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Analysis: OSCE finally arrives in Russia

The monitoring team will be watching two checkpoints following accusations of cross-border fire.

Last updated: 30 Jul 2014 10:52
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An OSCE monitoring team is already in eastern Ukraine, trying to gain access to the MH17 crash site [Reuters]

Moscow, Russia - After weeks of requests, Russia finally has an OSCE monitoring team on its territory, observing two checkpoints on the border with Ukraine.

Ukraine’s accusations that shell and rocket attacks have been launched across the border from Russia are echoed by Moscow. Though, of course, Russia insists it is the victim and Ukraine is the aggressor.

On July 25, says Russia, 40 shells from Ukraine landed in Primiussky in the southern region of Rostov. Earlier in the month, a Russian civilian allegedly died after previous bout of shelling across the border.

The OSCE mission has a mandate for three months, and will concentrate on the checkpoints of Gukovo and Donetsk [not to be confused with the Ukrainian city of the same name].

Initially, the team will be small; just four observers and a three administrative staff. Eventually, there will be as many as sixteen of them.

The OSCE in Vienna told Al Jazeera that the recruitment process has begun.

Member states recommend candidates with the mission specific skills of having some sort of border experience, and being able to speak Russian.

The OSCE will make a long list of candidates, then a short list, and then will conduct interviews.

Of course, this is a politically sensitive mandate. It has been decades since relations between Russia and the West were this bad.

What began as a pro-European protest movement in Kiev has led to the overthrow of a president, a civil war, and a clash of geopolitical interests which questions long-held assumptions of European peace and stability.

The team will be watching the activity at the checkpoints and movement across the border.

In addition to the reported incidences of shelling, this border is also the porous membrane through which Ukraine and the West alleges fighters and weaponry have been flowing to bolster the pro-Russian forces.

High stakes

In fact, Ukraine’s delegation to the OSCE has criticised the limited scope of this mandate.

Monitoring just two checkpoints will have only a "marginal" effect on the flows of "weapons, equipment, and mercenaries", it says.

It wants more vigorous measures to be taken by the OSCE. Basically it wants the whole border watched.

And Russia has taken aim, too. Not at the OSCE mission itself, but at the US.

Last Sunday, Sergey Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, told John Kerry and his "subordinates" not to hinder the OSCE’s work.

Though when asked about this, Natacha Rajakovic, OSCE spokeswoman, told Al Jazeera there had been no pressure from the US at all.

With such high stakes games being played, the OSCE has a poisonous environment in which to work. And with that in mind, it is playing this mission down.

Do not expect anything spectacular, the monitoring group says.

If nothing else, the point of it is to rebuild a modicum of the trust that recent events have smashed to smithereens.

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