Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich's remarks at the OSCE Permanent Council in response to reports by SMM Chief Monitor Ertugrul Apakan and Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Contact Group Martin Sajdik, Vienna, September 28, 2017
We welcome the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Contact Group, Martin Sajdik, and the Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Ertugrul Apakan, and thank them for their work on a challenging issue.
Unfortunately, and despite your efforts, the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, the only possible solution to the Ukraine issue, remains deadlocked. Kiev is trying to distort the content and sequence of the agreed upon measures, and make these agreements meaningless.
Despite the so-called “school truce,” the Ukrainian forces, including the Ukrainian Armed Forces, as well as the so-called volunteers continue to shell communities and infrastructure in Donbass. The indiscriminate use of mortars and other types of prohibited weapons continue to result in civilian casualties. In September alone, according to SMM data, three civilians were wounded in Yasinovataya, Donetsk and Trudovskikh.
The SMM 2016 report on casualties in eastern Ukraine shows that most casualties resulted from the shelling of territories under militia control. In 2016, the Ukrainian armed forces killed 45 and wounded 197 civilians in specific areas of the Donetsk Region, and also killed 12 and wounded 27 civilians in specific areas of the Lugansk Region. Donetsk and its outskirts were home to 156 of these victims. This region became a hotspot when the Ukrainian Armed Forces took the Avdeevskaya industrial zone in February 2016. Tension near checkpoints along the line of contact, including in its Berezovoye-Yelenovka section, escalated due to the creeping offensive by Kiev forces. On April 27, 2016, four civilians were killed and five wounded in Yelenovka when the Ukrainian Armed Forces shelled the area. A similar escalation was reported by the monitors after the Ukrainian Armed Forces advanced their positions near Novoaleksandrovka and Mayorsk.
We noted that Ertugrul Apakan’s report mentions cases when Ukrainian forces detained parents with children on the line of contact, preventing them from returning to territories controlled by the militia. We believe this to be a flagrant violation of their rights.
Kiev is obviously not interested in de-escalation on the contact line. It is evading its disengagement commitment at Stanitsa Luganskaya and is unwilling to coordinate new de-escalation areas. OSCE observers have not reported any ceasefire violations in the Stanitsa Luganskaya disengagement area since August 22. This is five weeks. Verified ceasefire periods that lasted seven days have been reported by the SMM 11 times. The self-defence forces are ready for disengagement. However, Kiev is openly sabotaging the process.
Ukrainian snipers have become more active on the contact line, and sabotage groups regularly enter the areas that are controlled by the self-defence forces.
It turns out that these tactics can also have a negative impact on the SMM. A report prepared for the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission on the tragic case of an SMM armoured vehicle being hit by an explosion indicated that the mine was unlikely to have been placed by the self-defence forces. Officials from the certain districts in the Lugansk Region did not know that there were two other unexploded mines on that road. The self-defence forces provided constructive assistance to the Independent Forensic Investigation (IFI) team, unlike the Ukrainian forces. To this day, Kiev has not provided the full video of the explosion that was taken from government-controlled territory. The camera provided a good approximation, and it was turned manually to follow the movement of the SMM patrol. There are no reasonable grounds to doubt the involvement of Ukrainian subversives in this explosion. We hope that those guilty will be brought to account.
We hope that restrictions on SMM patrols on the contact line will be lifted soon and that the mine clearing efforts will become more active. Kiev is restricting the freedom of SMM movement, citing the mine hazard. Between September 18 and 24, observers failed to move by the planned route 22 times because of mine hazard signs, which had been placed on government-controlled territory and which intimidate the observers, as do threats or shooting into the air. These restrictions are not being considered, and for no real reason, in the statistical data issued to the media. When the SMM says it was prevented from accessing something “due to the possible presence of mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO),” this phrase amounts to failure to report the overwhelming majority of violations on government-controlled territory.
However, there have been cases of direct threats to SMM observers. On September 17, border guards from a checkpoint west of government-controlled Ataman in the Kherson Region released dogs three times, preventing the SMM patrol from approaching. On September 20, the SMM was ordered to disclose the nationalities of its patrol members before visiting a military compound in a government-controlled area. We condemn such cases, as well as any restrictions by any party on the freedom of movement for SMM observers.
We have taken note of the appearance of one more stretch of the border that is not controlled by the government, the Shegini checkpoint, through which Mikheil Saakashvili, the “man without a passport,” entered Ukraine. We consider it notable that the SMM attempted to monitor that event.
