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A subtle shift (or drift) in the OSCE position ahead?

January 13, 2016

January 2016 saw Germany assume the Chair of the OSCE – meaning German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has become Chairman of the organisation.

How well that bodes for Ukraine – or not – remains to be seen.  Mr Steinmeier has hardly been perceived as robust in his conversations with The Kremlin by many – although to be fair he is negotiating from a position of weakness when representing a less than harmonious “Europe”, against a truculent Kremlin.

Whatever the case, on 14th January Mr Steinmeier will outline the German priorities for the organisation for 2016, and the occupied Donbas is guaranteed to feature prominently.

It is fair to say that the OSCE has had “issues” during its years in Ukraine whilst monitoring the war in the east of the nation – particularly so in the first 12 months or so.  That said, after a few dubious personnel choices, some seemingly deliberate “blind eyes”, and other “incidents”, it finally got its monitoring and reporting act together despite a petulant occupying force within the “People’s Republics” that as yet are still to allow the OSCE unfettered monitoring access in any shape, form, or manner.

OSCE

Undoubtedly, for the OSCE sat attempting to mediate the Contact Group negotiations, there is a great deal of frustration.   Indeed Heidi Tagiavani, an experienced negotiator and mediator resigned and had to be replaced.  That said Ms Tagiavani clearly knows a dead horse that cannot be flogged into a successful outcome.  The most fundamental issues have seen little progress.  There is still no genuine ceasefire, and there remains prisoners that have not been swapped.  The most basic of Contact Group tasks have yet to be fully fulfilled, let alone the slightly more complex tasks progressed in any meaningful way.

To be fair to Ms Tagiavani, there was never anything but bad faith negotiations from the Kremlin and its proxies during her tenure.  The minimum occurred as and when necessary to be seen to achieve something and keep people sat around the table, thus avoiding any thoughts of major uplifts in sanctions.  Finding solutions, however, was not on the agenda for certain parties.

All public signalling from The Kremlin for 2016 suggests more of the same.  From the Russian 2016 budget, to President Putin’s interview with Bild a few days ago, and almost everything in between signals a continence of truculent, belligerent action.  The Bild interview simply continued to state it is all the fault of the West – whilst between the lines making an appeal to the weakest links within Germany as perceived by The Kremlin – The German SDP party and certain elements within German business.  In short, nothing new whatsoever.

The possible exception to that public Kremlin signalling was the surprise appointment of Boris Gryzlov as the new “point man” for The Kremlin in the Contact Group format.  Mr Gryzlov is far too big a fish to be appointed to simply produce “more of the same”.  Quite what his appointment signifies however, is currently unclear.  Perhaps the Contact Group meeting of 13th January may make matters a little clearer.  Perhaps the Kremlin conversations in private are far less steadfast than the public rhetoric?  (Doubtful, but maybe.)

Was the appointment of Mr Gryzlov move deliberately timed to meet the German rotation to the OSCE Chair?

Mrs Merkel has been making positive statements about her expectations regarding the issues in eastern Ukraine since the New Year began.

For Ukraine of course, the temptation for the negotiators will be to pressure Ukraine to continue to unilaterally meet the Minsk II agreement despite no movement to do so by The Kremlin and its proxies – simply to display some progress.  That, however, may prove much harder than it appears with an ever more dysfunctional Verkhovna Rada.

For those that read the “news” (some of which is news, some of which is disinformation and propaganda, and some of which is paranoid tin foil hat conspiracy) from within the occupied Donbas, it appears that December 2015 and continuing into the New Year, brought with it an FSB organised “taming” (and assassinations) of certain militants The Kremlin clearly feels are a liability/uncontrollable – Bednov, Ishchenko, Mozgovoy and most recently, Dremov, all assassinated.

An even sharper eye will note political deaths too – Sergei Burbelo, ex-Party of Regions, then “Luhansk People’s Republic” functionary has now mysteriously died – and a political rival in any “election” he would have been to the Igor Plotnitsky team.

It is widely rumoured among the “enlightened” within the “Luhansk Republic” that there is a list of 32 names to be taken care of as “preventative measures” – that list contains the names not only of militants, but also politicians.  Both Dremov and Burbelo were claimed to be upon that list – and both have died within recent weeks.

The question is whether the “preventative measures” are to allow far greater control and discipline of the militants/proxies, or to clear the field of political nuisance before any “election”, or indeed Ukrainian sanctioned election – or in all probability, both.

Further, there is similar rumour from within the “Luhansk Republic” of the OSCE soon being able to erect webcams in certain areas as part of their monitoring mission.  A sign perhaps that Mr Polnitsky believes he will soon have control of the “republic” as far as internal threats are concerned.

Perhaps yet more interesting is a rumour circulating within those same circles that Alexander Hugg of the OSCE is expected to visit the occupied Donbas in the immediate future.

Time will soon tell if the rumours relating to the OSCE in two paragraphs immediately above prove to have any merit, but together with an optimistic Chancellor Merkel, and (an admittedly uninspiring) Mr Steinmeier acting not only as German Foreign Minister, but now also as OSCE Chairman, some readers may begin to wonder whether there is to be a shift (or drift) in the OSCE position from monitor and Contact Group mediator, to that of monitor, mediator and negotiator now Germany sits not only within the Normandy Four, but also as Chair of the OSCE, all of which will heavily feature Mr Steinmeier (a man whom many Ukrainians consider weak before a belligerent The Kremlin).

It is something that may (as perceived or actually) smudge the lines of the OSCE mandate in Ukraine – if due care is not taken.  It will also, should that occur, undo the mini-revival of the OSCE observer mission image that has happened over the past months, following its a fairly poor beginning.

Perhaps Ms Merkel and Mr Steinmeier are under some misguided/overly hopeful idea that genuine democratic, free and fair elections can take place in the occupied Donbas during the German tenure as OSCE Chair?  Lest we forget, on 4th December, Mr Steinmeier tabled a proposal to progress a settlement in the occupied Donbas – one which ab initio fails any democracy test under the current circumstances within occupied territories – notwithstanding putting the OSCE in a position of institutional credibility suicide if forced along that path under German leadership in unchanged circumstance.

Anyway, for now, a subtle shifting (or drifting) in OSCE role is something to keep an observing eye upon over the next few months.

For those that “cross off names” as they “fall” to the internal cleansing of the “republics” – then perhaps now is the time to also take note of the health not only of some problematic militant leaders and criminal group bosses, but also of a few (mostly ex-Regionaire) old school politicos that moved into the “system” of the “Republics”.

Both The Kremlin and their “anointed high chancellors” will be sure to insure the appropriate “election” results for the correct (vetted) candidates – one way or another.

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