The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE, has begun a monitoring mission to Ukraine as tensions simmer following Russia's annexation of Crimea. The 100 observers will gather information on security and human rights in Ukraine. But Moscow is so far refusing access to Crimea.
Scores of OSCE observers on Tuesday began officially fanning out across southern and eastern Ukraine after Russia reluctantly agreed.
The special mission of 100 civilian monitors will for six months gather information on security and human rights in Ukraine, and the mission could be increased to as many as 500 personnel. They will also try to facilitate dialogue after months of political unrest and military tensions over Russia's annexing Crimea.
Many fear Moscow may take further military action in regions where vocal, pro-Russia populations are demanding that they too be allowed to become part of Russia.
Polish Ambassador Adam Kobieracki is the director of the OSCE's Conflict Prevention Center and acting chief of the mission. He spoke Tuesday at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
“In simple terms, this is monitoring mission. We're sending those people to monitor the situation and report about what they see. To establish fundamental facts, to try to have as clear a picture as possible, and then from that moment on to try to contribute to de-escalation of tension and stabilization of the situation here,” said Kobieracki.
Moscow only agreed to the observer mission on Friday after signing legislation for Crimea to become part of the Russian Federation.
Moscow says Crimea was annexed to protect its majority Russian-speaking population from persecution by Ukrainian nationalists in Kyiv's interim government. Though little evidence has emerged of such abuse, Kobieracki says the monitoring mission includes, as part of its mandate, the rights of national minorities.
The United States and its European allies condemned Russia's actions and denounced a Moscow-backed referendum in Crimea as a sham.
The referendum did not offer the status quo as a choice and showed 97 percent of voters wanting the peninsula to become part of Russia.
Russia refused to allow monitors in Crimea, arguing it is no longer part of Ukraine.
Ukraine invited OSCE military experts to Crimea but they were turned away four times by pro-Russia gunmen who, on one occasion, fired warning shots.
Russian troops and local militias in recent days stormed Ukrainian military bases in Crimea that refused to surrender or join Russia.
Ukraine's defense chief resigned Tuesday after he was criticized for failing to give clear orders to the military holdouts.
Moscow's actions in Crimea sparked the worst East-West tensions in decades and tit-for-tat sanctions that have already cost Russia's economy tens of billions of dollars.