Early on March 1, Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency reported that authorities in the Russian-controlled “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) in Ukraine’s Donbas region claimed that Ukrainian “nationalists” stole vehicles belonging to international observers.
“The DNR stated that Ukrainian nationalists in Kramatorsk seized about 20 OSCE SMM vehicles, the fate of the mission's employees remains unknown,” RIA Novosti reported.
The claim refers to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission, a group of international observers who have monitored the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region since 2014. Observers were initially stationed on both sides of the line of contact, as well as on the borders between Russia and the two proxy states it set up inside Ukraine — the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. After the Minsk II peace agreement was signed in February 2015, OSCE SMM monitors observed what crossed those borders, as well as logged any ceasefire violations.
RIA Novosti's claim that "Ukrainian nationalists" seized OSCE SMM vehicles is false. The OSCE SMM reported no such incident, and most of its personnel have been mostly evacuated from Ukraine in the wake of Russia's all-out invasion of the country.
“The Mission completed the evacuation activities of most international mission members following the 25 February decision,” the OSCE SMM stated in its report for February 27-28.
“The SMM Monitoring Teams in Kharkiv and Kherson remain sheltered in place, while its Monitoring Teams in Luhansk and Donetsk Patrol Hubs remain on standby for evacuation. The Chief Monitor and senior management will remain in Ukraine until the evacuation process is complete.”
Kharkiv and Kherson are far from Kramatorsk, where the incident allegedly took place. Luhansk and Donetsk are still controlled by Russia’s proxy forces.
Russia’s proxies in Donbas have a long history of making wild, unsubstantiated claims about the actions of the Ukrainian government and its armed forces, including the claim that international mercenaries, typically said to be from the U.S., Poland, Lithuania, or other NATO member states, are fighting alongside Ukrainian forces. In an example from 2016, the DNR claimed that American mercenaries had started a drunken rampage in government-controlled Mariupol.
Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine after officially recognizing its two puppet states in Donbas as independent and claiming that they were the victims of “genocide.” Forces from these entities are fighting alongside regular Russian forces that are currently pushing toward the Ukrainian government-held city of Mariupol on the Azov Sea coast. Another Russian force has moved out of Russian-occupied Crimea toward Mariupol.