Recently appointed as head of the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine, Turkish diplomat Ertugrul Apakan brings experience and expertise to the mission, officials and analysts say.
By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 15/04/14
A pro-Russian protester guards a barricade outside the regional state administration building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on April 11th. International monitors are in Ukraine to deter human rights violations. [AFP]
The appointment of Ertugrul Apakan of Turkey as head of the international monitoring mission to Ukraine underscores Turkey's strategic and geopolitical significance in the region, both as a NATO member and a part of the Black Sea community, analysts said.
As tensions escalate over on-going Kremlin-backed uprisings in eastern Ukraine, the special mission of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is operating in Ukraine to monitor security and human rights conditions in the country.
The Kiev-based mission initially will consist of 100 monitors and may increase to as many as 500, while 30 participating countries are now represented. The mission will operate in nine cities across Ukraine.
Apakan, a retired Turkish diplomat, was permanent representative of Turkey to the United Nations from 2009-2012, as well as the ambassador to the Turkish portion of Cyprus from 1996 to 2000 and undersecretary within Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2006-2009.
According to a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, observers from Turkey will also attend the mission, while two deputy chief monitors, Mark Etherington of the United Kingdom and Alexander Hug of Switzerland, will assist Apakan.
"Under their leadership, I trust that the special monitoring mission will contribute to fostering peace, stability and security and to reducing tensions on the ground in Ukraine," OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Swiss Foreign Minister and President of the Confederation Didier Burkhalter said in a statement.
Their work will be critical as Kremlin-backed troops clash with Ukrainian military personnel in eastern Ukraine. Kiev announced on Sunday (April 13th) that it was sending troops as part of what it called a "large scale anti-terrorist operation" and offered amnesty to anyone who turned in a weapon by Monday.
Russia, meanwhile, has amassed thousands of troops on the border, raising concerns that it would move militarily under the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians in the eastern part of the country.
Ozdem Sanberk, who served as Turkey's undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Apakan is an experienced diplomat who has expertise in international law and in sounding a reconciliatory tone of diplomacy.
"During the crisis in Georgia in 2008, he showed a great skill of managing the issues relevant to the 1936 Montreux Convention about the regulation of Black Sea, as well as the stay time and weight of ships belonging to third countries," Sanberk told SETimes.
Oktay F. Tanrisever, professor of international relations at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, said Apakan "could come up with interesting insights" about the on-going tensions in Ukraine and could make "constructive recommendations for managing this situation."
"[Apakan] is expected to highlight the situation of the Crimean Tatars and other non-Russian ethnic communities in the Crimean peninsula and to recommend measures to safeguard their fundamental human rights as well as collective cultural and political rights in addition to a number of confidence building measures for the management of this crisis," Tanrisever told SETimes.
According to Sanberk, successful management of Ukrainian issue is important for Turkey to use its diplomatic and soft power tools in bringing stability and peace to its neighbourhood.
"Turkey, with its strategic and geopolitical significance both as a NATO member and a country bordering Black Sea, becomes a critical player in managing this crisis with the international community," Sanberk said. "Turkey also has a responsibility for implementing the clauses of the Montreux Convention for the Black Sea, and for protecting the rights of Crimean Tatars having a historical affinity to Turkish population."
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's visit in Kiev on March 1st signified that Turkey was not going to remain a passive observer during this situation, and that it would continue to strive for a friendly and co-operative Black Sea, Sanberk said.
Umut Koldas, director of the Near East Institute at Near East University in Cyprus and former polling supervisor of OSCE's 2001 mission in Kosovo and 1998 mission in Bosnia, said deployment of the OSCE special monitoring mission in Ukraine takes place at a critical junction of the crisis.
"Keeping the Russian reluctance in mind one cannot easily claim that OSCE will easily be dealing with reverberations of the crisis in the short term," Koldas told SETimes . "However, notwithstanding concerns and misgivings of the Russian Federation, the OSCE observation mission may serve as an icebreaker among the OSCE member states toward settling the dispute in the long run."
In that regard, the early presidential election, scheduled on May 25th, will be an important avenue for the monitoring mission to observe the electoral processes, he said.
In the past, OSCE had a key role in many parts of the world in monitoring the situation of human rights and elections -- for example during the 1990s in the Yugoslavian crisis, then in Kosovo and in Georgia in 2008.
What kind of impact might the OSCE monitoring mission to Ukraine have on tensions in the country? Share your thoughts in the comments section.