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Russia bans OSCE military observers from monitoring Smolensk, Bryansk regions.

Representatives of the Latvian defense ministry were this week scheduled to visit Smolensk and Bryansk regions of the Russian Federation as part of an OSCE arms control effort. Russia has denied such access, while its defense agency posted on its website a report on the alleged arrival of the Latvian monitors.

That’s according to Latvia’s defense ministry, Ukrinform reports.

“This refusal is incomprehensible in a situation where Russia is massively building up its armed forces near the borders of Ukraine, at the same time assuring that it does not plan an attack. Excuses due to COVID-19 restrictions make it seem that Russia has something to hide and that it is unwilling to reveal the true size of its military activity and its intentions, as envisaged by cooperation with the OSCE,” said Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks.

The visit was scheduled for January 25-29, but on January 21 Latvia’s request for access was turned down. On January 24, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation published false information about the inspection that’s allegedly been held, the Latvian side noted.

It was assumed that the Latvian military inspectors would visit Bryansk and Smolensk regions, assess the military activity there, especially the type of which the OSCE must be informed in advance, according to the OSCE Vienna Document.

As a formal pretext for the refusal, Russia named the COVID-19 risks. The Latvian side, however, points out that the pandemic has not prevented Russia from moving large military formations and performing military maneuvers.

Inspection visits and the fulfillment by the OSCE member states of arms control obligations are especially important now that Russia is holding major military exercises jointly with Belarus and is amassing forces near the borders of Ukraine, Latvia’s defense ministry emphasizes.

At the moment, the report on the mission’s alleged arrival is absent on the Russian defense ministry’s website, although it has already been spread by Russian media.

“Most likely, the message was removed from the website of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation,” said Kaspar Galkin, PR Department chief at the Latvian defense ministry. He clarified that his office has screenshots confirming that such misleading information had been posted.

Read also: Kremlin's efforts aimed at integrating occupied territories of Ukraine - Borrell

The announcement came amid a series of talks between the Russian Federation and the United States, as well as between Russia and NATO, over the ultimatum for "security guarantees" put forward by Russia in December 2021.

At the same time, the Russian Federation deployed significant military forces toward the border with Ukraine. Western experts are considering several possible options for a new round of Russian aggression against Ukraine. In particular, the documents released by U.S. intelligence suggest that Russia could launch an invasion involving hundreds of battalion tactical groups, or 175,000 troops. About 50 such groups have already been deployed near Ukraine in the north and east, as well as in Crimea in the south. Russian troops may also move in from Belarus.

Recall that Smolensk region borders on Belarus, and Bryansk – on Belarus and Ukraine.

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