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by John Helmer, Moscow
  @bears_with

The operational chief of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is a British officer whose combat role in Syria between 2016 and 2018 the OSCE is attempting to conceal.

Mark Etherington, a British Army paratrooper, was “working on Syria”, according to the OSCE’s appointment notice a year ago. In May of this year Etherington told the Kyiv Post he was “in Syria.”

The OSCE claims its mission adheres to the “principles of impartiality and transparency”. So Etherington was asked yesterday to clarify if he had performed combat advisory and military intelligence roles in Syria, and whether he is still associated with British forces. He and the OSCE spokesmen are refusing to say.   

Etherington first appeared in the Ukraine as an OSCE monitor in 2014. For his appointment then, along with a Turkish official from occupied northern Cyprus and a Swiss Army officer based in Kosovo, read this report.  Etherington left the Ukraine for two years, 2016 to 2018. He then returned to the OSCE on November 1, 2018, as its chief Ukraine operations officer.  

Left: the Ukrainian Army’s eastern front chief, Major General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, briefing Etherington (table, right) on November 21, 2018; for more details.  Right: Etherington (left) speaking at the front with a Kiev regime fighter; picture published on October 2, 2019, by Steven Pifer, former US Ambassador to Ukraine and paid Washington lobbyist for Victor Pinchuk; see. A handful of published photographs have been found showing Etherington meeting officers of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. On his first tour, this is the only public record of Etherington meeting Novorussian officials in Slovyansk on April 21, 2014. Here is a Russian video clip of his remarks at the time. On June 9, 2019, Sputnik, the Russian state media source, published this photograph of Etherington (3rd right) meeting Mikhail Filiponenko (2nd right), acting head of the Lugansk People's Republic (LPR), at the Stanytsia Luhanska checkpoint on the contact line between LPR forces and Ukrainian troops. 

Etherington began his second Ukraine tour a few weeks after the OSCE claimed through German media that it had uncovered a Russian intelligence effort to monitor the 600 staff of its Ukrainian mission.  The OSCE announced at the time that Russian espionage “was a big blow and we will naturally examine what happened and how.”

The OSCE, created in 1975 and headquartered in Vienna, represents 57 member states, including Russia and several of its allies – Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The organization claims to be independent of NATO and other US-led military pacts, based on a 10-point charter the OSCE calls its “Decalogue”.  Point VI of this charter rules out military operations, including espionage, by OSCE officials directed against an OSCE member state. As the head of operations in Ukraine, Etherington is explicitly required to “refrain, inter alia, from direct or indirect assistance to terrorist activities, or to subversive or other activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another participating State.”

The Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) he runs declares “its main tasks are to observe and report in an impartial and objective way on the situation in Ukraine; and to facilitate dialogue among all parties to the crisis.”  In this report of its principles,   the OSCE claims “the [Ukraine] Mission operates under the principles of impartiality and transparency.” Follow the OSCE’s daily Ukraine reports here

As the operational head of the OSCE mission in Ukraine, Etherington reports to a Turk, appointed to head the mission in June of this year, replacing another Turk.  According to the OSCE’s releases, Yaşar Halit Çevik   came to the Ukraine after working, first,  as Turkey’s ambassador to Syria in the years before Turkey began its direct intervention against President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.  Çevik was ambassador to Syria between 2004 and 2009. In 2009, he became the undersecretary for bilateral political affairs at the foreign ministry in Ankara.

At the start of this year there were six candidates to replace the first head of OSCE’s Ukrainian operation, Ertuğrul Apakan, whose five-year term was expiring in June.  Çevik was the one with official endorsement from the State Department in Washington.

Left,  Yaşar Halit Çevik ; right, Antje Grawe.

The third of the OSCE commanders in Ukraine is Antje Grawe, also a NATO war-fighter.   In her published OSCE profile she omits to say that she’s a German national with a career history of German government operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Her tour in Ukraine has included German Government and Catholic Church-funded propaganda briefings in Lvov.  

Etherington says in his OSCE re-appointment biography that after his first Ukraine front tour he had been “working on Syria 2016-18.”

The Kyiv Post reported that the “former airborne trooper of the elite British Parachute Regiment, Etherington gained an extremely rich experience of conflict settings in numerous OSCE missions around the world, including Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo.” The newspaper said Etherington had fought alongside Ukrainian troops in Iraq, and then: “In 2014, he worked with OSCE in Donbas and spend [sic] 2 years in Syria prior to his return to Ukraine in late 2018.”

Apart from the Ukrainian newspaper, Etherington has given almost no public or press briefings in his military career. In September 2010 he testified to the House of Commons on his operation in British-occupied Basra, southern Iraq. In January of this year, OSCE published photographs on its Facebook page of Etherington briefing Ukrainian military and other officials in western Ukraine. 

Etherington and his OSCE press office were asked this week to clarify Etherington’s role in Syria. Five questions were emailed to the OSCE press officers in charge, Tsvetelina Parvanova and Natacha Rajakovic.

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  1. What organisation employed Mr Etherington for this “Syria work”?
  2. What was (were) his location(s) for this work? You will be aware that in an interview published by the Kyiv Post in March of this year, Mr Etherington said he had worked “in Syria”: https://www.kyivpost.com/
  3. What was his role and what were his work products in this engagement of his in Syria?
  4. What relationship does OSCE understand that Mr Etherington continues to have with British Government organizations?
  5. In an official Facebook post of last January 25, Mr Etherington reportedly visited western Ukraine and discussed “relevant issues and conditions on the ground…maintaining stability in western Ukraine”. What concretely are these “issues” in that area, and do they include the attacks recorded on Polish offices, memorials, etc.?

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Question 5 refers to a series of violent attacks in western Ukraine against Polish cemeteries, war memorials and the Polish consulate at Lutsk, in March 2017; for details, read this.  Polish officials said at the time the perpetrators were Ukrainian terrorists.

About what had happened, the OSCE daily report for March 29, 2017, said: “the SMM monitored the situation at consulates of the Republic of Poland after an explosion that occurred at the consulate in Lutsk in Volyn region. (See SMM Daily Report 30 March 2017). In Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa and Vinnytsia (214km north-east of Chernivtsi), the SMM noted calm situations at the consulates of the Republic of Poland and no increase in law enforcement presence. In Lutsk, the SMM saw broken windows at three banks (branches of Alfa-Bank, Prominvestbank and Sberbank of Russia). The director of the Sberbank of Russia branch told the SMM that two masked men had thrown stones at the bank’s windows.”

Rajakovic acknowledged receiving the questions and said they had been forwarded to Etherington’s group. An unidentified spokesman then replied:

Parvanova and Rajakovic were then asked to clarify this violation of the mission’s impartiality and transparency principles. They were also asked to identify their nationalities. They refused.

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