Russian Permanent Representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich’s statement at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on the situation in Ukraine and the need to comply with the Minsk Agreements, Vienna, November 21, 2019
Six years ago, crude Western interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine against the backdrop of the Maidan protests in Kiev led to a coup and, as a result, to the armed confrontation in Donbass.
The crisis in eastern Ukraine is still far from settled. The Minsk Package of Measures of February 12, 2015, approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2202 and the Normandy four leaders remains the foundation for settlement and has no viable alternative. It provides for the commitments of the three parties, namely Kiev, Lugansk and Donetsk, to take reciprocal steps in politics and security, as well as in the humanitarian and socio-economic areas. On the eve of the Normandy Four leaders’ meeting scheduled for December 9, implementation cannot be called satisfactory. In reading the text of this document, we see that, regrettably, none of the provisions has been fully carried out so far.
The situation on the political track for settlement is very complicated. There was hope for progress when Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk coordinated their positions in the Contact Group on the Steinmeier Formula on the enactment of the law on the special status of Donbass. Yet, the term for which this law was extended will expire in a little over a month, on December 31. This law has never entered into force. Kiev has not made up its mind regarding it to this day and is trying to shift responsibility for fulfilling its political commitments to the Normandy group. A search for a way to provide Donbass with a law on special status must be conducted with consideration for the opinion of its representatives in the Contact Group. It is important to remember the need to reflect the changes on Donbass’ special status in the Ukrainian Constitution in line with the instructions of the Package of Measures (item 11) and to enact the law on amnesty (item 5). Kiev’s continuous appeals to embark on all but total lustration in Donbass and to bar from the region’s political future those with whom Kiev is de facto in contact, including in Minsk, are not conducive to progress in settling the crisis.
According to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), the Package of Measures continues to be violated every day, starting with the first item on a ceasefire. A ceasefire has been announced about a dozen times since the signing of the document several years ago, but has never been fully observed. “Complete silence” has not been established despite the agreement of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk to resume the ceasefire for an indefinite period on July 21. From the beginning of November alone, the SMM registered over 16,000 ceasefire violations. The local people continue to suffer. A resident of the Petrosky District in Donetsk was wounded by shelling on November 14. On November 17, the SMM recorded how three Ukrainian servicemen shelled a residential suburb in the Donetsk village of Staromikhailovka from a grenade launcher. In all, since the beginning of the truce, 17 people have been injured in Donbas and three on the territories controlled by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Violations of the agreement to withdraw combat hardware from the line of contact are still occurring. In the past week, the SMM found no combat hardware in the storage areas in Ukraine controlled territory, where it was supposed to be after withdrawal from the disengagement line. There were seven times more violations of missing hardware on Ukrainian controlled territory than in Donbass. Ukrainian combat hardware, including large-calibre heavy artillery, continues to be brought in by rail. On November 14, the SMM identified six 2S7 Pion heavy 203mm caliber self-propelled howitzers at the Pokrovsk station (formerly Krasnoarmeisk) in the Donetsk Region. These incidents are not conducive to easing tensions.
Despite some progress in the disengagement of forces and weapons in Zolotoye and Petrovskoye, the SMM recorded shelling in the 5-km zones around these places. The worst situation is near Zolotoye where armed radical nationalists tried to prevent the disengagement of forces and weapons of Ukraine’s Armed Forces some time before.
In the past week alone, 229 violations related to the use of firearms and other weapons were recorded near Zolotoye. To reduce tensions further it is necessary to complete the full demilitarisation of the disengagement sections based on the deadlines determined by the Contact Group and to step up work on coordinating new disengagement sections. Kiev, which has finally started removing its own violations of the Framework Disengagement Agreement, must show political will and resolve in order to make disengagement eventually possible along the entire contact line.
Of all aspects of the settlement, Kiev artificially overemphasises the final aspect which involves border control in Donbass. They are trying to make it a starting point for any progress in implementing the Minsk Agreements. Meanwhile, in accordance with item 9 of the Package of Measures, the self-defence forces are to start transferring control of the border to Kiev on the first day after local elections in certain areas of Donbass. The transfer would be carried out in consultations and upon agreement with Donbass representatives and end after a comprehensive political settlement, the cornerstone of which is granting permanent special status to Donbass.
There has been no progress in exchanging detainees for almost two years now. The last major exchange between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk took place on December 27, 2017. Meanwhile, an “all for all” exchange is provided for in item 6 of the Package of Measures. The Contact Group’s dedicated subgroup should step up its activities to clarify and verify the lists of persons to be exchanged.
Once repaired, the bridge in Stanitsa Luganskaya will improve the pedestrian traffic at the only line of contact crossing point in the Lugansk region. At the same time, the remaining checkpoint arrangement and the trade, economic and transport blockade of Donbass carried out by Ukraine continue to cause suffering among the local people. According to the SMM, a pensioner died near a checkpoint next to the bridge in Stanitsa Luganskaya on November 17.
Kiev has not yet taken effective steps to fulfill its social obligations to the residents of Donbass. In violation of item 8 of the Package of Measures, the modalities for the full restoration of social transfers, including pensions and other benefits, have not been agreed. Under the circumstances, Russia continues to deliver humanitarian aid to the local people. Today, the 92nd Russian humanitarian convoy was sent to the region.
The Ukrainian leaders approach the upcoming meeting of the Normandy four leaders after significantly sidestepping the Minsk Agreements. Jointly with France and Germany, we are willing to provide Kiev with the necessary advisory assistance in building up work with Donetsk and Lugansk. Under the circumstances, President Zelensky’s team needs to come up with specific practical steps rather than words about their commitment to a political and diplomatic resolution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine. The elements for success are well known and include a direct substantive dialogue between Kiev and Donbass in the Contact Group with simultaneous progress in politics and security as agreed to in the Normandy format on October 19, 2016 and confirmed in the statement by the presidents of Russia, France, Ukraine and the chancellor of Germany on March 29, 2018.
Fairly contradictory statements came from Kiev prior to the “quartet” meeting in Paris where Kiev vehemently rejected not only a direct dialogue with Donbass, but also granting special status to the region and amnesty to its residents. Foreign Minister of Ukraine Vadim Pristaiko announced the adoption of certain decisions at the Normandy summit which appear to not have been agreed upon with Donbass or any other format participant. If they are not adopted, he threatens the group with a certain Plan B regarding the Minsk agreements, up to leaving the Minsk process. This, to put it mildly, non-constructive approach to preparations for the Normandy meeting causes justified concern. We urge Kiev’s overseers to use their influence and encourage the Ukrainian government to stop escalating irresponsible rhetoric and to begin the full implementation of the Minsk Package of Measures to achieve lasting peace in Donbass.