Seizure of OSCE Monitors Raises Questions About Ukraine Mission

Seizure of OSCE Monitors Raises Questions About Ukraine Mission

It was no surprise when pro-Russian forces seized eight European military monitors in eastern Ukraine last week. A growing number of international observers have deployed to Ukraine over the past two months, and it was only a matter of time before some were snatched. A United Nations envoy, Robert Serry, had to make a quick exit from Crimea in early March after an encounter with a posse of armed men. The monitors’ captors have accused them of being NATO spies and forced them to make a humiliating appearance before the press, although one officer has since been released for medical reasons.

The European soldiers were traveling together in a bus with Ukrainian personnel in a volatile area, which raises questions about their security procedures. They were inevitably attractive and vulnerable targets. But the episode also raises strategic questions about the goals of international civilian and military monitors in Ukraine. Does their presence calm or complicate the conflict? Might a larger peace support operation eventually be necessary to stabilize eastern Ukraine?

This is a politically loaded debate. Separatist groups in the east have demanded that Russian “peacekeepers” come to their aid. Moscow has reserved the right to intervene as a last resort. Earlier this month, Ukraine’s acting president pled for a U.N. force to back his military campaign to regain control of the east, but Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon diplomatically noted that “it doesn’t seem very practical to send troops.”

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