Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
Remarks by Russian Permanent Representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich, at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, on reports by Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group Martin Sajdik and Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine Yasar Halit Cevik, Vienna, December 12, 2019
We welcome esteemed Ambassador Martin Sajdik and esteemed Ambassador Yasar Halit Cevik. We are grateful to them for their evaluation, which illustrates that the situation in Ukraine remains tense. Despite strong public aspirations for peace in Donbass, local residents have for more than five and a half years been held hostage to the lack of political will on the part of Kiev to achieve a dialogue-based settlement with Donetsk and Lugansk. Recent efforts in the Normandy format have focused on unblocking this unsatisfactory situation.
On December 9, the leaders of France, Germany and Russia had useful discussions with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky in Paris. The participants in the meeting sent several clear signals about the need to further de-escalate the conflict and achieve a political settlement. The goal is establishing long-lasting peace in the east of Ukraine. At the same time, even these positive intentions were met with controversial statements by the Ukrainian authorities – both before and after the summit – disagreements with some provisions of the Minsk Package of Measures of February 12, 2015. In addition, according to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, on the day of the summit, ceasefire violations were recorded in both the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
The main outcome of the Normandy talks was that all participants of the Normandy format confirmed their commitment to promote full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. They emphasised the need to step up the efforts of the Minsk Contact Group – a format that allows Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk to directly discuss and reach agreements on all aspects of the settlement process. There is an explicit reference to a dialogue like this in the Package of Measures, which was approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2202 and recognised by the international community as the basis for resolving the crisis in Ukraine, an approach that has no alternative.
A law to grant permanent special status to Donbass is seen as the basis for a political settlement. The participants in the Paris summit reaffirmed that all legal aspects related to this move had to be coordinated with the representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Contact Group, as provided for in the Minsk Package of Measures. At this point, the Verkhovna Rada has extended the law on special status for a year, i.e., until December 31, 2020. At the same time, according to the Minsk agreements, a law has to be adopted to grant special status to Donbass on a permanent basis. This also implies making the relevant amendments to the constitution. We also expect the Steinmeier formula on the manner of enacting this law on the special status to be enshrined in Ukrainian law as soon as possible.
In the context of synchronising the efforts to resolve political and security matters, the Contact Group has been tasked with taking immediate steps to ensure that the situation on the contact line is stabilised. These include measures to support the ceasefire agreement, restart the mine clearance agreements and instruct the sides to coordinate and carry out, within the next three months, the disengagement of forces in areas that they will additionally identify during direct talks. According to SMM reports, there are no active hostilities in Donbass, however, a complete ceasefire has not been maintained. The number of ceasefire violations over the last week alone amounted to several thousand. Shelling continues close to populated areas. We emphasise the importance of issuing ceasefire orders and introducing disciplinary action against those responsible for ceasefire violations, as well as banning subversive activities and the deployment of troops and weapons near residential blocks of flats.
In these circumstances, it is important that the SMM closely monitor the situation near the contact line and to the “rear.” We expect the monitoring to be balanced on both sides of the contact line, including with technical equipment. The SMM should not fail to notice any military activity, rotation or redeployment of Ukrainian troops, which often take place at a distance from the contact line. We express our support for Chief Monitor Yasar Halit Cevik and the staff that works in this challenging environment.
We have taken note of the OSCE mission’s thematic report on the impact of mines issued in early December. Data analysis points to the limited progress on demining along the contact line. The only exceptions are the disengagement areas in Stanitsa Luganskaya, Petrovskoye and Zolotoye, where demining activities proceed in accordance with the respective agreements. It is worth noting in this connection that the Normandy format countries have called for preparing and implementing a new demining plan based on the decisions of the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG). We expect the SMM to publish collated information on the other victims, including a thematic report on the victims of shelling and the destruction of civilian infrastructure.
The Normandy format countries have given a powerful impetus to the TCG’s humanitarian working group. Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk are being urged to reach an agreement and to exchange all detainees held by sides by the end of the year. I would like to remind you that the last such exchange was held nearly two years ago, on December 27, 2017. The verification of the list of detainees must be given momentum. Another important goal is to complete the procedural clearance and amnesty of the persons to be exchanged. The unfortunate cases when Kiev exchanged some persons and then put them on the wanted list are not strengthening trust between the sides.
The humanitarian priority measures, which should improve civilians’ lives, include the opening of more checkpoints on the contact line. We hope Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk will reach an agreement on this at the upcoming meetings of the TCG in keeping with the Normandy format recommendations.
In this context, the Ukrainian authorities continue to aggravate the deep sociopolitical divisions caused by the 2014 coup, instead of addressing them.
We have taken note of the expert conclusions made by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in Opinion No. 960/2019 (December 9, 2019) on the Law on Supporting the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language, some provisions of which have come into effect this year. The commission’s experts pointed out its discriminating nature and warned that Kiev’s language policy may become a source of interethnic tension. The commission has urged the Ukrainian authorities to bring the law in compliance with Ukraine’s human rights obligations.
Another matter to which we must pay more attention is the Ukrainian authorities’ policy of encouraging aggressive nationalism and neo-Nazism. A recent example is Resolution 2364 on the celebration of memorable dates in 2020, adopted by the Verkhovna Rada in early December. It proposes holding nationwide celebrations of the birthdays of Ukrainian nationalists who collaborated with the Nazis during WWII, including Vladimir Kubiyovich, Vasily Levkovich, Ulas Samchuk and Vasily Sidor. The Israeli Embassy in Ukraine has expressed concern about the glorification of such ambiguous persons. We would like to repeat our position regarding this: disregard for the rise of radical nationalism in Ukraine can have tragic results.
In this context, dialogue between Kiev and Donbass may be difficult, but it is important as well as possible and necessary. We call for focusing all efforts on promoting a direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk with a view to an early, full and comprehensive implementation of the Minsk Agreements. This will help normalise the situation throughout Ukraine. The TCG and its working groups, which will convene in Minsk on December 18, bear special responsibility for reaching agreements in the spirit of the Normandy format decisions.
To conclude, I would like to express our sincere appreciation to Ambassador Martin Sajdik for his tireless efforts and considerable personal contribution to promoting a settlement of the crisis in Ukraine. For four and a half years, he coordinated the main negotiating platforms created for consultations between Kiev and certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. We hope that the TCG’s final meeting this year, which he will chair, will give a new impetus to the settlement process.
We welcome the appointment of Ambassador Heidi Grau as Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group and wish her every success in this responsible work.