The former first deputy head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission (OSCE SMM) in Ukraine Alexander Hug said that he does not consider Russia to be the aggressor in the conflict.
“No. But I consider that Russia, Ukraine, and certain districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions recognised that there is a big problem that needs to be solved, and all of them have undertaken obligations,” said Hug in an interview to the Ukrainian TV channel ‘1+1’ on November 4th.
He stated that the Donbass situation can be solved “only when someone seeks to find a solution, and doesn’t try to accuse others.”
He also claimed that the OSCE SMM documented Russian military presence in Donbass.
“We talked to persons who declared their belonging to Russian military units, in particular, to the 16th airborne brigade… We met them in the areas that are non-controlled by the government,” he said.
He, however, did not provide any evidence of his conversation, such as photographs. This is of significance mostly because there is no such military unit as the 16th Airborne Brigade in the Russian military. There is the 16th Special Purpose Brigade of Special Forces of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.
If members of the 16th Special Purpose Brigade were allegedly deployed in Ukraine, one of its members wouldn’t speak with Hug, even if they somehow did speak to him, they would most likely not claim that they are from a non-existing brigade. Thus, it is more than likely that after repeatedly asking members of the DPR and LPR military if they are members of the Russian military, they simply mockingly retorted that they are and just called a made-up brigade’s name.
Alexander Hug also made headlines on October 25th, when it was reported that Foreign Policy had removed parts of his interview regarding the fact that the OSCE had not seen direct evidence of Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine.
The following was included in the remarks on the Foreign Policy website:
“Clarification, October 25, 2018: In an earlier version, Hug stated that OSCE had not seen direct evidence of Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine. We have removed this remark, as it did not convey his intended view. He goes on to cite facts and observations that his monitors have recorded,” the magazine said.
When he was asked on the OSCE’s official stance on Russia’s involvement in Eastern Ukraine, he answered:
“If the question is what we have seen on the ground, we have not seen direct evidence (of Russian involvement). We have seen convoys leaving and entering Ukraine on dirt roads in the middle of the night, in areas where there is no official crossing. In one border area, we’ve also made this public, including some footage we have put out. We have seen specific types of weapons that we have described in detail, including electronic warfare equipment. We have spoken to prisoners taken by the Ukrainian forces who claim to be members of the Russian armed forces fighting on rotation in Ukraine. We have seen men with the insignia of the Russian Federation, but you can buy this jacket anywhere. We have also seen the insignia of Germany, Spain, and others—but also of the Russians,” according to an earlier version of the interview provided by Ukrainian News Agency.
Hug left his post on October 31st, 2018. He needed to leave his post as a person cannot work for the OSCE for more than 10 years. His post will be taken by Mark Etherington. Etherington was appointed as deputy chief monitor of the OSCE SMM in 2014, however he left the post. He will return on it on November 1st.
Despite constant Ukrainian, US and EU accusations of Russian aggression against the Kiev government, it appears that even the OSCE mission, which is deployed in the conflict zone, cannot not provide any evidence to back these claims. However, sanctions over Russia’s alleged military involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine are still in place and continue being perpetuated with every passing period.