Remarks by the Russian delegation at the talks in Vienna on military security and arms control, held as part of the 945th plenary session of the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation, May 6, 2020
Last week, after holding talks via videoconference, the Normandy Four foreign ministers emphasised the importance of the parties to Ukraine’s internal crisis reaffirming their commitment to the ceasefire. We regret to note that Kiev seems to have failed to convey this message to its armed forces that have ramped up the shelling of residential neighbourhoods in Donbass. According to the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM), the number of truce violations has increased along the contact line in recent days.
Civilians once again suffered as a result of the shelling by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. On May 1, a woman succumbed to a gunshot wound in Spartak, a settlement outside government control, and a residential building was destroyed in Golmovsky (May 4 report). On May 2, firing impacts were reported in Yasinovataya (May 5 report). On Monday, the Donetsk media reported that the armed forces used guns mounted on mechanised infantry combat vehicles (BMP-2) against a residential neighbourhood in Alexandrovka, where three girls, as well as a 55-year-old man were wounded. The SMM confirmed these reports.
We have drawn the Forum’s attention to SMM’s 2016 thematic report on civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine, whereby areas not controlled by Kiev sustained most of the suffering. Four years have passed, but the situation on the ground remains unchanged. A review of the data compiled by the Mission between December 9, when the Paris summit took place, and April 27 showed that the Ukrainian Armed Forces fired 20 times at the villages controlled by militias, while there were no reported casualties in villages controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It is also worth noting the recent publication by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) whereby in the first quarter of 2020 the self-proclaimed republics accounted for over 85 percent of the wounded civilians. Unfortunately, our Western partners prefer to turn a blind eye to these alarming statistics, offering a carte-blanche to Kiev for subverting its commitments under the Minsk agreements.
The Ukrainian military continued to deploy heavy weapons in Donbass, despite the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ call for a ceasefire in all conflicts in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Since March 11, the SMM found over 70 tanks at the railway station in Konstantinovka, more than 40 tanks and 18 Nona-S gun mortars in Rubezhnoye. On May 2 and 3, 11 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers and 10 Akatsiya howitzers with 122 mm and 152 mm calibre guns, respectively, were in Druzhkovka. In addition, observers saw 30 armoured vehicles belonging to the Ukrainian Armed forces (March 20 report), and reported 22 tanks in the same location on Monday (May 5 report) near the railway station in Bakhmut, just 30 kilometres from the contact line. This brings to mind the words of Deputy Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council Sergey Krivonos, who said that the Ukrainian Armed Forces “must be ready for the liberation of Donbass by force.” This begs the question: how does all this relate to the Minsk agreements?
The Ukrainian Armed Forces continued to deploy weapons in violation of the withdrawal terms, which in no way facilitated de-escalation. This can be illustrated by what happened on April 29, when the Mission found an antitank missile system in Popasnaya’s residential neighbourhood, with four security personnel from the Ukrainian Armed Forces establishing a new position nearby. It is telling that the observers reported the highest number of ceasefire violations and explosions in Popasnaya on that same day (May 1 report).
We hope that the outcome of the Normandy Four foreign ministers’ videoconference will encourage Kiev to take additional measures in support of the truce. The OSCE SMM proposed these measures within the Contact Group back in July, including orders prohibiting firing, offensive, reconnaissance and sabotage operations, sniper fire and the deployment of heavy weapons near civilian buildings. The Ukrainian Armed Forces regularly engage in activity of this kind, as confirmed by reports. Approving these measures would be a meaningful contribution to de-escalating the military situation. By the way, the representatives of the self-proclaimed republics have long supported these measures.
The SMM has once again reported on attempts to impede the operation of its UAVs, with a dozen attempts to fire at them reported since March 11 in territories controlled by Kiev. It is clear that in some cases by interfering with the operation of the SMM’s technical means the Ukrainian Armed Forces are seeking to conceal their actions. For example, on April 5 the Ukrainian Armed Forces targeted the Mission’s drone near Taramchuk, and the next day monitors found Bukovel AD, a Ukrainian electronic warfare system in this village ( April 6 and 7 reports).
As for the SMM’s freedom of movement in Donbass in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, we reiterate our call not to politicise this issue. The Mission can determine the modalities for its operation in contact with the local authorities and is expected to nurture these contacts as per its mandate for the sake of peace and security in the region.
In the context of the global trend to reinforce sanitary and epidemiological control, Mission staff members are asked to comply with specific medical recommendations as a condition for gaining access. This scheme has been used recently by SMM paramedics travelling to specific parts of Donbass. This means that monitors can also cross the contact line.
At the same time, we would like to highlight the need for the SMM to pay more attention to the developments behind the lines of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. During the pandemic, the monitoring of weapons delivery routes to the contact line acquires special importance in order to ensure that an early warning system is in place for any escalation and to avoid new casualties and destruction.
The armed conflict in Donbass brought about a surge in arms trafficking in Ukraine. Last week, the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies found an arms and military equipment depot in the east of the country, the biggest one they have seen since the beginning of the crisis (Slide 1). Our colleagues can find more information in the original language by using the link given on the slide. It turns out that until recently, this depot was controlled by the Ukrainian Volunteer Army (banned in Russia) that maintains close ties with the Right Sector (banned in Russia), a nationalist far right radical movement. The Ukrainian Volunteer Army is a de-facto illegal armed group that is not part of the official army and is not bound by military discipline (Slide 2).
(Slide 3) According to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office, this operation led to the discovery of armoured vehicles, guns, (Slide 4) as well as mortar guns, explosives and about 100 metric tonnes of munitions. A criminal investigation is underway (Slide 5).
At the Forum sessions, the Ukrainian delegation has repeatedly claimed that no antipersonnel landmines are used on the territories under Kiev’s control (Slide 6), while the country abides by its commitments under the Ottawa Convention transparently and in good faith. Data from Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office show that these statements are at odds with reality. The depot that I just mentioned contained antipersonnel directional fragmentation mines of various modifications (Slide 7), despite the fact that Ukraine reported under Article 7 of the Ottawa Convention that it did not have any antipersonnel directional fragmentation mines (Slide 8). This is made worse by the fact that the arms, munitions and mines that can be found in abundance and are not controlled by the army could spread out across the crisis zone and beyond unchecked.
All this once again demonstrates the urgent need to resolve Ukraine’s internal crisis by implementing the Minsk Package of Measures in good faith through dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. A recent opinion poll by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation showed that almost 50 percent of respondents in districts of the Lugansk Region controlled by the government, and 71 percent of people living in the Donetsk Region support direct elections in self-proclaimed republics. We call on Kiev to heed their voices.
Thank you, Mr Chairperson.