Remarks by Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich at the online meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on the situation in Ukraine and the need to implement the Minsk agreements, Vienna, May 21, 2020
Vladimir Zelensky became the president of Ukraine exactly a year ago. The plan for progress towards a settlement, which was outlined in 2019, has not been used as points of progress in reaching peace. Many impetuses that the participants in the Normandy format tried to impart to the settlement process have not been developed either. These include most of the instructions following the summit of the four leaders on December 9, 2019 in Paris. Negotiations between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk have gradually fallen into a deadlock due to Kiev’s destructive proclivity to ignore the Minsk agreements and change Ukraine’s commitments to them.
Kiev has not suspended its inhuman military operation against the civilians in Donbass. These people continue fighting for their right to live despite the daily shelling and the socio-economic and transport blockade imposed by Kiev. The number of shelling victims confirmed by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in the first half of May has approached the most for two years. All of the victims, including five children, were recorded in different districts of Donbass. In all, the SMM has received over 20 reports on victims since the start of May. This violence is often cynically explained by allegations that Donbass fighters are deploying combat hardware near residential buildings. These allegations appear to be unfounded.
Look at the circumstances of a recent incident in the village of Sakhanka in the south of the Donetsk Region, where two children were injured. On May 7 a group of civilians was maintaining a monument to Red Army soldiers killed in the struggle against Nazism during the Great Patriotic War. In addition, repairs were being made to the local community centre building near the monument as part of preparations for Victory Day events. There was no combat hardware, no Donbass fighter unit position, or any fighters as such, near this place. Nevertheless, unarmed civilians were shelled from Ukrainian Armed Forces positions. The precision shots were planned and deliberate. Civilians, including children, were seriously wounded. It will take a long time for these traumas to heal; it is more than physical injury. And in general, it appears as though monuments to the fighters against Nazism and those who care for them are now being attacked not only by neo-Nazis but by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
All this is a result of Kiev’s reluctance to end the violence. Kiev representatives in the Contact Group are stubbornly avoiding the signing of ceasefire commitments with Donetsk and Lugansk and the coordination of measures to support it. These measures must include the issue of ceasefire orders and disciplinary punishment for their violation, as well as direct telephone contact between the confronting parties with a view to avoiding incidents. Donetsk and Lugansk representatives have long expressed a willingness to do this, but Kiev lacks the political will to follow suit.
There is no progress on the political track of settlement; Kiev has not fulfilled a single commitment in the Minsk Package of Measures. Moreover, the Ukrainian official media are demanding a change in the Contact Group format. They want the current representatives of Donbass to be removed; they want Kiev to end any direct dialogue with them, something that is part of the Minsk agreements.
Judging by all this, talks based on the Minsk agreements have lost momentum partly because Kiev is not going to abandon a military solution to the conflict. Actions by the Ukrainian military demonstrate this. As we can see from SMM reports, Kiev has not stopped using railway hubs for the further militarisation of the region. SMM patrols are recording the delivery of heavy artillery and air defence rocket systems. Here is a recent example: on May 16, an SMM patrol discovered six Buk anti-aircraft missile systems at the Konstantinovka station in the Donetsk Region. This begs the question: Against what targets in Donbass is the Ukrainian Army planning to use these powerful weapons, which are designed to counter an air threat? We believe the SMM needs to build up its monitoring of railway hubs near the contact line in Donbass. This primarily applies to those hubs that were repeatedly mentioned in the SMM’s reports on the discovery of dozens of Ukrainian tanks and large caliber artillery: Konstantinovka, Khlebodarovka, Bakhmut, Druzhkovka and Rubezhnoye, to name a few.
Not surprisingly, armed clashes are occurring and military tensions are escalating against this background. The shelling of suburbs near the Lugansk village of Beryozovskoye by the Ukrainian Army on May 16 damaged a high transmission line which nearly led to a humanitarian disaster. Many households and a number of critical infrastructure and industrial facilities had serious problems with electricity and water supplies afterwards. Despite the SMM’s efforts to create “a window of silence” to repair the damaged high transmission line, the Ukrainian military failed to provide a reliable ceasefire guarantee. At first, they provided a guarantee but then they suddenly cancelled it, thereby threatening the security of SMM observers that were in the region as well.
We are very concerned about other incidents where the security of the observers is jeopardised. A recent example is the shelling of Yasinovataya near Donetsk on May 18, when a shell exploded only 500 metres from an SMM patrol. The observers felt the impact of the shock wave even at this distance. This may testify to the use of large caliber heavy weapons near the patrol’s location, which clearly points to the involvement of the Ukrainian military. Incidentally, this is not the first case in Yasinovataya in recent weeks where the consequences of shelling were recorded in the direct vicinity of SMM observers. They also came under fire near the railway station on May 13. The SMM established that the direction of fire pointed to the Ukrainian military. Recent incidents in Yelenovka, Molodyozhnoye and Beryozovskoye are also raising serious alarm.
Incidentally, at the online meeting of the Permanent Council last week, the esteemed representatives of Canada and the US tried to accuse the Donbass self-defence fighters of aggressive actions towards OSCE observers. They alleged that on May 8, SMM staff that were launching a drone near Gorlovka, were caught, thrown to the ground with their faces in dirt, their arms twisted behind their backs and weapons pointed at them. SMM Chief Monitor Yasar Halit Cevik personally refuted these allegations at a briefing on May 15. He explained that in general his staff feel safe in Donbass – the local people are not aggressive towards them and the behaviour of the Donbass fighters near Gorlovka on May 8 cannot be described as threatening. There was a misunderstanding between them and the observers, which delayed the patrol for approximately three hours. Having heard about this, our North American colleagues began accusing everyone but themselves of starting a disinformation campaign. We urge them to abstain from rumours and other information that is not substantiated by facts, which are quickly turning into fake propaganda stories. It is necessary to focus on constructive work to facilitate a settlement of the Ukrainian domestic conflict in Donbass.
To be continued...