InformNapalm volunteer intelligence community prepared an analysis of the instances of obstruction of the activities of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in the Donbas and aggressive behavior towards international observers in the first quarter of 2020. This material contains statistics, charts and maps that may come useful to diplomats, politicians, military, journalists, experts and any party that could use them to apply diplomatic, economic and media pressure on the Russian aggressor state.
On March 19, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry reported on its official Facebook page that the mandate of the OSCE SMM had been extended for another 12 months until 31 March 2021. The OSCE participating states also agreed to significantly increase the Mission’s budget to strengthen its monitoring capabilities.
“Because of this decision, the SMM will be able to continue to inform the international community of the facts confirming the military presence of the Russian Federation in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts of Ukraine,” the report says.
Indeed, from time to time the OSCE SMM daily reports contain unique data indicating the types of modern Russian military hardware that could have come to Donbas only from the Russian Federation and that can be operated only by qualified Russian military personnel. InformNapalm volunteer intelligence community regularly cites and supplements this data with its own open-source intelligence (OSINT). According to our observations, the aerial operations of the SMM are the most effective source of data on Russian military hardware in OSCE reports, while any sensitive facilities and areas in the occupied territory are kept virtually inaccessible to patrols.
To illustrate this situation, InformNapalm volunteers tried to collect and structure all the data on the obstruction of the activities of the OSCE SMM in the Donbas for the period from January through March 2020.
Obstacles in the work of OSCE SMM and threats to observers
Russian occupation forces and their subordinate armed formations periodically obstruct the movement of the OSCE SMM observers and deny their access to certain areas and facilities. However, in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian troops, the OSCE observers move freely. This is one of the factors that creates a certain imbalance in the reports. Another significant factor is the large number of citizens of the Russian Federation among the OSCE SMM observers. There are 40 of them, and they could be agents of influence of the Russian Federation. This combination of factors looks like another dimension of the Russian hybrid warfare, as Russian Federation is an aggressor state and a party to the conflict. This fact must be taken into account to increase the effectiveness of the Mission. Citizens of the Russian Federation must be banned from exercising any observer functions; international pressure on the Russian Federation must be stepped up with the requirement of unhindered admission of observers to areas and facilities in the occupied territory.
The daily report of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine No. 65/2020 of March 18, 2020, contains a section about aggressive behavior displayed towards SMM personnel by armed militants controlled by the Russian Federation.
The first incident occurred near the temporarily occupied Yenakiieve in the village of Sofiivka
“In Sofiivka (formerly Karlo-Marksove, non-government-controlled, 40km north-east of Donetsk), two armed members of the armed formations stopped an SMM patrol consisting of two vehicles and five patrol members. One of the members of the armed formations, who was visibly intoxicated, aggressively told the SMM to open the driver’s door of the first vehicle, which the SMM did. He then pointed his rifle through the open door at the patrol
members, and subsequently opened the rear left door while demanding that the patrol members disembark the vehicle and open the trunk. After he moved away from the SMM vehicle to use a handheld radio, the SMM members closed all car doors and immediately locked them. The same member of the armed formations then tried to open the car doors while shouting aggressively. After eight minutes, they allowed the SMM to proceed further.”
The second incident occurred near the disengagement area No. 3 on the way of the Mission patrol to the temporarily occupied village of Petrivske
“Positioned on a road about 1km north of Petrivske, the SMM heard a buzzing sound assessed as the engine of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at an assessed range of 400m-1km northeast of its position. After about two minutes, the SMM saw an unidentified object attached to a white/light grey parachute land about 400m north-east. About 50 minutes later, after moving to a position about 1.5km further north-north-east, the SMM saw a black UAV (delta-wing, more than 1m in width) flying at an assessed range of 200-300m south-east, and saw an unidentified about 1m-long object attached to a white/light grey parachute land about 400m south-south-east of the patrol’s position. The SMM left the area.”
Russian propaganda in the occupied areas spreads disinformation about COVID-19
The increase in the frequency of aggressive behavior against OSCE SMM observers may well be not only the result of instructions from the Russian command to prevent access to certain facilities, but also the result of militants’ fears of the coronavirus infection. These fears are deliberately fueled by channels of the Russian propaganda in the occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts that promote the alleged threat of the spread of COVID-19 in the territory of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) by the representatives of the OSCE SMM. The main objective of these actions is to further impede the movement of the observers who monitor the security situation.
(Watch the video from the video titled Civil Defense dated March 17, 2020 at 36:50)
Regular obstruction of the OSCE SMM activity in the south of Donetsk Oblast
The tendency towards increased obstruction of the Mission’s activities in the south by the Russian occupation forces has been observed for a long period. Since the beginning of 2020, the Mission has not been able to regularly and fully monitor the security situation in the areas between Donetsk and the coast of the Sea of Azov, including the border areas with the Russian Federation. OSCE patrols have been blocked by representatives of the armed formations controlled by the Russian Federation; aerial surveillance has also been restricted by the Russian electronic warfare assets in Donbas.
