A High Commissioner of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) described the situation on the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine as “alarming” on Friday, and fears violence will escalate. Norway is among the countries sending OSCE observers to the area, where they’ve already been met with resistance by armed military forces.
Norway quickly agreed to join the OSCE effort to calm the situation and potentially play an important role in the crisis that began when Russian President Vladimir Putin, just days after hosting the Winter Olympics in Sochi, started sending military forces to Crimea. His goal, he claimed, was to protect Russians living in the area, along with Russia’s own strategically important military bases.
The OSCE observers, concerned EU and US leaders have argued, could play the same role. They’ve called on Putin to withdraw his forces and allow the observers to do the job until elections are held later this spring to determine a new Ukrainian government.
Norwegians are among the observers sent by 18 countries including Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Great Britain, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Germany, Hungary and the US. Russian leaders seemed to accept the presence of the observers, and face challenges in justifying any opposition to their mission, but OSCE representatives met armed resistance when they physically arrived in Crimea and reportedly were forced to retreat to Odessa.
Now High Commissioner Astrid Thors of the OSCE says she’s deeply worried over the increasing risk of violence in Crimea if Russia presses forward with its military intervention in Ukrainian territory. She wrote on the OSCE’s website Friday that she’s most worried about the consequences any violence will have on all the ethnic communities living in Crimea, especially the Ukrainians and Roma.
That’s because of the majority of pro-Russian residents of Crimea, many of whom were sent there during the decades of the Soviet Union. A decision by the local government to hold a referendum in just over a week on Crimea’s future, and its call on Thursday to make Crimea part of Russia, only raise tensions, Thors fears.
Thors, who is a Swedish-Finnish politician from Helsinki, warned that such “hasty decisions” can further fuel the conflict and leave various ethnic groups vulnerable. She has been in both Crimea and Kiev this week as a special envoy from the OSCE, and said she found no evidence of any threats against Russian politicians or other Russian residents.