyuk called himself an observer of the Joint Control and Coordination Center for compliance with the Minsk Protocol (JCCC). The Center was established back in 2014 by joint agreement of the general staffs of Russia and Ukraine with the OSCE being the third to it.

A photo showing Andrey Kosyak posing as a JCCC member at a checkpoint in Luhansk Oblast. Screenshot: TSN

However, Russia unilaterally withdrew from JCCC in 2017, attempting to replace the Russian regular army's career officers in the group with representatives of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk "people's republics" ("DNR" and "LNR") -- the Russian-created organizations that control the occupied parts of the respective Ukrainian oblasts under the guise of local government.

Moscow presents the "republics" as actual states and since 2014 has been pressuring Ukraine to engage with them in direct negotiations. Kyiv has resisted such a step, which would give de-facto recognition to the entities, instead insisting on talks with Russia, which Ukraine believes is in charge of the "republics."

Ukraine and its partners didn't accept the replacement of the Russian component in JCCC, so the so-called "JCCC observers of the LNR and DNR" don't enjoy immunity on Ukrainian-controlled territory and have no right to take part in any activities in it or nearby.

The detainee wore a blue JCCC helmet and armband and had a Russian passport on himself. It was given to him amid Russia's passportization spree in the occupied territories of the last years. The Ukrainian counterintelligence officers confiscated the PM pistol he had and, according to TSN's news segment, discovered on his phone a video of him firing a mortar at Ukrainian positions.

The war in the east of Ukraine has been ongoing for 7.5 years now. Between14 April 2014 to 30 June 2021, around 13,200–13,400 people were killed in the hostilities, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, including at least 3,301 civilians, approximately 4,200 Ukrainian servicemen, and approximately 5,800 troops of the Russian hybrid forces.

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has been monitoring this conflict since its start, having a mandate for safe and secure access throughout Ukraine.

Oct 19 Update:

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has resumed patrolling from its forward patrol base in Horlivka, according to a spot report issued by the SMM on October 19,

"On 18 October, at 15:40, the SMM saw that the previously observed padlock and chain (see SMM Spot Report 20/2021 of 17 October 2021) had been removed from the vehicle gates of its Forward Patrol Base (FPB) in Horlivka (non-government-controlled, 39km north-east of Donetsk), and that the gates were open," the report reads.

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