Access has remained restricted or prohibited in at least 27 temporarily occupied communities throughout the southern part of the occupied territory. And, given that the observers are stopped at the checkpoints of the militants located on the main roads, the entire line of contact in the occupied southern part of the Donetsk Oblast remains inaccessible.
The OSCE SMM does not have access to the area of Hnutove, which is considered a new potential site for the disengagement of forces and assets in the Donbas.
For instance, almost every day the Russian occupation forces prevent the Mission’s passage towards the local checkpoint used by local residents on their way to the Hnutove EECP. In January 2020, at a checkpoint west of Verkhnioshyrokivske (formerly Oktyabr, non-government-controlled, 85km south of Donetsk) the OSCE SMM patrol was delayed 11 times for 20 minutes to 2 hours. 13 times, Russian militants did not let the patrol pass at all under the pretext of “special measures continuing in the area”, “carrying out an operation”, “demining activities” etc. At the same time, civilian vehicles were passing this checkpoint unhindered in both directions. In February, at the same checkpoint, militants denied passage to the OSCE patrol 21 times, and blocked them for long periods 3 times. In March, the same checkpoint denied passage to the SMM 6 times, however the number of occasions of obstruction to the Mission’s UAVs increased. Apparently, the balance change is due to the SMM shifting the balance in the observation in this area to aerial operations. In March, OSCE’s short- and medium-range UAVs experienced GPS signal interference on 16 occasions as a result of jamming by electronic warfare systems, and on four occasions Russian mercenaries opened fire on the OSCE UAVs with their small arms.
Statistical data on the OSCE SMM obstruction by the Russian occupation forces for the first quarter of 2020
We would like to point out that at the meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk on February 12, 2020, the parties were very close to reaching an agreement on a new section for disengagement of forces and assets near Hnutove. Darka Olifer, the press secretary of the head of the Ukrainian delegation, said after the meeting, “The Ukrainian side insists on ensuring the complete security of the Mission observers, whereas the OSCE SMM should enjoy unhindered access to the entire territory of Ukraine, as provided for by its mandate.” However, the reports of the OSCE SMM make it perfectly clear that the Hnutove EECP and its vicinity, controlled by the Russian occupation administration, are exactly the areas that remain inaccessible to the Mission, and it cannot effectively monitor the security situation and the military presence of armed formations.
Situation in the disengagement area No. 3
It should be noted that the access of the OSCE Mission patrols to the village of Petrivske controlled by the Russian occupation forces and to the SMM camera positioned on the edge of the disengagement area, opposite the camera in the government-controlled Bohdanivka, was limited for 8 consecutive days in January 2020. During the same period in January, the operations of the Mission’s short- and medium-range UAVs in this area were hindered by jamming at least 16 times.
It should be noted that Petrivske is the location of the only camera of the OSCE SMM in the south of the non-governement-controlled territory, while there are nine of them (in Maryinka, Berezove, Bohdanivka, Hranitne, Chermalyk, Pyschevyk, Shyrokyne, Hnutove and Hnutove checkpoint) in the adjacent areas controlled by Ukrainian troops.
In March 2020, OSCE SMM patrol was regularly denied access to the SMM permanent observation post at the central railway station of the temporarily occupied Donetsk. Armed militants have denied access to the patrol at least 8 times since early March. Observers reported the reasons for restrictions cited by the militants, which included “orders of the superiors” and the refusal of the observers to delete photographs taken by them on their previous visit.
“A member of the armed formations denied the SMM access to its regular observation post at the central railway station in non-government-controlled Donetsk city (6km north-west of Donetsk city centre), citing the SMM’s recent refusal to delete photographs that it had taken on a previous visit.” – OSCE SMM Report No. 56/2020 of March 7, 2020.
- After analyzing the reports of the OSCE SMM for the first quarter of 2020, we can conclude that full monitoring of the security situation is carried out by the Mission only on the territory controlled by the Ukrainian troops, while the territory controlled by the Russian occupation forces remains mostly “terra incognita” for the OSCE SMM.
- The Ukrainian side contributes to the work of the Mission, unlike the Russian occupation forces. During 2020, the access of the OSCE patrols to villages and towns as well as the Misson’s cameras located in the territory controlled by Ukrainian troops has never been restricted.
- This imbalance in access to areas and facilities is affecting the content of the OSCE SMM reports, as the section on military presence in the security zone mainly reflects the information on personnel and assets in the government-controlled areas (notably, describing the assets allowed by the Minsk protocols), whereas the information on the military presence of the Russian occupation forces in the non-government-controlled territory is rarely included in the SMM reports.
- This leads to an imbalance in the media coverage, which, in turn, is used by pro-Russian propagandists in their media controlled by the Russian Federation to discredit the actions of the Ukrainian military command. This imbalance is also used by the Russian Federation as a propaganda tool in the negotiations within the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) in Minsk.
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Translated by Artem Velichko, edited by Max Alginin.
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