Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich’s remarks at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, Vienna, April 5, 2017
The situation in Ukraine
and the operation of the OSCE SMM
We are grateful to Alexander Marschik, Political Director of the Foreign Ministry of Austria, OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office to the Trilateral Contact Group Martin Sajdik, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission Ertugrul Apakan and Patrick Vial, Director of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for Europe and Central Asia, for their assessments of the situation in eastern Ukraine.
The internal Ukrainian conflict can only be settled through a direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk and the full implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures, to which there is no alternative.
The situation in Donbass started improving on April 1 following the decisions taken by the Contact Group on March 29. Regrettably, there have been large-scale ceasefire violations in the past few days. The parties have only provided partial information about their weapons deployed near the line of contact. More efforts must be taken to bring about a lasting ceasefire, ensure weapons withdrawal and rule out even the possibility of resumed shelling of residential areas and infrastructure.
Although the number of ceasefire violations has decreased significantly, the SMM reports shootouts and artillery duels. On the night of April 1-2, cameras in Shirokino and Avdeyevka recorded the use of weapons on both sides following shooting from west/northwest to east/southeast. This means that the Ukrainian Armed Forces were the first to open fire.
As of April 2, the Ukrainian forces have not withdrawn 67 large-calibre artillery guns from the line of contact. These weapons were sighted in Artyomovsk, Zhelannoye, Konstantinovka, Kulikovskoye and Tarasovka, which is a violation of the Minsk Package of Measures.
Shooting was recorded in Luganskaya within the area where the disengagement of forces is scheduled for April 6. On March 29, a camera in Luganskaya recorded a shot fired from north to south, that is, from the positions of the Ukrainian forces at the area controlled by the self-defence forces, which led to a shootout.
Increased attention has been given of late to incidents involving SMM observers. The use of small arms has been recorded near the SMM patrols, and SMM observers have come under mortar fire. Kiev regularly accuses SMM observers of being Russian spies. The safety of observers is a serious matter. We urge the parties to respect them. There are 40 Russians at the SMM, who are working in difficult conditions side by side with their colleagues from other OSCE countries.
The SMM’s opportunities are not limitless, and the observers physically cannot record each and every use of fire. Nevertheless, the SMM must work in an objective and unbiased manner, monitoring both sides equally closely. There must be no pressure from the host country.
It is important to enhance the level of Donbass public trust for the SMM. The observers should demonstrate the results of their work more actively, provide a more detailed coverage of the issues that are of the utmost concern for the local population, and hold briefings more often not just in Kiev but also in Donetsk and Lugansk. The public is waiting for a consolidated report on the consequences of shooting at populated areas in Donbass since the beginning of the conflict. Public trust for the SMM depends on this.
In this context, we express serious concern over the reported sightings of false SMM observers in the Kiev-controlled Donbass districts. A white car with a logo imitating the OSCE SMM logo was seen in the government-controlled areas near Avdeyevka on March 4 and 31. This is much more damaging to the SMM’s image and safety than newspaper or online reports. How can the people be sure that there are SMM observers and not Ukrainian military in the white car?
We are convinced that the SMM’s efficiency can be enhanced, without affecting the observers’ safety, through close cooperation with the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC). For its part, the JCCC should bring Donetsk and Lugansk representatives back into its team. Failure to do this clearly points to Kiev’s unwillingness to create an effective system for verifying compliance with the agreements in the contact zone.
The priority should be given to monitoring developments along the contact line, including the ceasefire, the absence of the prohibited weapons in the area and withdrawal or disengagement of forces and weapons. The same concerns the use of technical equipment for monitoring purposes.
The situation in eastern Ukraine directly depends on developments in other parts of the country and the internal political situation. Anarchy and chieftain rule are gaining momentum in Ukraine, to quote President Poroshenko, and nationalist radicals are becoming uncontrollable. Yielding to the radicals’ pressure, the Kiev government has approved the trade and transport blockage of Donbass. The Verkhovna Rada is discussing unconstitutional draft laws that infringe on the language rights of Russian speakers and other ethnic minorities in Ukraine. De-Russification has become a government policy. The freedom of the media is being infringed upon. Churches, monuments and graves have been desecrated, and foreign diplomatic missions have been attacked.
All of the above falls within the SMM’s authority and hence should be given close attention by the SMM. In order to preclude any rumour and speculation about the alleged distortion of facts, we expect the SMM to provide detailed reports, including themed ones, on these issues. The SMM has the necessary personnel for this. Regrettably, a large amount of information provided by observers is not included in the reports. We urge the SMM and the OSCE Secretariat to share the information they have with the member states.
We welcome the revitalisation of the Contact Group and the results of the March 29 meeting. We hope that this will create conditions for transitioning from armed confrontation to a political settlement and implementation of the relevant provisions of the Minsk Package. Donbass residents must have the legal and material guarantees of respect for their rights. The law on the special status must be adopted and formalised in the Ukrainian Constitution. There must be local elections and guarantees of non-prosecution for the persons involved in the events that have taken place in eastern Ukraine. The reintegration of Donbass into Ukraine’s economic and legal space depends on the restoration of the cultural, economic and financial ties, which Kiev has severed. This goal can be achieved by lifting the blockade and the border-crossing regime at the contact line.
Work in the political subgroup remains stalled. Ukraine is not even willing to put the Steinmeier Formula on paper. This formula provides for a connection between local elections and the enforcement of the law on the special status for Donbass. We expect the OSCE member states to give a political signal on the importance of full implementation of the Minsk Package.
The punitive operation in eastern Ukraine, which began three years ago, has claimed numerous lives, destroyed cities and brought suffering to the local population. Many people have fled from their homes to other countries, including Russia. The situation has been further aggravated by Kiev’s refusal to pay pensions and social benefits to Donbass residents, the establishment of the border crossing regime at the contact line and the formalisation of the trade and transport blockade launched by the nationalist forces. Kiev’s tactic is aimed at the socioeconomic suppression of the defiant population. This tactic also includes the regular shelling of the Donetsk water treatment plant and water shortages in the Lugansk Region.
We insist that the population must have access to humanitarian aid. This goal could be promoted by a closer interaction of the concerned humanitarian organisations with the Donetsk and Lugansk authorities. Practice has shown that this is possible if humanitarian assistance is provided regardless of political considerations.
The situation of the people, who have suffered tremendously from this conflict, can be primarily improved by the cessation of hostilities and strikes on residential areas and infrastructure, the withdrawal of heavy weaponry and the lifting of all restrictions on crossing the contact line, in addition to opening more border checkpoints and lifting of the trade and transport blockades. This is what we must apply our efforts to.
Thank you for your attention.