Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich’s remarks at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, Vienna, June 1, 2017
The situation in Ukraine and the need to fulfil the Minsk Agreements
I would like to begin by reminding you that today is International Children’s Day. Too many children have been killed or injured during Kiev’s punitive operation against Donbass. Even one life lost is one too many. Over the past three years, 151 children have been killed by Ukrainian shells, mines and bombs. It is our great hope that the agreement on a ceasefire along the contact line will be respected starting today, and that any attempts to violate it will be cut short. The Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) is to monitor compliance with this agreement. We also hope that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine will contribute to the best of its ability.
The situation in Ukraine is becoming increasingly alarming. Kiev issues statements condemning the totalitarian practices of the 20th century, but its actions amount to the most serious infringement on the people’s rights and freedoms in the past decades. It has taken a hard line on dissent and is demonising everything related to the Russian language and the common history of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples.
Despite public discontent and media protests, on May 26 Verkhovna Rada Speaker Andrey Paruby signed a law on broadcasting quotas in Russian, which has seriously restricted the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine to receive information in their native tongue and to participate in political and social events. Russian internet sources and software have been banned. Special services are conducting searches in the Yandex office. On May 23, First Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Irina Gerashchenko proposed blocking the Donetsk and Lugansk news websites. We expect to see language quotas on print media, a ban on satellite dishes and the construction of the sadly remembered towers to jam radio and television broadcasts.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is being persecuted and attempts have been made to seize church property.
Kiev is seriously considering the idea of complementing this new “iron curtain” with a requirement that Ukrainians declare their relatives in Russia. This is very much in the style of the Soviet era, which Kiev has denounced.
We tried to attract international attention to the problem of neo-Nazism in Ukraine long before the Maidan protests. Support for aggressive nationalism is a major element of Kiev’s state policy. I will provide just one example of the numerous facts I could cite. Vladimir Vyatrovich, Director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance (take note of the existence of this organisation), said in an interview to the Strana (Country) online source on May 18 that the symbols of the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, which Ukrainian neo-Nazis use, are not subject to the Ukrainian law On the Condemnation of the Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) Regimes in Ukraine and the Prohibition of Propaganda of Their Symbols
Reports by international organisations, including the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, include numerous facts of mass crimes against innocent civilians committed by nationalist battalions. On May 28, Ukrainian Military Prosecutor Anatoly Matios said, commenting on the arrest of two Azov Regiment soldiers on charges of murder, that “the individuals concerned, who act as real heroes by day, suffer from psychological stress and inability to adequately assess the situation at night.” A campaign has been initiated in Ukraine to “forgive and forget” the crimes committed by these so-called heroes. Nationalists have been known to seize local administrations as part of this campaign, as it happened in Lvov. The Azov Regiment commander has promised to hold such campaigns across Ukraine.
The failure of some of our OSCE colleagues, who usually act promptly in other cases, to provide a clear reaction to this is clear evidence of the double standards that have taken deep root in their political mentality.
Regrettably, Kiev continues a deliberate policy to eradicate an entire set of cultural and historical values in Ukrainian society and to suppress the rights of those who are protecting these values. The Maidan protests in Kiev did not give rise to this policy but rather gave vent and power to its most aggressive proponents.
These issues are directly connected to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. The influence of the nationalists and the party of war on the Kiev government is one of the main obstacles that hinder the implementation of Donbass residents’ rights. Tensions at the contact line are being used to justify Kiev’s inability to honour its commitments under the Minsk Package of Measures.
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has reported a potential escalation of tensions at the contact line. Between May 26 and 28, the OSCE camera in Shirokino recorded 1,166 rounds fired from the government-controlled area at the positions of the self-defence forces and 4.5 times fewer rounds fired in the opposite direction.
Observers report almost every day the consequences of indiscriminate shelling at the residential areas controlled by the self-defence forces. Here is what they have recorded: On May 23, four residential properties were damaged in Dokuchayevsk by rounds fired from a west-south-westerly direction, that is, from the government-controlled positions. The update issued on May 24 mentions a man who had been injured next to his house in DPR-controlled Yakovlevka. On May 25, SMM observers recorded that two women were injured following grenade launcher fire at a bus station in the Trudovsky District of Donetsk (May 20 and 24) and another woman sustained shrapnel injuries in Kominternovo (on the night of May 18-19). On May 27, SMM observers reported an injured woman and damaged house in Golmovskoye and an injured man at a bus stop in the Petrovsky District of Donetsk. On May 29, the update mentions damage to a house caused by an artillery round fired from a south-westerly direction, that is, the government-controlled positions, and shrapnel damage to a gas pipe in Kominternovo.
I would like my colleagues to take note of the fact that the damaged districts of Donetsk, where three persons have been injured, are located on the contact line across from the government-controlled Krasnogorovka situated 21 km south-west of Donetsk.
The concentration of weaponry immediately beyond the withdrawal line is evidence of the Ukrainian Armed Force’s readiness to launch large-scale military operations any day. In its weekly update dated May 24, the SMM warned about the danger of keeping combat-ready weapons near the so-called security zone. According to its reports of May 22 to 29, the Ukrainian Armed Forces deployed over 70 military vehicles at two hours’ distance from the contact line, including 19 self-propelled howitzers (SPG) in Liman, 16 SPGs and anti-aircraft missile systems in Zolotarevka, 12 SPGs in Rubezhnoye, five tanks in Soledar, two tanks in Berestovo, one tank in Yakovlevka, one anti-aircraft missile system each in Podgornoye and Predtechino, one tank in Artyomovsk and a grenade launcher in Dmitrovka.
Contrary to the Contact Group’s decision on mine clearing taken on March 2, 2016 and the May 5, 2017 letter by OSCE SMM Chief Monitor Ertugrul Apakan, the Ukrainian military continue to lay mines in Donbass. On May 24, SMM observers saw three Ukrainian military trucks with approximately 50 anti-tank mines each towing one trailer mine layer (PMZ-4) in Severodonetsk. Later the same day, they saw two Ukrainian military trucks with “new” anti-tank mines in Artyomovsk, which is less than 30 km from the contact line. On the other side of the contact line, the SMM reported mine sweeping operations in Nikishino.
Kiev yet again prevented the disengagement of forces in Stanitsa Luganskaya. SMM observers reported the readiness of the self-defence forces to pull back and the lack of any response on the part of the Ukrainian military.
On May 30, the deputy foreign ministers of the Normandy Four met in Berlin to further discuss a resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. We believe that the meeting was held in a largely constructive atmosphere and will promote the work of the Contact Group, which is playing the key role in the implementation of the Package of Measures for a peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian conflict through a direct dialogue between the Ukrainian parties involved. There is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements. Kiev’s attempts to evade their implementation by changing the formats and by involving other organisations in the settlement process are counterproductive.
Kiev’s attempts to link progress on political settlement issues with the situation on the security track, which it has repeatedly undermined, are unacceptable. I would like to remind you that the issue concerns the provision of a special status to certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions and formalising this in the Ukrainian Constitution, an amnesty, the lifting of border control on the contact line, the lifting of the economic blockade, a social and economic rehabilitation of the region, and redoubled efforts to release and exchange all hostages and unlawfully detained persons based on the “all for all” principle.
The blockade of the region, which is leading to a humanitarian catastrophe, must be lifted without delay. This especially concerns water supply and social benefit payments to the local population. Kiev should be asked what it wants: to return the Donbass residents to Ukraine or to clear the territory from them.