Russia Hides Its Operations in Ukraine From the OSCE

PeopleOther ♦ Published: May 2, 2022; 22:10 ♦ (Vindobona)

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine will be suspended, due to the lack of consensus at the OSCE Permanent Council on 31 March 2022 to extend the Mission’s mandate. In the Russian Federation’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine, Russia torpedoed the OSCE and wants as little international attention as possible on its military operations in Ukraine.

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine will no longer monitor the development in Ukraine. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, CC BY 2.0 (

The war in Ukraine has lasted for more than two months now and showed many shocking images. Mariupol and Bucha are perhaps still among the two most infamous battlegrounds with many civilian casualties and alleged war crimes. The evidence of more and more human rights violations and war crimes is mounting. Russia is now attacking eastern and southeastern Ukraine with an all-out force.

Journalists and international observers are directly prevented from reporting on developments in Ukraine, either to the world public or to the international community itself.

One important international mission to Ukraine was the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) monitored developments in Ukraine. As reported, Russia blocked the mandate for the Special Monitoring Mission observers in Ukraine. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine will be suspended.

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine

Following a request from the Ukrainian government and a consensus decision from all 57 OSCE participating states, the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine was deployed on 21 March 2014. SMM is a non-armed, civilian mission that is on the ground 24/7 in all regions of Ukraine. Among its main tasks is to monitor the situation in Ukraine, report on it objectively, and facilitate dialogue among all parties involved.

The Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was primarily tasked with monitoring the ceasefire line between state troops and separatist, pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The SMM was operating for 8 years in Ukraine and became a vital factor for mediation on the ground between the conflict parties. The SMM was monitoring the situation in Ukraine closely and reported directly to the OSCE on current developments in Ukraine.

The mission is mandated to cover the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders. The SMM consisted of approximately 700 observers from 53 OSCE member states, as well as additional local and international staff.

In 2017 one monitor was even killed and two more wounded when their vehicle struck a landmine.

The mission shares its observations publicly. Maybe the mission's most notable observation was about Russian convoys clandestinely entering Ukraine.

In the wake of the war in Ukraine, the SMM would have been more important than ever. Now that Russia blocked the Mandate and no consensus is reached on the extension of the mandate of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, it is questionable whether the OSCE can pursue further de-escalation.

Russia's interference with the OSCE and the SMM

Russia interfered with international efforts in peacekeeping in Ukraine and reporting about the newest developments.

The crisis in Ukraine began in 2013 with the Euro-Maidan protests. The protests were followed by uprisings of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia annexed the strategically important Crimean peninsula in March 2014.

Later, pro-Russian separatist unrest in the industrial, Russian-speaking Donbas region of eastern Ukraine would erupt into the Donbas War between Ukrainian government forces and separatist pro-Russian forces, including regular Russian forces.

The war in Ukraine was brewing for the last eight years. Russia tried everything to strengthen its power in Ukraine.

Russia and Russian allies in Ukraine regularly disrupted the work of the SMM. Only asphalt and concrete roads were patrolled by the SMM.

There were many Russian mines, unexploded ordinances and a low rate at which they were cleared, as well as artillery shelling and threatening behavior by pro-Russian armed personnel that weakened the effectiveness of the SMM.

SMM was hindered in its ability to monitor the implementation of the Minsk Protocol effectively by these restrictions on their access to areas and the risks posed to SMM's civilian monitors.

Russia also repeatedly blocked decisions and resolutions at the Permanent Council.

As, reported amid the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, Russia obstructed the Special Monitoring Mission. The SMM was restricted in its movement in eastern Ukraine and was hindered in monitoring the full entirety of the border region of Ukraine.

The key provisions of the Minsk agreements which called for monitoring of the international border between Russia and Ukraine, the mission monitor the border was vetoed by Russia last year.

The pro-Russian forces repeatedly prevented the SMM from accessing places of importance for the mission.

As reported by, Russia has blocked the extension of the SMM's mandate at the OSCE Permanent Council on 31 March 2022. The Russian Invasion of Ukraine has decisively changed the situation for the observers there.

Furthermore, some members of the SMM were arrested by pro-Russian forces and put on trial for espionage, reported.

International Reactions to the end of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine

The Russian interference with the OSCE's work and the Special Monitoring Mission has been condemned by almost all OSCE member states.

OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Foreign Minister of Poland Zbigniew Rau stressed the hard situation and thanked the SMM staff for their work. “This is not an easy decision to take. We have explored all possible options through political dialogue with participating States to achieve the renewal of the Special Monitoring Mission’s mandate, but the position of the Russian Federation left us with no choice but to take steps to close down the Mission. The Mission played a crucial role in providing objective information on the ground, facilitating ceasefires and working to ease the effects of the conflict on the civilian population. The work of the SMM’s members deserves our appreciation and gratitude”.

As reported, the U.S. Ambassador condemned Russia's action in the OSCE, "it is deeply regrettable that the Russian Federation has blocked consensus on the mandate extension of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. It is irresponsible and unjustifiable, but I guess it’s hardly surprising."

The U.S. Ambassador also condemned the arrests of OSCE staff by pro-Russian security forces.

Courtney Austrian, the Deputy Chief of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE condemned Russia's actions. He said, "I also wish to echo my colleagues in condemning all allegations of espionage against the national staff of the Special Monitoring Mission who are doing exactly what we in this room asked them to do day in and day out. They deserve our respect and they deserve our support."

Further, France and other European countries also condemned the arrests of OSCE staff by pro-Russian security forces.

The United Kingdom also declared its regrets about the end of the Special Monitoring Mission.

According to Minister Rau, the OSCE will continue to work in the country by existing commitments. Minister Rau assured, Alternatives on the OSCE’s future role in Ukraine will be developed.

Secretary-General Schmid emphasized the importance of the SMM, “The vital role the Mission played for the past eight years by providing invaluable and objective facts on the ground, facilitating dialogue where there was none and enabling the repairs of civilian infrastructure on which millions of people depend, cannot be overestimated”.

Secretary-General Schmid explained further steps of the OSCE regarding the closure of the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, “The OSCE will initiate immediately operational, administrative and financial steps to close the Mission as responsibly and cost-effectively as possible, with the safety and security of mission members throughout Ukraine remaining a priority. We continue to do our utmost day and night to support our Ukrainian colleagues, and continue to press through all available channels for an end to the detentions, intimidation, and disinformation that are so dangerous for our national mission members.”

Despite its premature end, the mission will play a role in the history books and influence future OSCE missions. The lessons learned from the SMM will also play an immensely important role in future operations of the OSCE and other international organizations in Ukraine.

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

U.S. Mission to the OSCE