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OSCE Needs Better Technology To Monitor Ukrainian Truce, Zannier Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We turn now to Ukraine. A cease-fire there has not ended the violence between pro-Russian separatists and government forces. They did exchange prisoners the other day and said they were going to start withdrawing heavy weapons. But today, Ukraine says continued fighting makes that impossible. Yesterday, a bomb killed two people during a march in support of the government in Kiev. Cease-fire monitors are trying to track all this. They're from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, and the monitors often cannot even get to the fighting they are supposed to observe. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: What started as a team of human rights monitors is quickly turning into something different, according to Lamberto Zannier, the secretary general of the OSCE.

LAMBERTO ZANNIER: We have some difficulties because we're a civilian mission, but we need, increasingly, monitors with a military background. The mission in itself has turned into a quasi-peacekeeping mission at this point.

KELEMEN: And so he was here in Washington seeking more support. Zannier tells NPR the OSCE needs better technology.

ZANNIER: We can use more technical equipment - satellite imagery, drones, radars, even cameras. So that is certainly something where we will seek from everybody, including from the U.S. support.

KELEMEN: The State Department says it spent six and a half million dollars for the OSCE mission in Ukraine so far. And spokesperson Jen Psaki says the U.S. will consider doing more.

JEN PSAKI: Our goal is to ensure of course that they are well-equipped to carry out their task, including monitoring implementation of the cease-fire and monitoring the international border between Ukraine and Russia.

KELEMEN: Under the Minsk peace plan though, Ukraine won't regain control of its border with Russia until the end of the year at the earliest, and that's only if all sides implement the agreement. Zannier is hoping that at least the OSCE can keep an eye on the border in the meantime.

ZANNIER: We will have these technical means; we will have more people on the ground, so we will be sort of roaming closer to the border than we've - than before. So we'll - at least we'll be able to see better what is going on there.

KELEMEN: He says the peace plan reached in Minsk also left some ambiguity when it came to the railway hub of Debaltseve, where Ukrainian troops suffered a humiliating defeat after the cease-fire went into effect. Zannier calls that a clear violation of the cease-fire by the separatists and says it's hard to tell where the conflict goes from here.

ZANNIER: One possible scenario is that this conflict will somehow cool down, but then the situation on the ground gets frozen and that there - the difficulty will be the political process.

KELEMEN: The OSCE has some experience with these so-called frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union from Transnistria in Moldova to Nagorno-Karabakh, which he warns is at risk of reigniting a conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Then there's the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which effectively lost two of its regions to Russia in a war in 2008.

ZANNIER: What we see is a process of progressive - how can I say? - integration of those regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into the Russian Federation.

KELEMEN: Russia has effectively erased those borders, he says. And Zannier thinks this trend is not just about Russia's relations with its neighbors. This is about, as he puts it, how Russia feels in its own skin after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and how it relates to the West. The OSCE is one place where all these countries are members, so it's a platform for dialogue. Though the secretary general says these days the conversations have, as he put it, a Cold War accent. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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