International involvement in the conflict


Russia has been an integral component to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Russia’s annexation of Crimea helped spur action among pro-Russian citizens of Ukraine. Putin insists that Crimea is historically, culturally, and politically a part of Russia, despite substantial global disagreement. Still, Russia has vehemently denied providing weapons or human capital to support rebels in Ukraine. However, evidence suggests otherwise, as experts have identified Russian equipment, soldiers, and arms among the rebels. Putin denies sending soldiers or support to rebels in Ukraine, and continues to insist that any Russians fighting in Ukraine are volunteers. 

The United States

In reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, President Obama authorized sanctions and visa restrictions against those responsible for or complicit in threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. This has included allies of Putin and former Yanukovych officials. Additionally, the US has repeatedly demonstrated its support for Ukraine by engaging with the country’s government and providing assistance throughout the crisis. The United States has offered support in the form of advisement, humanitarian aid, and non-lethal assistance. The United States deployed advisors to Ukraine to mitigate economic instability following the initiation of the crisis in March 2014. Additionally, the United States has spent billions in aid to Ukraine. Non-lethal assistance to Ukraine’s armed forces has included military training and equipment, such as protective gear, vehicles, training, and medical supplies. Humanitarian assistance has emphasized IDPs, reconstruction, food provision, and medical aid. Although the United States’ assistance remains non-lethal as of November 2015, the Senate continues to pressure the administration to arm Ukrainian forces. 

The United Nations

The United Nations has played a limited role in the Ukraine conflict. Russia’s veto power has prevented the organization from taking substantial action against aggression in the region. On March 27, 2014, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 68/262 in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Approved with 100 member states in favor, 11 against, and 58 abstaining, the resolution upheld the territorial integrity of Ukraine and condemned Russia’s actions as clear violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty. The resolution described the referendum in Crime as having no legal validity and called on states to not recognize the change in Ukraine’s borders. On February 12, 2015, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2202 confirming and endorsing the Minsk II ceasefire agreement.  


The OSCE has sought to play a stabilizing role in Ukraine at many levels. This has included actions by the OSCE Chair in Office, Secretary General, High Commissioner on National Minorities, Representative on Freedom of the Media, ODIHR, and CiP Personal envoy for Ukraine. 

OSCE CiO Burkhalter sent his Special Representative for Ukraine Guldimann and High Commissioner on National Minorities Thors to Crimea.  See report on Personal Envoy Guldimann's press conference. CiO Burkhalter stated on March 11 that the Crimean referendum was illegal in its current form and called for alternative ways to address the Crimean issue.

Ambassador Tim Guldimann, Personal Envoy of the Swiss OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Ukraine, briefing OSCE participating States and senior OSCE officials, Vienna, 3 March 2014. (OSCE, Jonathan Perfect)

Ambassador Tim Guldimann, Personal Envoy of the Swiss OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Ukraine, briefing OSCE participating States and senior OSCE officials, Vienna, 3 March 2014. (OSCE, Jonathan Perfect)

Eighteen OSCE participating states sent 35 unarmed military observers to Ukraine, destination Crimea, at the request of the Ukrainian government, as a confidence-building measure under Chapter 11 of the 2011 Vienna Document.  This was the first time this OSCE mechanism had been activated.  This step was taken at a joint meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council and Forum for Security Cooperation on March 4.  The observers were prevented from entering Crimea by armed groups (Russian military personnel without insignia or militias controlled by Russia) who controlled the entry points to the Crimean peninsula. 

The OSCE Permanent Council agreed in March 2014 to deploy a Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine. The Chief Monitor is Ertogrul Apakan from Turkey, and his two deputies are Mark Etherington from the United Kingdom and Alexander Hug from Switzerland.  

OSCE Monitors prepare for deployment, Kyiv, 6 April 2014. (OSCE)

OSCE Monitors prepare for deployment, Kyiv, 6 April 2014. (OSCE)

Staffed by an initial 100 civilian monitors (now up to 543 from 44 participating states plus Ukrainian local staff), the mission was renewed by the PC for another six months (through September 20, 2014) at the request of Ukraine. The SMM is operating out of nine cities in eastern and southern Ukraine. The OSCE is issuing daily updates on the ongoing situation in eastern Ukraine to increase transparency and ensure accurate information on ongoing developments. SMM monitors have at times been detained by separatist groups, with two teams held by separatists for more than a month before they were released towards the end of June.  Russia has barred SMM monitors from Crimea, which it has annexed.

OSCE deployed a team of 15 experts to Ukraine to initiate a National Dialogue project to identify areas for further OSCE activities to support confidence-building between different parts of Ukrainian society. The team deployed for four weeks in locations agreed with the Ukrainian government to gather information on political, humanitarian and minority issues. The project sought to contribute to a peaceful and sustainable political transition in the country by supporting a national, inclusive and impartial dialogue throughout Ukraine. The team was deployed following a request by Ukraine and was carried out by the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine. The 15-person expert team headed by Ambassador Hidajet Biščević of Croatia submitted a report with recommendations on how the OSCE can support dialogue and restore confidence in Ukraine on the local, regional and national levels.  The first National Dialogue Roundtable was held in Kyiv May 14, the second in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine on May 17, and a third in Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine May 21.  Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger is the OSCE CiO's representative to the National Dialogue Roundtables.

ODIHR and the High Commissioner on National Minorities also sent teams of human rights and minority rights experts to Ukraine respectively during March and April, and issued a joint report in May.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Mijatović has also highlighted the threat to journalists from violence, intimidation and psychological warfare in the conflict areas of eastern Ukraine.  See her May 23 report.

Thirty OSCE participating states also sent 56 military/civilian observers in response to an invitation by Ukraine under the Vienna Document 2011 on military transparency.  An observer team and their Ukrainian military escort were taken hostage by a pro-Russian group in Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine on April 25 and released on May 3.

The Swiss CiO announced next steps to "reverse the logic of escalation in Ukraine" on May 4 and is engaged in its implementation.

A Contact Group of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE was set up in July 2014 (by Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia), to work with the Ukrainian government and separatists to set up a lasting truce.

A map marked with the Russian checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk, where OSCE Observers will be stationed. (Google Maps)

A map marked with the Russian checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk, where OSCE Observers will be stationed. (Google Maps)

The OSCE PC approved in late July the deployment of a new Observer Mission of 15 personnel in Russia to observe the border of Russia and Ukraine.

At the request of the Russian government, the OSCE launched the Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk in August 2014, led by Chief Observer Paul Picard. The OSCE stations observers to report with impartiality and transparency on the situation at the checkpoints of Gukovo and Donetsk in addition to other border regions. The key goals of this mission include border management and conflict prevention and resolution. The OSCE seeks to bolster border security while facilitating travel and commerce, and provides support to reduce ongoing tensions.