We believe that more respectful cooperation with the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) must be ensured to enhance the SMM’s effectiveness. The mission of the JCCC and the SMM is to help ease tensions and promote peace, stability and security. Regrettably, Kiev’s demand that the representatives of the self-defence forces be excluded from the JCCC has seriously complicated the Joint Centre’s operation. We caution the SMM leadership against trying to place the blame for the lack of communication with the conflicting parties on the JCCC.
A lasting settlement of the internal Ukrainian conflict is only possible through direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk, parallel movement towards security and a political settlement, as well as effective humanitarian and economic measures. The sequence of steps is clearly set out in the Minsk Package of Measures, which was approved in UN Security Council Resolution 2202.
A ceasefire in the conflict zone is possible. We fully agree with the SMM on this score. This goal can be attained through disengagement and weapons withdrawal, as well as by precluding the uncontrolled operation of volunteer battalions. After these goals are attained, we should think about measures for stabilising the situation and maintaining the ceasefire. This is why the main efforts must be focused on the contact line.
We want to point out that a political settlement must precede the reinstatement of full government control over the border. The matter of border control must not be raised until Kiev adopts a law on the special status of Donbass and implements constitutional reform to formalise this status. Only full implementation of the Minsk Agreements will allow Kiev to preserve the territorial integrity of the country. Only the Minsk Agreements are keeping certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions within Ukraine. We would like to remind everyone that the reinstatement of full control of the state border by the government of Ukraine throughout the conflict area must begin on day 1 after the local elections and end after the comprehensive political settlement (Clause 9 of the Package of Measures).
Kiev has not taken any efforts so far to launch a political settlement. The extension of the law on the special status of Donbass is hanging in the air. Refusal to take this mandatory step and the intention to replace this law with a new bill that contradicts the provisions of the Minsk Package may critically complicate the settlement. Refusal by the Ukrainian negotiators in the Contact Group to formalise the Steinmeier Formula, which has been coordinated by the Normandy Format countries and which links local elections and the enforcement of the law on the special status of Donbass, is proof of the lack of political will in Kiev to resolve the conflict by peaceful means.
Regarding the humanitarian aspects, we welcome the transfer of the group of people, who were detained in certain areas of the Donetsk Region and who have been proved to have no connection to the conflict, to the government controlled territory. We hope that this transfer will be followed by similar actions by the Lugansk authorities, as well as by Kiev’s decision to release detained persons to certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
We again point to the importance of closely monitoring the situation in the other regions of Ukraine. The SMM has recently paid more attention to this task.
Kiev’s aggressive actions regarding the Russian language and culture and attempts to turn this cultural and historical space over to the Ukrainian nationalists are matters of special concern. Kiev’s actions in this sphere are actually recreating the conditions that provoked the Ukrainian conflict. The Law on Education, which the Ukrainian president signed, not only violates universally recognised minority rights but also contradicts the Minsk Package of Measures.
The unfriendly measures to ban the Russian Cultural Centre in Ukraine, which, among other things, is aimed at encouraging cultural and youth exchanges between the two countries, are dangerous as well.
Let me remind you that it was the attacks on the Russian language in Ukraine that were the first steps taken by those who seized power in Kiev in the coup in February 2014. This was what people in Crimea and Donbass feared and they had good reason for this.
We cannot disregard the tragic events in Odessa on May 2, 2014. Kiev has had more than three years to conduct a professional and unbiased investigation. But nothing has come of it. Nineteen people served long detention terms for having come out against the coup. The Chernomorsk city court finally had to drop the charges against them. But the repeated detention in court of two individuals acquitted in this case – Russian citizen Yevgeny Mefedov and Ukrainian citizen Sergey Dolzhenkov, against whom trumped-up charges had been filed – is a mockery of justice. Actually, they are still political prisoners in Ukraine who should be released immediately.
But the real culprits are avoiding punishment to this day.
In this connection, we think it necessary to carry out an independent international investigation into the May 2, 2014 events in Odessa. Ukraine has proven unable to do this.
It will be recalled that the “Maidan snipers’ case” remains unresolved as well.
We expect a fitting response to this not only from the SMM but also from OSCE institutions.
Let me thank once again Ambassador Martin Sajdik and Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan and convey words of gratitude and support to all SMM monitors.