An EU Monitoring Mission for Ukraine

Having pocketed Crimea, Putin may well move to the second stage of his game-plan to ‘protect’ compatriots in other parts of the post-Soviet space and thus re-assert Russia’s sphere of influence in the neighbourhood its shares with the EU. Helpfully, the leadership of Transnistria has now also asked to join Russia. The autonomous region of Gagauzia, also in Moldova, may follow suit as well. And even if Putin has said that it is not in Russia’s interest to split Ukraine, his stooges have been whipping up tensions in Donetsk, Kharkiv and other cities so as to create the ‘facts’ to justify a Russian military invasion in eastern Ukraine. With the Russian propaganda machine spinning at full speed and in the war of words with Ukraine it is increasingly difficult to separate facts from fiction.

In an effort to objectivise the debate and create a deterrent for potential troublemakers, a number of members of the OSCE have been championing the proposal to expand the monitoring mission which was meant to observe and analyse the situation in Crimea after Russian troops invaded and occupied the peninsula (a delegation which includes 35 unarmed military personnel from 18 countries). The OSCE was slated to adopt a decision to launch a larger-scale monitoring mission in Ukraine on March 18th. The development was announced a week earlier, a day after Vladimir Putin discussed the crisis in Ukraine with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose country currently chairs the OSCE. Despite Putin’s commitment to Chancellor Merkel of his support for the OSCE initiative, the Russian delegation in Vienna has been reported to forestall progress towards an agreement by quibbling over the details. A decision on the mandate of the mission requires consensus among the 57 members in the Permanent Council of the OSCE, effectively giving Russia veto power. Following the war with Georgia in August 2008, Russia thus blocked any deployment of an OSCE mission in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Instead of waiting for Moscow to agree to the details of the redeployment of the OSCE monitoring mission, the European Council at its Summit in Brussels on 20 and 21 March should consider answering the call from Kiev and send an EU Monitoring Mission to eastern Ukraine, just like it did in Georgia (with remarkable speed: EUMM Georgia was launched on 15 September 2008). The EU could conclude agreements with third countries willing to contribute personnel and give the mission an OSCE-like character so as to neutralise potential allegations from the Kremlin about its legitimacy.