Vienna, December 14, 2017
The talks of a draft declaration by the OSCE Ministerial Council on the Ukrainian crisis have revealed the continuing attempts to distort the essence of the Minsk Agreements and to erode their political provisions. Stability in Ukraine can be only achieved through a comprehensive political settlement, as this is stipulated in the Minsk Package of Measures. This implies a constitutional reform sealing the special status of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, as well as local elections, the implementation of an amnesty law and the non-persecution of people in connection with the events in Donbass.
Our goal was to adopt a document that would reinforce the Package of Measures with a consensus support by 57 countries in addition to UN Security Council Resolution 2202, and would provide our assessment of the performance of the OSCE SMM, as well as the Contact Group and its subgroups. But it appears that some member states are not interested in this.
Statements on so-called Russian aggression are nothing but a propaganda camouflage for their desire to keep the conflict burning. We will acknowledge a sincere resolve to achieve a peaceful settlement in Ukraine only when we see efforts designed to stop the punitive operation against Donbass residents and to cut short instead of validating the operations of nationalists who provoke shoot-outs at the contact line and engage in violence and looting.
We denounce the practice of Kiev’s “creeping offensive.” The OSCE SMM has confirmed that Ukrainian armed forces have occupied townships in the so-called grey zone. SMM satellites and drones have reported the trails of military equipment moving from Ukrainian positons to Travnevoye and Gladosovo, as well as three military camps with Ukrainian military equipment in these towns’ suburbs. SMM observers have seen the Ukrainian armed forces’ emplacements in the southern suburbs of Verkhnetoretsky and the accumulation of Ukrainian military personnel in Svetlodarsk.
The SMM has observed 28 combat vehicles of the government-controlled forces in the security zone in violation of the Minsk Package of Measures over the past two weeks, including: nine self-propelled howitzers in Aleksandropol, five howitzers in Kremenevka, two howitzers and an MLRS system in Volnovakha, three howitzers in Vodyanoye, three howitzers in Netailovo, two howitzers in Novoselovka-2, an air defence missile system in ЗРК in Roty, a tank in Popasnaya and an air defence missile system in Novognatovka.
Despite their numerous attempts, the SMM observers could not enter Travnevoye and Gladosovo, because government-controlled forces have denied them entry. We do not know what is happening in these villages now. However, we can easily imagine what is going on there based on the latest OHCHR report on Ukraine, which indicates looting, torture and intimidation. Overall, the SMM’s freedom of movement in the government-controlled territory has been greatly restricted under the pretext of a mine threat. This prevents the mission from reporting the real number of Ukrainian combat vehicles on the contact line. The so-called mine threat accounts for over half the reasons for restricting SMM operations in the government-controlled territory between November 27 and December 11. SMM observers were directly prohibited from inspecting warehouses in Konstantinovka twice on December 2.
The SMM must not fear the host country’s authorities. It must report its findings in an impartial and objective way, which is the earnest of support for the mission, as SMM Chief Monitor Ertugrul Apakan has said. We urge SMM leaders and observers to more closely cooperate with the local authorities in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions on all issues in the SMM’s purview.
The occupation of two settlements at the contact line and the failed attack near Frunze led to a dramatic increase in the number of ceasefire violations. Between November 27 and December 12, the SMM reported some 9,000 ceasefire violations and 12 artillery attacks on the residential areas held by the self-defence forces from the government-controlled territory. Three civilians have been wounded and at least 12 buildings and other structures have been damaged in Dokuchayevsk, Trudovskikh, Golmovskoye, Yasnoye, Pervomaisk, Dolgoye, Yasinovataya and Zelenaya Roshcha.
According to the SMM, shortly after midnight on December 13, government forces opened fire with 152-mm artillery guns in violation of the Minsk Agreements while in the direct vicinity of the SMM’s forward patrol base in Popasnaya. It cannot be ruled out that this action was designed to provoke return fire that could threaten the observers’ safety.
