Vienna, November 16, 2017
Despite our great expectations for positive change, the crisis into which the coup d’etat in Kiev plunged Ukraine in 2014 is a long way away from being resolved. The punitive operation against the population of Donbass, which rose in defence of its values, ideals, life and property, continues.
The initiators of the conflict are well known – their representatives were on the Maidan in 2013-2014. Some of them were making impossible promises from the podium, others were giving out sandwiches, some urged the country’s legitimate leadership not to use force against the protesters, even though the radicals on the Maidan were already armed and using Molotov cocktails. Attempts to shift the responsibility for the chaos that had been unleashed on others is a well-known but futile move.
The way out of the crisis exists and it is well known. This is full compliance with the Minsk Agreements, including the key aspects of granting Donbass special status and capturing this status in the Constitution. The ungrounded claims that the conflict has been initiated and is being maintained and fomented by Russia mean that Kiev is not prepared for a settlement.
The Verkhovna Rada is discussing amendments to the draft law on “reintegration of Donbass.” The intentions of the current authorities can easily be understood by reading the content of this draft. If all the references to the Minsk Agreements are dropped from the text and replaced with language about “the aggressor country,” there is no doubt that Kiev is not seeking a peaceful settlement. Over the weekend, the head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, Oleksandr Turchynov, who initiated the punitive operation in the east of the country, declared that after the adoption of the draft law any cooperation with Russia would be regarded as high treason. There are calls for complicating and even severing all links between the peoples of the two countries. This is the real aim of the current authorities, for which they are prepared to make the population of Ukraine pay any price.
The people of Ukraine are denied access to anything but pro-government information. The media space has been cleared to facilitate the task of building up an atmosphere of intolerance: broadcasting in Russian has been limited and the work of Internet resources has been blocked. Journalists who express an alternative point of view are expelled from the country. The latest such incident occurred on November 7, when a Russian journalist, Zakhar Vinogradov, was taken off the Moscow-Odessa train. On November 1 in Kharkov, a human rights and anti-corruption activist was beaten up.
The Kiev authorities are forcibly erasing the historical past of their country by playing up to radical nationalists. The Verkhovna Rada recently passed amendments to the law On the Status of Veterans, which were initiated by Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladimir Groisman and designed to erase every reference to the Great Patriotic War and replace it with the words “The Second World War.” Veterans of the Great Patriotic War have been equated to the participants in the Maidan, a comparison which is an insult to the memory of those who died defending their Motherland, and disrespectful both to those who are still alive and to their own history.
Encouraged by the authorities, radical nationalists and Neo-Nazis are conducting active propaganda not only in Ukraine, but also in neighbouring states. According to the German magazine Der Spiegel of November 11, Ukrainian nationalists from the so-called volunteer battalion Azov are spreading Neo-Nazi and radical ideas among European youth and recruiting mercenaries. In July, they came to a festival in Temar, Germany, where they distributed leaflets with calls “to save Europe from extinction” and “join the ranks of the best.” Several people were recruited. Over the past three years, Azov propagandists managed to increase the battalion’s strength by three times, from 850 to 2,500.
Radicals get encouragement not only from Kiev. The notorious extremist Mirotvorets (Peacemaker) website, which has become a platform for instigating outrages, including those directed against journalists, is now based on US territory.
Ukrainian radicals have been implicated in murders and marauding on the line of contact and unlawful actions outside the conflict zone, while continuing to foment ethnic discord. On November 13 in the city of Beregovo, Transcarpathian Region, Neo-Nazis from the Freedom Party and members of the Sich Battalion tore down the Hungarian flag from the city hall building and tried to burn it under the slogan “down with Hungarian chauvinism.” The head of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), First Deputy Head of the Ukrainian State Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting, Bohdan Chervak, thus reacted to the reports about some Ukrainians being denied entry into Poland: “In the past, the Poles often showed themselves to be chauvinists, but it did not help them. On the contrary, the OUN, and later the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) cut the Poles down to size.... There will be no concessions on issues of historical memory, including with regard to OUN, UPA and the Galitchina Division. Russia has broken its teeth, and so will Poland.”
That Kiev is unable to condemn war criminals was highlighted by the release from custody of Ukrainian border guard Sergey Kolmogorov, who killed a woman on a checkpoint near Mariupol while on duty in September 2014.
In line with this policy, Ukrainian security and military forces are provoking tensions on the line of contact, including on the eve of important international events and meetings of the Contact Group in Minsk. For example, according to a statement made by Martin Sajdik, there were over 2,000 ceasefire violations in a single day on November 15. Last week, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) established beyond a doubt that the reservoir at the Verkhnekalmiusskaya Filtering Station and residential neighbourhoods in Donetsk were damaged by massive shelling from territories controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, thus putting 90,000 civilians on the brink of a humanitarian disaster. And the Ukrainian Army continues its bombardments. This week, houses in Kominternovo and Sakhanka were damaged. In violation of the Package of Measures, military equipment is still being deployed. Last week, monitors detected 20 artillery systemsin Aleksandropol and Severodonetsk and an anti-aircraft missile systemin Orlovka.
At the last meeting of the Contact Group, the sides reiterated their commitment to the ceasefire. We expect that this time around, Kiev will manage to ensure that the units it controls comply with the ceasefire regime and will at long last issue orders to that effect, as the self-defence forces in Donbass have done long ago.
We also expect that Kiev will stop sabotaging the disengagement of forces in Stanitsa-Luganskaya. On November 6, an SMM drone detected “trenches used by the Ukrainian armed forces” there.
In this room, we hear allegations that the SMM has problems with monitoring only on the territory not controlled by the government. However, over the past three months most cases involving the restricted free movement of monitors occurred on the territory controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. This was confirmed by the deputy head of the SMM, Alexander Hug, at a briefing on November 13. During the past week, the security forces denied access to SMM monitors 23 times under the pretext of a mine threat. On five occasions, monitors were denied access to Ukrainian arms storage facilities.
As for attempts to garble statistics and divide restrictions of access into “active” and “passive,” we see these as attempts to play up to one side in the conflict, which is a violation of the principles of objectivity and impartiality.
The same applies to the labouring of the topic of border access for the monitors. The SMM visits unobstructed the checkpoints controlled by the self-defence forces, doing this regularly, in fact every day. They never once registered movement of military equipment across the border, and the situation there is calm. Consequently, it would not be expedient to deploy monitors on the border permanently.
The facts and incidents, as well as human rights violations that merit coverage as security threats take place mainly on the line of contact. The SMM has a duty to inform the public about the situation there in accordance with their mandate.
We have to remind you once again that the Mission’s mandate includes monitoring and reporting human rights violations in Ukraine, including the rights of ethnic minorities. These violations include the restriction of people’s access to information and education in their native language, infringement on the rights of ethnic minorities, restrictions of freedom of expression, harassment of journalists, and the spread of radicalism, extremism and nationalism.
In conclusion, I would like to repeat that the only way to peace lies through full compliance with the Minsk Package of Measures. Issues of security should be considered in parallel with the issues of political settlement. We hope also to see progress in the matter of prisoner exchanges and that this time Kiev will not erect artificial barriers.