Member of Russian occupation force with observer armband: gross provocation in Donbas

Member of Russian occupation force with observer armband: gross provocation in Donbas

The coordinated response to the incident and its focus on the OSCE SMM indicate that Moscow was interested in creating a pretext for further curtailment of international monitoring in the occupied part of Donbas.

Russian propaganda claims that Andrei Kosyak, a militant detained on October 13 near the contact line, had “diplomatic immunity.” He was allegedly an official observer. What's wrong with that? Spoiler: just about everything.

The task force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine detained Kosyak, who was conducting reconnaissance of Ukrainian positions under the guise of demining.

The Ukrainian delegation to participate in the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) reported that the Russian armed forces had “resorted to a gross provocation” because they had violated the agreed routes with a clearly defined limit point of advance towards the positions of the Armed Forces.

The detained individual is Russian citizen Andrei Valentinovich Kosyak. He called himself “an observer at the Joint Center for Ceasefire Control and Coordination (JCCC) of the Luhansk People’s Republic.” According to war correspondent Andrii Tsapliienko, who published footage of the detention, Kosyak had an officer’s ID and a lieutenant’s shoulder marks. Weapons and ammunition (which an observer should not have) were confiscated from him. On his mobile device, Ukrainian security officers found a video of his participation in the shelling of the positions of the Armed Forces.

Russia responded with outrage, calling this detention “a spit in the face” and “an act of outright aggression.” Alexander Borodai, a former leader of the occupation administration in Donetsk and now a member of the State Duma, even said that “this situation is in some ways a casus belli, a pretext for war.”

Aggressive actions were taken in the occupied territories. They began to physically block the work of the OSCE mission, demanding the release of Kosyak.

  • On the morning of October 15, in Donetsk, a group of people surrounded the Park Inn Hotel, where the OSCE mission is headquartered, blocking exits and obstructing patrols.
  • The action of the “protesters,” which was accompanied by statements such as “soon the earth will burn under your feet,” continued the next day, October 16. OSCE observers were again unable to perform their functions. In their daily report, they noted that the rally “prevented any movement of patrols on October 15 and 16.”
  • On October 17, the head of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, Yashar Khalit Chevik, declared a threat to the security of OSCE representatives in the occupied territories.    
  • Also, on October 17, at a checkpoint near Kremenets in Donetsk oblast, Russian militants banned an SMMU patrol from entering non-government-controlled territories.                        
  • Russian militants blocked OSCE SMMU observers at their advanced patrol base in Horlivka. They surrounded the hotel and barred Mission members from leaving. “At 4 p.m., the patrol recorded that the car gate of the advanced patrol base in Horlivka was closed with a chain and a padlock, and a car with a blue DNR sign was parked near the gate, blocking the exit,” the October 17 report said. As Donetsk representative in the TCG Serhii Harmash wrote, OSCE workers were “effectively taken hostage.”

To justify these aggressive acts, the propaganda claims that the OSCE SMMU allegedly turns a blind eye to the captivity of an observer who has “diplomatic immunity.”

The detainee, Kosyak, was not only found where he wasn’t supposed to be and did not only have weapons he wasn’t supposed to have. He acted within the mandate of an organization that legally does not exist.

The Joint Center for Ceasefire Control and Coordination (JCCC) was established in September 2014 by representatives of the military agencies of Ukraine and Russia through the OSCE. Even though Russian sources claim that representatives of the LPR and the DPR participated in the Center’s work at the initial stage, they are not mentioned in official press releases. And they could not be mentioned in the first place, because Ukraine, as well as the international community, never recognized hybrid “republics.”

“The Trilateral Contact Group welcomes the start of JCCC’s work in Debaltseve with representatives of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the OSCE,” said a press release issued on October 4, 2014.

In December 2017, Russia effectively unilaterally terminated cooperation agreements within the JCCC by withdrawing its representatives. At the Munich Security Conference in 2020, the authors of the report on “Twelve Steps Toward Greater Security in Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic Region” called the restoration of the JCCC the first step. That is, the Center was declared virtually non-existent.

According to experts, the Center was doomed from the start.

“[The history of the JCCC] started rather mysteriously in the autumn of 2014, when Russian military personnel arrived in the Donbas region wearing ‘OSCE’ armbands. [T]he JCCC seemed doomed from the start. [I]t was hardly ‘joint,’ exercised limited ‘control’ and had almost no ‘coordination,’” writes Special Adviser to the Cooperative Security Initiative Walter Kemp.

The purpose of Russia's withdrawal from the JCCC was obvious: to absolve itself of responsibility for the war in the Donbas and to force Ukraine to recognize Moscow's proxies—to negotiate with the leaders of the “DPR” and the “LPR.” The militants immediately announced the establishment of their alleged chapters at the JCCC. But this was nothing but bluff, since in reality, there could be no independent participation of representatives of the illegal formations in the Center’s activity, as they exist under total control and with full support of Russia.

Russia, for its part, explained its decision with maximum cynicism. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that Russian representatives in the JCCC were leaving Ukraine because of the “tense moral and psychological situation” and “cases of contempt of Ukrainian servicemen towards their Russian colleagues.” Deputy Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces Istrakov complained to his Ukrainian counterpart Muzhenko that Russians were not allowed to swim in the pool. He also complained about a Ukrainian officer who not only dared not to salute a Russian major general, but also pushed him with a shoulder, adding that he was a general only in Russia.

It is the same cynicism that Russia now demonstrates while publicly lamenting the fate of “diplomat” Kosyak, who, according to the SBU, was suspected of committing premeditated murder in Ukraine back in 2010. In 2014, he joined the ranks of a “Bryanka USSR” gang, which gained notoriety because their prisoners were “mostly killed, beaten, raped, tortured, shot, and experimented on.”

We remind you that in early September, Russia refused to extend the mandate of the OSCE observer mission at the Russian checkpoints “Gukovo” and “Donetsk,” located on the border with the occupied territories of Ukraine. This again violated Russia’s obligations, because in 2014 the Russian Federation signed the Minsk Protocol with a guarantee of “constant monitoring at the Ukrainian-Russian state border and verification by the OSCE.”

In May this year, through Pushylin, leader of the occupation administration in Donetsk, Russia expressed dissatisfaction with the activities of the OSCE SMM in Ukraine. They accused the Mission of “taking Kyiv’s side more often.”

The coordinated response to the Kosyak incident and its focus on the OSCE SMM indicate that Moscow was interested in creating a pretext for further curtailment of international monitoring in the occupied part of Donbas.

If Russia does nothing to restore the normal work of and ensure security for OSCE observers in the occupied territories, it means that the Russian side has deliberately provoked and obstructed the OSCE as an institution.

The final document of the summit in the Normandy format in Paris in December 2019 set forth the obligation to guarantee safe and secure access to the OSCE SMMU throughout Ukraine. This means that Russia has direct responsibility for blocking the work of the OSCE SMMU in the illegally occupied areas of Donetsk oblast.

After this incident, Steinmeier's formula of elections first and border next clearly loses any point. Without Ukraine's control over the border and the whole set of measures of the transition period, obviously, no one can guarantee security on the territory of the “ORDLO.”

Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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