Remarks by Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE Dmitry Balakin at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on the situation in Ukraine and the need to implement the Minsk Agreements, Vienna, 1 March 2018
Four years ago, the Ukrainian domestic political crisis, inspired and fuelled from abroad, escalated into an unconstitutional coup, an armed debauchery of nationalist radicals and an extremely brutal civil conflict that does not abate. The people of Ukraine are forced to pay this price for trusting empty-worded promises. An artificial choice between the so-called European way and expanded ties with Russia has divided the country, created a hotbed of instability on the borders between the European Union and Russia and dealt a heavy blow to the entire system of European security.
Unfortunately, the situation is far from being stabilised. On February 24, the so-called Donbass reintegration law entered into force in Ukraine. This is a dangerous step towards escalating the conflict in Donbass, above all because it runs counter to the letter and spirit of the Package of Measures, the only real foundation for a peace settlement. The deliberate omission of references to the Minsk Agreements from the draft law once again confirms that Kiev does not view them as binding and does not plan to fulfil them.
We see a discrepancy between this law’s provisions and the law on the special status of Donbass that must be coordinated with representatives of certain districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions and enacted under Clause 11 of the Package of Measures and the Normandy Format agreements.
This is an obvious attempt by Kiev authorities to indulge in wishful thinking. A reluctance to reach an agreement with Donetsk and Lugansk representatives forced Kiev to conceive the “occupation administration” in their place. Mythical “aggression” should serve as justification for war crimes, perpetrated by the army and the so-called volunteers.
Without going into additional details, we are noting that this law does not in any way deal with a comprehensive political settlement, the main pre-condition for the reintegration of Donbass as stipulated by Clauses 9 and 11 of the Package of Measures, and the need for direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk.
In this context, any claims that this law meets the Minsk Agreements are groundless.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak has been instructed to draft proposals on changing the format of the military operation in Donbass by April 1. An attempt to legalise the use of the Ukrainian army against the civilian population while repelling the so-called “aggression” should not mislead us. Appointing a new main department responsible for the so-called anti-terrorist operation and renaming the operation do not change the essence of the conflict: This remains an attempt to forcibly subdue those who disagree with the February 2014 unconstitutional coup in Kiev.
Quite possibly, the re-delegation of powers between law enforcement agencies will only influence the distribution of profits during trans-border smuggling operations across the contact line.
We are warning Kiev against taking any steps aiming to further undermine the work of the Contact Group in Minsk, the only venue for direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk.
We are calling for unfailing compliance with the agreed-upon spring ceasefire agreement starting on March 5. It is necessary to publish ceasefire orders and to refrain from provocative actions to seize positions in the “grey zone.” It is important to prevent an escalation, preparations for which we can see, including from the reports of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces have become entrenched in the village of Novoaleksandrovka, inside the “grey zone,” and they have taken up positions inside a disengagement sector in Zolotoye. Military equipment has been deployed near the contact line. In the past two weeks, members of the Special Monitoring Mission have spotted 30 pieces of Ukrainian weaponry deployed in violation of the Package of Measures, and 110 pieces of military equipment immediately outside redeployment lines. The Ukrainian Armed Forces are holding exercises with live-ammunition target-shooting sessions along the contact line, in violation of the Contact Group’s March 3, 2016 decision. Almost 200 artillery systems and tanks have disappeared from Ukrainian depots in the past two weeks. Kiev is blocking the disengagement of forces in Stanitsa Luganskaya, although a ceasefire was declared there on December 26, 2017.
On February 14, the Ukrainian Armed Forces fired on two schools in Dokuchayevsk. Fortunately, no children were hurt there. Shelling wounded a civilian in Spartak and damaged housing in Golmovskoye, Gorlovka, Dolgoye, Kashtanovo, Kominternovo and Molodyozhnoye.
On February 22, an anti-tank guided missile hit an ambulance with clearly visible Red Cross insignia carrying a wounded self-defence fighter, in violation of a ceasefire agreement that was coordinated with members of the Special Monitoring Mission.
In the early hours of February 24, Ukrainian army units launched a massed fire in direct proximity to observers who were forced to quickly evacuate a patrol base in Popasnaya.
