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57-nation OSCE to play key Ukraine monitoring role in human rights, elections, media freedom

A team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is going to try to help de-escalate Russian-Ukrainian tensions after the two nations agreed to work on reducing frictions sparked by Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

But the Special Monitoring Mission of the 57-nation OSCE to Ukraine and other OSCE teams on the ground have no enforcing powers, limiting them to advisory and monitoring roles. The organization — which includes Russia, the United States, Canada, all European and some central Asian countries — also works mostly by consensus, which allowed Russia last month to block its team from going to Ukraine for a week.

A look at the organization's presence in Ukraine:

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THE SPECIAL MONITORING MISSION

The 100-strong team includes personnel from Russia and the United States and can be expanded to up to 500 people. It was established March 21, with an open-ended mandate to observe and report on the situation in Ukraine.

After a crisis meeting in Geneva on Thursday, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and the European Union authorized it to "play a leading role" in assisting Ukraine's authorities to quell "violence, intimidation or provocative actions." But Russian endorsement of the team does not recognize any role for it in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia annexed last month.

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MILITARY VERIFICATION VISITS

Several OSEC teams of unarmed civilian and military were repeatedly blocked from visiting Crimea between March 5 and March 20, as the peninsula veered into Russia's orbit. The teams were sent at request of Ukraine outside the OSCE consensus rule and did not require Russian approval. They were prevented from entry into Crimea by pro-Russian units — including some who fired warning shots — but were able to report that such units apparently included regular Russian military troops.

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ELECTION OBSERVERS

The OSCE deployed its first election monitors to Ukraine in March, after Ukraine asked them to observe its May 25 presidential election. The team, which could reach up to 900 members by election day, reports on any irregularities in the vote.

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HUMAN RIGHTS

An OSCE rights mission met with officials and Russian and Ukrainian minority communities throughout Ukraine including Crimea between March 18 and April 1 and will soon release a report on its findings. The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Astrid Thors, visited Ukraine, including Crimea, several times in March and April.

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OSCE MEDIA FREEDOM

OSCE media freedom chief Dunja Mijatovic visited Crimea as well as Kiev in early March and Kiev in April. The OSCE describes her role as providing "early warnings on violations of freedom of expression and media freedom." She has issued several critical statements about the safety of journalists since the crisis broke.

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NATIONAL DIALOGUE

At the request of Ukraine, a 15-member team of experts has been deployed in areas of Ukraine outside of Crimea to "support confidence building between different parts of Ukrainian society."