Remarks by Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on the situation in Ukraine and the need to comply with the Minsk Agreements, Vienna, November 28, 2019
We have noted OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Miroslav Lajcak’s initiative to visit Ukraine, including the contact line area near Stanitsa Luganskaya. The disengagement of troops and equipment that took place there in the summer shows that the Ukrainian authorities’ political will is the key factor of success. It is enough to recall how the former Ukrainian leadership headed by Petr Poroshenko blocked progress there under various pretexts, for more than three years, sabotaging the disengagement and dragging out discussions in the Contact Group on repairing the bridge.
The discontinuation of the violations committed by the Ukrainian armed forces in the disengagement areas in Zolotoye and Petrovskoye, the withdrawal of troops and equipment, as well as the completion of mine clearance, create a favourable background for discussing further de-escalation measures. Earlier this week, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) received confirmation of the dismantling of the fortifications in Zolotoye. It says the disengagement has had a positive humanitarian effect. In talking with the observers, residents of the Zolotoye-4/Rodina village expressed satisfaction with the fact that army units have been withdrawn from the disengagement area (SMM weekly report of November 19, 2019). This has helped bring life in the village closer to normal, including the restoration of access to ambulance vehicles to people who need them. At the same time, it is reported that the population is concerned about the Ukrainian armed forces making new trenches close to their houses. We remind you of the need to coordinate additional de-escalation measures in the Contact Group, which would include, inter alia, a ban on locating combat positions in residential areas, as well as on firing from such positions.
Nevertheless, despite the mine clearance in the areas mentioned, the mine threat persists nearby. The SMM emphasises that this threat still restricts travel through the territory controlled by the Ukrainian armed forces to the disengagement area in Petrovskoye. The alleged mine threat still prevents large areas from being fully monitored. It is also noteworthy that last week, all cases involving the jamming of OSCE SMM UAVs, both small and long-range drones, occurred over the territory controlled by the Ukrainian armed forces.
In November, the Ukrainian armed forces continued to transport heavy equipment, including large-calibre artillery, in Donbass. The Mission has exposed the delivery of tanks and heavy artillery such as several self-propelled 203mm 2S7 Pion cannons at the Pokrovsk, Zachatovka and Khlebodarovka railway stations. Under these circumstances, tighter SMM monitoring is required not only in the hotspots, but also at the rear of the Ukrainian army, where military equipment is being concentrated.
The SMM should closely monitor not only Donbass but also the rest of Ukraine. Ukraine continues to pursue a discriminatory language policy, including in education. It is worth noting what the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe reported after a trip to Kiev in late October. The commission’s experts rejected as unconvincing the Ukrainian authorities’ attempts to explain differences in the approach to the Russian and EU languages in the new laws on education and the state language. It is noted that the provisions on persecution for the “deliberate distortion of the State language” and for creating obstacles and restrictions to the use of the Ukrainian language could provide the basis for restricting the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Moreover, the Venice Commission experts concluded that the requirement on holding any events exclusively in the Ukrainian language amounts to an infringement on the right to freedom of expression and contradicts Ukraine’s international human rights obligations. The commission’s experts drafted practical recommendations for Kiev to revise the discriminatory provisions of the current legislation.
This situation is quite comfortable for the aggressive nationalism that has resurfaced in Ukraine since the 2014 coup. Numerous organisations of radical nationalists feel free to do what they like in the country. Some of them have combat wings manned by people with combat experience. All kinds of radicals commit acts of vandalism, including near official agencies, but they are very seldom called to legal account for such actions. Xenophobia and anti-Semitism are running high. According to the international NGO, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), anti-Semitic sentiments have increased in Ukraine by 14 percent since 2015, reaching 46 percent. The change of government has not improved the situation. One of the latest such excesses took place in Kiev on November 25, when radicals painted a swastika on the monument to Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem. Will the culprits walk free this time yet again? We urge the SMM to take a principled stand on this. A theme report on aggressive nationalism in Ukraine is long overdue.
And lastly, ahead of the Maidan anniversary, the Ukrainian law enforcement authorities have suspended – allegedly for cataloguing or an interagency transfer – the investigation of crimes committed during the active phase of the armed confrontation in central Kiev in February 2014. The Verkhovna Rada has recently blocked the initiative of an Odessa deputy regarding parliamentary assistance to the investigation of the multiple murders committed in the Odessa House of Trade Unions on May 2, 2014. The impunity of perpetrators is only further encouraging radicals.
The Minsk agreements play a decisive role in settling the crisis in Ukraine, and their implementation is a prerequisite for peace in Donbass, as well as getting the situation back to normal across the country in general. The OSCE should focus all its efforts on facilitating progress towards this end.
The November 27 meeting of the Contact Group showed that Kiev representatives are not ready to move forward in their negotiations with Donetsk and Lugansk without new signals from the Normandy format. There is no progress on the political aspects of the settlement either, including key aspects such as a special status for Donbass, amnesty or constitutional reform. The special status law has yet to come into force, and it remains unclear what will come of it after December 31. There is ongoing speculation on whether to renew these regulations or replace them with something new. At the same time, not only does it need to become permanent as stipulated by the Minsk agreements, but also all reservations in its regard should be removed since they make implementing the law impossible. The Steinmeier formula on the modalities for enacting the special status law as coordinated with Kiev within the Contact Group must be put into Ukrainian law. Unfortunately, Kiev representatives failed to provide any meaningful answers on these topics during yesterday’s meeting in Minsk. By the same token, they refuse to discuss within the Contact Group proposals put forward by Donetsk and Lugansk on security matters for identifying new areas of disengagement and demining activity.
The recent conflicting statements by Ukrainian officials show that Kiev lacks any clear strategy on Donbass. For example, I am referring to the statements by Foreign Minister Vadim Pristaiko, who said that Ukraine could withdraw from the Minsk process. Another example is an interview by Defence Minister Andrey Zagorodnyuk, who said that the Ukrainian Armed Forces “prepared a plan for recovering” the positions within the disengagement areas near Petrovskoye and Zolotoye if the outcomes of the Normandy summit are not satisfactory. It seems that Kiev decided to overtly blackmail the international community, threatening to derail the execution of its own commitments.
Conditioning the future of the Minsk agreements on the outcomes of the December 9 Normandy summit is counterproductive. Let me remind you that the Minsk Package of Measures sets out an internationally recognised framework for settling the Ukraine crisis that has no alternatives. Withdrawing from the Minsk process would lead to renewed bloodshed, new suffering and casualties for people in Donbass. We hope that Kiev does not intend to launch military action as its infamous Plan B.
Ukraine’s reflections on possibly freezing the situation in the region do not inspire any optimism. With the implementation of the Minsk agreements in a deadlock due to Kiev seeking to evade full implementation of its commitments, this option is presented as a heaven-sent third path. Observations of this kind do nothing to bring peace in Ukraine any nearer. Overall, the backdrop created by Kiev ahead of the Normandy meeting can hardly be regarded as positive.
Supporting the Minsk Package of Measures is a matter of principle, especially when Kiev is increasingly vociferous in calling for reviewing or even terminating this document. At the same time, the Package of Measures was approved by the UN Security Council on February 12, 2015, and does not require any additional confirmation let alone revision. It can and must be fully executed by Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk as part of their direct dialogue.
Thank you for your attention.