OSCE military observer mission en route to Crimea

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is sending a delegation which includes representatives from the US and 14 other nations to observe the situation in Crimea amid tensions in Ukraine, according to a US official.

Daniel Baer, the chief US delegate to the OSCE, told the Associated Press that each country is sending two individuals, bringing the total number of observers to 30. Baer added that the military observer mission is set to leave within 24 hours and hinted that other countries main still join.

The OSCE comprises of Russia, the US, all European countries, and some central Asian nations. It is based on consensus, meaning that the majority of the monitoring missions need full approval by all nations – including OSCE member Russia. According to Baer, Ukraine used the provision to ask other countries to send unarmed military monitors.

OSCE officials were already in Ukraine on Tuesday and making their way to Crimea, Baer said. The officials specialize in minority rights and freedom of the media.

The delegation has a week-long mandate that can be extended if Ukraine requests it. One of its main focuses is to concentrate on the potential of a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Baer also added that the the military observer mission is a “broad-based monitoring effort” that will try to prevent a possible “military incursion” and encourage dialogue. The observers will keep an eye out for “areas where there has been tension or uncertainty has arisen over lack of clarity over military movements.”

RT news producer Lida Vasilevskaya reported on Tuesday evening that the OSCE delegation had arrived in Simferopol, Ukraine, but said they were not giving any comments to the media.

Tensions in Crimea became heated after the Ukrainian parliament voted to repeal a law which gave regional status to the Russian language. Authorities in Crimea requested Moscow’s assistance and Crimean authorities denounced the coup-imposed government in Kiev, declaring that all Ukrainian law enforcement and military deployed in the peninsula must take orders from them. The majority of troops in Crimea switched sides in favor of local authorities.

More than half of the Crimean population are ethnically Russian and use only the Russian language for their communication. The residents have announced they will hold a referendum on March 30 to determine the fate of the Ukrainian autonomous region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin clarified the country’s stance on Ukraine in an interview on Tuesday. He stated that Russia will not go to war with the people of Ukraine, but will use its troops to protect citizens if radicals with clout in Kiev try to use violence against Ukrainian civilians – particularly ethnic Russians.

Putin, who was given a mandate by the Russian Senate to send troops in order to protect the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, said there is no need for such action yet.

Putin cited the actions of radical activists in Ukraine – including the chaining of a governor to a stage as public humiliation and the killing of a technician during an opposition siege of the Party of Regions headquarters – as justification for Russia to be concerned for the lives and well-being of people in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Incidents like those are why Russia reserves the option of troop deployment.

“If we see this lawlessness starting in eastern regions, if the people ask us for help – in addition to a plea from a legitimate president, which we already have – then we reserve the right to use all the means we possess to protect those citizens. And we consider it quite legitimate,” Putin said.

Russia’s representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, also said on Tuesday that the deal surrounding the Black Sea Fleet allows Russia to station a contingent of up to 25,000 troops in Ukraine.

According to the initial agreement, the Russian Black Sea Fleet was to stay in Crimea until 2017, but the deal was later prolonged for another 25 years.

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