Observers have long been denied access to Ukrainian-controlled districts of Stanitsa Luganskaya, Schastye, Zolotoye and other communities under the pretext of a mine threat. On February 21, the Ukrainian Armed Forces once again fired at a drone of the Special Monitoring Mission in Konstantinovka. This is the sixth Ukrainian attack against the Mission’s drones since early 2018. Previous incidents include the January 12 shelling in Pavlopol, the February 2 shelling in Verkhnetoretskyoe, the February 4 shelling over a weapons depot in the Donetsk Region, the February 6 shelling in Mikhailovka, the February 10 shelling in Kleshcheyevka and the February 21 shelling in Konstantinovka.
The situation in Donbass gets worse as soon as there is a flare up in other parts of Ukraine. On Tuesday, there were again clashes in front of the Verkhovna Rada building in Kiev. On February 15-16, representatives of the National Militia and volunteers from the Donbass battalion clashed with police in Kiev and Odessa, demanding a review of the court decision on the arrest of Odessa’s mayor. On February 23, radicals from the Self-Defence, Sokol and AutoMaidan movements armed with bats, car tires and bulletproof vests forced the government to hand over the Lermontovsky resort in Odessa.
The number of radicals’ assaults on Russian foreign institutions and monuments keeps growing. On February 17, nationalists attacked the Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Kiev. The radicals, led by Verkhovna Rada deputy Andrey Lozovoi, stormed the building with 50 children and as many adults inside. While the police took no action, they destroyed the exhibition and painted walls with extremist mottos. On the next day, nationalists threw rocks at the building in plain view of the Special Monitoring Mission observers. The Ukrainian police did not bother to get involved. On February 26, Ukrainian nationalists threw flares at the Russian Consulate General in Odessa and poured red paint on the fence. On February 14, radicals tried to set Sberbank’s office in Lvov on fire. On February 18, they broke the windows in the bank’s Kiev office. On February 15 and 24, they desecrated the memorial to the Soviet liberators in Lvov. The leader of Ukrainian nationalists, Nikolay Kokhanivsky, openly threatened that attacks on Russian facilities in Ukraine will continue.
The religious factor is also being stirred up. Radicals are attacking the parish and the property of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The SMM has recorded many cases of assaults, attempts to seize churches, let alone the murders of priests, which happened in 2014.
Not only Russian institutions are falling victim to radicals. On February 27, radicals set fire to the office of the Hungarian Cultural Society in Uzhgorod, Transcarpathia. This was preceded by a failed attempt to attack the Hungarian cultural centre on February 4.
All these cases were recorded by the SMM and prove the need for an urgent reaction from the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. There must be a report by the OSCE SMM on cases of radical nationalism, extremist and xenophobia in Ukraine. It is necessary to have a collective reaction of the international community to Ukrainian radical nationalism.
The riotous behaviour of radicals comes with the passive consent of the Kiev government, which itself pursues a discriminatory policy towards the Russian-speaking community and ethnic minorities.
The Law on Education, adopted by the Verkhovna Rada in September 2017, violates Article 10 of the Ukrainian Constitution and Clause 11 of the Minsk Package of Measures, which stipulates the adoption of permanent legislation on the special status of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions with regard to their right to language identity. Kiev has infringed on the right of the non-Ukrainian speaking population to receive an education in their own language and thus has deepened the split in Ukrainian society.
There is information that the Ukrainian Constitutional Court, pressured by radicals, has abandoned the law on language policy basics. According to estimates, the rights of at least one-third of Ukrainian society will suffer from it.
Under the pretence of protection from “aggression,” the freedom of speech and assembly is limited and dissidents are persecuted. Even Amnesty International pointed at unprecedented violations of human rights in Ukraine in its review report on human rights in various countries in 2017. The report features cases of the persecution of journalists who have a critical attitude to the current political course of Ukraine. The report says that there are no results yet in the investigation of the murders of Oles Buzina and Pavel Sheremet. Recorded are regular persecutions of civil activists who are investigating corruption cases. Secret prisons of the Ukrainian Security Service have been proven to exist, as well as the mass use of torture and abuse by Ukrainian law enforcement officers; many cases of sexual assault by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian armed groups were reported. The report recognises the indifference of the Ukrainian judicial system to the victims and the lack of assistance to them.
In conclusion, I would like to say the obvious. The Minsk Agreements and the overall political settlement through a direct dialogue of the parties is the only real way to reach peace. The statements by Ukrainian politicians that the “Donbass problem” can be solved in two weeks by military means are a road to disaster.
Thank you for your attention.