Remarks by Andrey Rudenko, Director of the Foreign Ministry’s Second CIS Department, at the Special Session on ensuring security and stability in the OSCE region in light of developments with respect to Ukraine at the OSCE Annual Security Review Conference, Vienna, June 27, 2017
I would like to join our colleagues in expressing condolences to the family of Joseph Stone. His death is a heavy loss for his family and friends and a severe blow to the peace-making efforts of the Special Monitoring Mission and the OSCE. We hope the truth in this case will be established soon and those responsible will be held accountable.
The internal Ukrainian crisis that began more than three years ago was provoked by contradictions that had accumulated in the European security system after the Cold War. The Ukrainian tragedy is the result of Western attempts to retain their tottering global leadership and to dominate the post-Soviet geopolitical space, including through direct interference in the internal developments of the emergent states. The foreign-inspired state coup in Ukraine has split the nation and pushed the country into the abyss of permanent instability and a fratricidal war. This has created a serious source of tension in Europe and buried the dreams and hopes for a common European home. The litany of Russia’s responsibility for this tragedy is nothing more than cheap propaganda and an attempt to avoid responsibility. We know very well now how it began, who paid whom, who sent weapons to Ukraine and, as they say in Ukraine, who waged an all-out hybrid war.
Nobody in Russia, Ukraine or Europe needs this conflict, which has resulted in huge human and material losses. But some forces are stoking instability in Ukraine in a bid to attain their geopolitical goals – to reinforce their waning influence and beef up their military presence in Europe, to maintain NATO’s decreasing relevance, and ultimately, to uphold their economic interests, including their energy interests. An additional goal is to settle their internal political problems.
Despite Kiev’s anti-Russia hysterics, hostility and efforts to sever all relations with Russia and root out the memory of our shared history, we still view Ukraine as a close neighbour with family ties to Russia. To us, Ukraine is a country with which we continue to develop trade and from which millions of ordinary people go to Russia in search of a living. Russia probably feels the consequences of the internal Ukrainian crisis better than anyone else, partly because it has accepted over a million Ukrainian refugees, which is more than any other country has done. This is why we are advocating the early restoration of peace and stability in Ukraine – and hence on our borders – and also the resumption of pragmatic and mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries.
Despite this, we have attained the main goal in the two years since the signing of the Minsk Package of Measures – we have stopped an all-out war in Donbass. Permanent channels of communication between the conflicting parties have been created, including the Trilateral Contact Group where a permanent dialogue is maintained between Donbass and Kiev, even though it is not as productive as we would like. Intensive contact is also maintained at different levels within the Normandy format.
Armed clashes have not been stopped but they are localised. The line of contact has not changed on the whole. Periods of aggravation alternate with relative lulls, but regrettably, the latter cannot yet be turned into a complete and stable ceasefire. In general, in the opinion of the OSCE SMM, the sides are capable of observing a ceasefire. They can withdraw heavy weapons and agree on areas of disengagement of forces. The so-called bread truce – for the period of harvesting – was due to come in force on June 24. It should be followed by a truce linked with the start of the academic year in schools. We hope it will not suffer the same fate as the previous ceasefires.
There is some progress on the exchange of prisoners. Some water supply facilities have been restored. We credit the OSCE for this, in particular, the SMM and its representatives in the Contact Group and the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination.
At the same time, there has been no success in disengaging forces and weapons to agreed-upon safe distances, which is a key condition for a stable ceasefire. The number of casualties, including civilian losses, is growing on both sides primarily due to lack of trust between them. It can only be restored politically, by granting Donbass constitutional political guarantees – the entry into force of laws on special status and amnesty and the holding of local elections under the supervision of ODIHR. This is the core of the Minsk Package of Measures.
We are convinced that persisting tensions along the line of contact are caused by Kiev’s unwillingness to search for solutions in Minsk and treat Donbass representatives as equal participants in the talks. The protracted impasse in the Contact Group’s political subgroup and the demonstrative reluctance of the Ukrainian negotiators to discuss key issues with representatives of individual regions is the main obstacle in the way of a full settlement.
Summits of the Normandy Four in Paris and Berlin in 2015 and 2016 produced agreements on synchronising political and military steps. This concept was laid in the foundation of the future roadmap that should structure and specify the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Let me emphasise that it is necessary to concretise the Minsk decisions, not emasculate them or change their essence. The work on the roadmap in the Normandy format is an uphill fight, primarily because of Ukraine’s attempts to revise the terms of the Minsk agreements. Yet this work continues despite all difficulties.
Statements made by Kiev and some other capitals from time to time about the inadequacy of the Minsk agreements and the need to replace them with other formulas do not facilitate the search for solutions. We are absolutely convinced that today there is no alternative to the Minsk Package of Measures. All talks about their irrelevance and possible new settlement formats are harming the negotiating process by shifting attention from the substance of the talks to secondary issues.
In this context we are closely following Ukraine’s discussions on the new draft law on the reintegration of Donbass. We are concerned that the new law may contradict the Minsk agreements and cast doubts on the holding of local elections in Donbass and the enactment of laws on special status and amnesty. We are also worried that the discussion of the new initiative is accompanied by increasingly bellicose rhetoric and threats to use force, including the example of Yugoslavia. If this happens, the prospects for peace in the south-east will become remote for a long time to come.
Progress towards a settlement is hindered by the overall instability in Ukraine, the exploitation of the Donbass issue in political infighting, the growing influence of radical and extremist forces and the authorities’ open flirtation with them. Extremists are increasingly often using weapons – the flow of which the authorities are unable to control – in order to settle conflicts. Moreover, the authorities often play up to the radicals in the hope of seizing the initiative from them or winning their support. A case in point is March 2017, when President Poroshenko issued an executive order to formalise and toughen the socioeconomic and transport blockade of certain Donbass areas, which pushed them to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. By doing this, Kiev has violated Paragraph 8 of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements, which provides for “full resumption of socioeconomic ties, including social transfers.” Germany and France’s promise to resume mobile banking services for the population in the concerned regions failed to materialise.
The situation may be further complicated as the next election cycle is approaching in Ukraine, especially considering the people’s economic hardships. Kiev’s ill-considered and politically motivated actions are only compounding its economic problems. No one has damaged the Ukrainian economy more than the country’s authorities, which have stripped the national budget of billions in revenue because of the aforementioned blockade, not to mention the severed cooperation with Russia, the efforts to squeeze Russian business out and the persecution of the Russian banks’ subsidiaries in Ukraine, who accounted for 15 per cent of Ukraine’s banking sector in aggregate. In short, Kiev is the author of its own misfortune.
The path to peace lies through the rapid implementation of the Minsk Agreements in full and in accordance with the specified sequence of their implementation. If Kiev musters the political will and shows a real desire to restore peace in Donbass, and if Kiev’s Western friends provide an impetus for this, the implementation of the 2015 Minsk Agreements and subsequently a peaceful reintegration of the region will be easy.
I would like to express special thanks to the SMM leaders and observers, who are working in very difficult and dangerous conditions in Ukraine. We strongly condemn the attempts to obstruct the observers’ work by intimidation and threats, whoever makes them, and to limit their freedom of movement. At the same time, we have taken note of the fact that the SMM has reduced its patrolling of the government-held areas after an SMM vehicle was damaged in an explosion because there are fewer hard surface roads there. In fact, there are many areas there where SMM observers are not allowed to enter.
We urge the SMM leaders and observers to work more closely with Donetsk and Lugansk representatives, to publish honest reports and statistics and to maintain the high standards of objectivity and impartiality stipulated in their mandate.