Spies in OSCE Donbas mission: Will SMM say no to Russian participation
Germany's ARD recently exposed some shocking allegations against the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, sparking a grand scandal.
Journalists received a data carrier with allegedly the mission's internal mission documents, also including location of CCTV cameras across the warzone and dossiers on mission members, including their personal data ranging from phone numbers to blood groups, and, as a cherry on a cake, some curious notes claiming that one monitor prefers young girls and parties, another loves money, and another is a binge drinker and one time even slept through his scheduled patrol shift. The data carrier at journalists' disposal, they claim, is a copy of what one of the mission staff members allegedly had earlier handed over to a Russian FSB operative.
In fact, Russia and, previously, the Soviet Union, traditionally infiltrate international organizations with assets to obtain information about these organization's operations, as well as use positions there as a cozy cover for their operatives working in all parts of the world. Particularly important for the Russians is getting into Ukraine through such organizations, both to the occupied and government-controlled territories.
I believe that Russia has tried and is still trying to exploit positions including in the OSCE to ensure access to the Ukrainian territory and do more intelligence gathering here. And it's not only the FSB or the Foreign Intelligence Service which are involved, it's also Russian military intelligence, the notorious GRU.
However, the Russian Federation in the OSCE enjoys the same status as Ukraine or any other state, therefore I don't think the scandal will entail any consequences for Russian representatives in general, because this could be regarded as discrimination against the Russian side.
Particularly important for the Russians is getting into Ukraine through such organizations, both to the occupied and government-controlled territories
The OSCE SMM in Ukraine, in fact,performs observation and monitoring functions, that is, they establish certain facts and report on what is happening. They are not someone produce any specific recommendations that would affect the situation both in the conflict zone and in the Normandy or Minsk formats. That is, the OSCE does carry a certain mission, and it is to the organization's great merit that there is actually some international presence in the conflict zone, because without it, the situation would have been much worse, and this should also be acknowledged. However, there is also a problem that relates to the issues within the organization itself - it is not so powerful and purposeful in performing certain missions than we are used to believe. Its modus operandi is, for the most part, a discussion of problems, while mechanism for resolving conflicts are clearly lacking.
If we are talking about conflict resolution, it's about a UN peacekeeping mission, which formally has such capabilities, but they are also limited in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, because when two big countries are in a conflict with each other, then no organization can reconcile them if they fail to reach a solution - either military or diplomatic.
In fact, the main problem with both the OSCE and the Minsk format is that Russia does not recognize itself as an aggressor. In addition, Russia has officially been called an aggressor in the Ukrainian legal field, while no other country formally fixed Russia as an aggressor. Indeed, Russia has been acknowledged an aggressor in Crimea documents, but the situation with Donbas is much more difficult. Therefore, the very status of the conflict remains uncertain – for Ukraine, it is a bilateral conflict, while the international community is trying not to call a criminal "criminal."
Had anyone done so, there would have been no issues with OSCE, because in that case, Russian representatives could not have been part of the conflict monitoring mission as representatives of the "aggressor state" as that would have been nonsense. The same is true when we talk about the United Nations peacekeeping mission.
In fact, the main problem with both the OSCE and the Minsk format is that Russia does not recognize itself as an aggressor
Returning to the data leak story, this is an internal matter of the OSCE. The decision will be taken by all its members, regardless of whether the credibility of the organization will be undermined, or not. However, the organization will act as it is prescribed in its Statute.
Despite the fact that throughout the whole period of waging aggression and commtting a whole range of crimes both against Ukraine and other countries (MH17, Salisbury, U.S. election meddling), Russia is a full member of the OSCE and therefore it has the full right for her interests to be taken into account as well. Therefore, I doubt that the OSCE will respond differently than before. Of course, there will be an investigation, but I can't say for sure that some credible truth will be established. Perhaps, someone will be asked to quit without unnecessary noise around the fact, but it is unlikely that the number of Russian nationals, both in the OSCE in general and in the SMM Ukraine, will be significantly reduced, as Russia has a powerful influence on the organization, and therefore it is unlikely to be affected by the pressure of the European media.
Mykhailo Samus is a Deputy Director for International Affairs at the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies