Since Sept 2014, Russia’s had total control over 409.7km of Ukraine’s eastern border. This control stretches from the Azov Sea on Ukraine’s south coast, to the north near the city of Luhansk. Last week, Russia shamefully ended the mandate allowing the OSCE to 24/7 monitor two border crossings into Ukraine – Link to OSCE website statement on this.
Predictably, Russia claims it doesn’t control any of the Ukrainian border. But as most of us know, inside occupied Ukraine, the two so-called Donetsk & Luhansk people’s republics are wholly Russia-led and funded. The “republic” soldiers who man the border crossings may not wear Russian army insignia, but they wear Russian army uniforms and are paid by and controlled by Russia.
August 2014, Russia allowed the OSCE to monitor just 2 Russian border crossings leading into Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast (province) – these at the Russian towns of Donetsk & Gukovo. This was another of these meaningless Kremlin gestures, designed to make Russia look like it’s trying to stop the conflict. However, this still left around a dozen official Ukrainian border crossings and numerous unofficial ones which the Russian army & Russia-led forces use to exit/enter Ukraine. The below June 2020 OSCE image is a prime example – Russian army convoys were observed entering and exiting Ukraine just 12km south of the Donetsk border crossing. The convoy which entered Ukraine was followed by an OSCE UAV, and filmed entering a military compound in the occupied city of Luhansk. My blog post on this event.
Both Donetsk and Gukovo are busy crossings, overlooked by large numbers of houses and public buildings. This means Russian tanks and hardware are unlikely to roll through them, due to the fear of being filmed by someone. And even if they did, Russia had banned OSCE monitors from taking photos or filming anything and restricted them to a small area within the Russian border checkpoints. It’s ironic that Russia claims it has nothing to hide, yet bends over backwards to stop anyone proving them right.
Was there any benefit to having the OSCE stationed at Donetsk & Gukovo?
2: Both crossings are used as transport hubs for Russian mercenaries entering/exiting Ukraine. Of those observed by Dec 2019, the OSCE had seen almost 39,000 people wearing military style clothing entering/exiting Ukraine via Donetsk & Gukovo. In Sept 2014, the OSCE reported people wearing military uniforms “explained that they are not allowed to cross the border with weapons. However, on the other side, there are organized places where they receive weapons, ammunition and equipment and are dispatched to their assigned areas on the Ukrainian side. Upon return, they hand over weapons, ammunition and other military equipment and cross back into the Russian Federation.” With OSCE monitors no longer watching at Donetsk and Gukovo, the unobserved passage of Russia-led forces into Ukraine just got a whole lot easier.
3: Although OSCE monitors had no power to search vehicles, we got see read about what they saw. Notably, we learnt about the routine passage of large numbers of ambulances and “cargo 200” vehicles crossing into Russia. These presumably carrying wounded and dead Russia-led soldiers. From their position in the Gukovo crossing, OSCE monitors also heard the sound of trains – these used by Russia to transport looted Ukrainian coal and send military supplies into Ukraine.
4: Russia’s “humanitarian (ammo) aid convoys.” With the OSCE gone, we may see an increase in the numbers of vehicles making up these fake aid convoys. Hidden in civilian transport trucks, it’s also likely military supply convoys will now be sent through Donetsk and Gukovo – no one now able to spot the suspicious looking escourt vehicles which usually accompany such convoys.
In short, having OSCE monitors at Donetsk & Gukovo didn’t hinder Russia’s invasion or its on-going occupation of eastern Ukraine. But, they proved Russia openly allows military personnel to freely enter Ukraine from Russia. Hopefully we’ll get an updated report from the OSCE listing all their border crossing sightings.
As the below OSCE map shows, in occupied Ukraine, the OSCE are not permitted to base monitors anywhere near the Ukrainian/Russian border. This means the OSCE rarely get to visit the border area, and when they do, due to time restraints they rarely stay very long – as need to travel back to their bases before it gets dark. More often then not, monitor patrols are stopped well before they reach the border area, or usually get ordered to leave when they arrive.
So now, the full 409.7km of Ukraine’s eastern border remains totally unmonitored.