Those Military Observers 79

Now the military observers have been released, it might be helpful to clarify their status as an illustration of how both media bias and internet passions on both sides of the Ukrainian conflict obscure the truth.  If you think you get the truth on CNN and BBC you are not paying attention.  If you think you get the truth on Russia Today you are equally not paying attention.

It is wrong to call the men “OSCE observers” in that they are not on a mission initiated and organized by the OSCE.  The casual use of the phrase by almost all the mainstream media is not just incorrect, but culpable in that it gives a deliberate impression of neutrality and authority.

However it is equally wrong to characterize them as “NATO spies”, and they had every right, indeed a duty, to be in Ukraine doing what they were doing.  The purpose of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which the Soviet Union was a founding member, is to prevent conflict and improve governance.  (I have a dim recollection that some but not all of the Soviet Socialist Republics, including Ukraine, were individually represented when it was first founded as the CSCE. Ukraine, and of course Russia, has certainly been an important member since it became the OSCE in 1994).

I should say I strongly support the OSCE.  Those who claim it is an American or neo-con front have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.  I was invited to give oral evidence to the OSCE on extraordinary rendition, which I did.  That contrasts with the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee who conducted an inquiry into extraordinary rendition and refused to accept either written or oral evidence from their Ambassador who had just been sacked for blowing the whistle on the subject (Don’t you love Jack Straw and New Labour).  The OSCE do a lot of good work on protecting the Roma, and recently rebuked the French.  Their election monitoring work is first class – if only the UK government would allow them into Scotland.

A key OSCE treaty is the Vienna Document on Military Transparency of 1999.  Under this document, member states notify each other of their forces’ dispositions, and any member state can send verification missions of military officers to any other member state three times a year.

This is not some obscure or obsolete clause which was being used to justify extraordinary snooping in Ukraine.  It is a mechanism in permanent operation.  Russia, for example, sends military observers around UK and US installations all the time, and vice versa.

The whole point of the agreement is to make sure people know and are comfortable with where other people’s weapons are and what they are doing, so as to avoid wars starting by misunderstanding.  This is especially important in times of heightened tension.  So in times of escalating tension or unusual military activity, the agreement specifically allows for increased activity and extra missions to ensure people understand what is happening.  Plainly the disputes for control of Ukrainian military bases and their weapons were precisely the kind of situation where missions were called for.  So the observers not only had a right to be there, they had a duty.


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79 thoughts on “Those Military Observers

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  • craig Post author


    You are positing it would be a better system if, instead of NATO members inspecting Russian weapons and Russians inspecting NATO weapons, it would be better for everybody if all inspections were by somebody neutral, like the Swiss.

    Perfectly respectable argument. But, as has been explained to you in great detail, it is not the existing system. Under the existing system of mutual inspection, the military observers were there perfectly lawfully and normally. I know you would much rather this was some weird manifestation of the West being evil, but it isn’t. Live with it.


    Craig; As you repeat your point, I will repeat mine. If the OSCE observers were not invited by Kyev, and considering the great mistrust between NATO and Russia, would it have been wise of them to at least TRY not to appear to be goats for the Ukraine and the West?

    Is this Occam’s razor, or is it necessarily complex to the point of mission failure for legalisms which must be followed regardless of consequences?


    Let me clarify; I use the word ‘ukraine’ in the context of the current leadership in Kyev.

  • craig Post author


    You are asking if we should suspend mutual weapons inspections under OSCE auspices because the participants look like spies, just as the Russian officers who regularly inspect Britain’s military facilities look lie spies. No, I think that is an extremely stupid idea.


    ” No, I think that is an extremely stupid idea.”

    Another misrepresentation, Craig. If OSCE is a fav of yours, you might applaud attempts to auger their credibility, in light of the environment they operated in.

    You are seemingly intransigent on some points. Stubborn rejection of untoward ideas is beneath your station in these affairs.

  • Tim

    The OSCE has no credibility problem that needs solving. You seem to be confusing the activities of the OSCE, such as the election observers mission, with rights which individual states have under OSCE agreements. I think that you will find that the EOM will include almost all OSCE nationalities including the Swiss. You seem concerned that the military mission might be thought to be an intelligence gathering mission. As Craig and I have tried to explain, that is not a secret it is the whole point of them being there.

    The Swiss, as current Chairman in Office of the organization are doing a lot already, and I don’t see why they should have to take on the entire burden of conventional arms verification also. Still it is not really for me to reply on Russia’s behalf, you could ask them whether as an OSCE participating state they would indeed prefer your way of doing things.

    Until that is agreed, the deal remains as the Soviet Union agreed it in the first place.


    ” You seem concerned that the military mission might be thought to be an intelligence gathering mission”

    It’s not what I think, it’s what I believe is the Russian suspicion, Tim . NATO is a bad smell to the Kremlin. If they didn’t want to inflame the situation, I would think the OSCE might take that into consideration. Why is this so hard to digest?


    If one were illegally assaulted by the FBI; would you want FBI agents brokering your settlement agreement? Not a perfect metaphor, but has some relevance, I think.

  • craig Post author


    The Kremlin do not believe it is a spying mission. They have no suspicion at all. They know precisely who these people are, and what is the system under which they were operating.

    For propaganda purposes, they may want their people in the Ukraine, and useful fools like you, to suspect they are spies. No NATO forces have assaulted anybody in the Ukraine. Your arguments are utterly specious and not, I believe, sincere. I have never met anybody as stupid as you are pretending to be. You are just trolling.


    “The Kremlin do not believe it is a spying mission. They have no suspicion at all”

    And what is your reference for this?

    Name-calling won’t get you off this petard.

  • Tim

    Ben – for the Kremlin not to know about the Vienna Document inspection system they would have to be stupid. And I see no evidence of this. Do you?


    What is the ‘inspecting state’? If it’s Ukraine, wouldn’t they be the ‘inspected State’?

    If the inspecting State (UN?) can choose the inspectors, why would an objective oversight not recognize the sensitivities to NATO?

    Just askin’.

    “The inspecting State may invite other participating States to be part of the inspection team, but the size of an inspection team is limited to no more than four inspectors. The maximum time allowed for inspection activities is 48 hours, which begins when the inspection team arrives at the specified area. The inspection team may access the specified area by ground and air, except for areas or sensitive points where access is normally denied or restricted.”

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Now the German Defense Minister has expressed the greatest relief that the OSCE party has safely returned, and the deputy leader of the Christian Social Union has criticized Merkel’s government for allowing the German military to get involved in Ukrainian problems which both sides of the conflict exploited..

  • Jemand

    This thread is absolutely hilarious! Reminds me of Blackadder frustratedly addressing Baldrick and Prince George.

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