SMM observers report that the fire from Popasnaya targeted Stakhanov and Pervomaisk. In addition, Ukrainian armed forces also shelled Lugansk, hitting some 20 residential buildings. We are waiting for SMM updates on the shelling of Lugansk, Stakhanov and Pervomaisk.
Kiev continues to sabotage the disengagement of forces in Stanitsa Luganskaya. During the latest meeting of the Contact Group on December 5, Ukrainian representatives failed to coordinate a new date for disengagement, while representatives of the self-defence forces said they were willing to do this on any day. However, Kiev stages provocations each time shortly before the disengagement day. This time it happened on December 7. Shooting within the disengagement zone in Petrovskoye is reported almost daily.
We expect the sides to honour their commitments regarding the exchange of prisoners precisely, without adding non-existent persons to their lists or resorting to other tricks. During the December 12 video conference of the subgroup on humanitarian issues, Kiev representatives failed to confirm the exchange list or the process of legal clearance of prisoners, and could not even provide any information regarding the timeframe for the exchange.
It was with great difficulty that the wooden cover of the damaged part of a bridge near Stanitsa Luganskaya was repaired. We are grateful for this to the SMM and everyone else who helped attained this goal. Unfortunately, Kiev continues to avoid coordinating this project under the International Committee of the Red Cross to repair the metal parts of the bridge.
The latest flare-up in Donbass has been complemented by an increasingly turbulent situation in Kiev. According to the SMM, up to 10,000 people join protest rallies to criticise the government and to demand the impeachment of the president. The SMM observed members of the Donbass punitive battalion in helmets and body armour, as well as members of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Right Sector. The Mission saw signal flares and smoke bombs, razor wire and tires. The only things missing are sandwiches from our Western partners, without whom the protest actions seem unable to gain momentum. We are concerned about the situation with Mikheil Saakashvili, who is famous for his opportunistic projects and provocations. Seeking to prevent undesirable consequences, we propose discussing the situation in Kiev in greater detail at the Permanent Council.
We urge SMM observers and those who prepare the reports to monitor the situation more closely and to provide more detailed reports outside the conflict zone.
Kiev’s forceful attempts at the Ukrainisation of the cultural, education and information space in the country are a destabilising factor. We see growing ethnic-based tension with Ukraine’s other neighbours.
The December 11 opinion of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission or VC) on the provisions of the Ukrainian Law on Education says, in part, that this law “provides no solution for languages which are not official languages of the EU, in particular the Russian language, as the most widely used language [in Ukraine] apart from the state language. The less favourable treatment of these languages is difficult to justify and therefore raises issues of discrimination.” The VC experts conclude that “the appropriate solution would certainly be to amend Article 7 and replace this provision with a more balanced and more clearly worded one.”
I would like to draw your attention to Kiev’s actions that are designed to undermine the efforts of the mechanisms that are aimed at promoting a settlement. Kiev is doing its best to destabilise the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC). Kiev has refused to approve regulations on the JCCC. In keeping with Kiev’s decision, Donetsk and Lugansk representatives, who initially worked on the Joint Centre in the government-controlled territory, have been removed from the JCCC. Attempts have been made to hinder the work of Russian officers by restricting their movement, escorting them wherever they went and even demanding that they be subjected to body searches. The new border crossing rules, which Kiev plans to introduce for Russian citizens, will prevent Russian officers from working at the JCCC.
In conclusion I would like to again draw your attention to the Minsk Agreements as the main and only basis for the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has said that these agreements are dead, while his adviser, Anton Gerashchenko, has admitted that the Ukrainian delegation deceived everyone in Minsk. We have to say that these people are telling the truth, and that the statements made here to the effect that Kiev is honouring its commitments are completely unsubstantiated. This is clear from the operations of the Contact Group, where Kiev is avoiding a direct and productive dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk, as well as in the Normandy format, where Kiev is sabotaging the efforts to draft a roadmap.