24 January 201917:49

Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich’s remarks at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on the situation in Ukraine and the need to implement the Minsk Agreements, Vienna, January 24, 2019

111-24-01-2019

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Mr Chairperson,

Despite the New Year and Christmas truce, Kiev continues to aggravate military tensions in Donbass and is building up military activities close by to the contact line.

The ceasefire regime is regularly violated. Tension is especially high in the area of Donetsk, Yasinovataya and Avdeyevka, near Svetlodarsk, and in the Zolotoye disengagement zone. Between January 16 and 22, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine reported seeing 87 Ukrainian heavy weapons deployed [there] in violation of the Minsk Package of Measures and another 99 weapons immediately beyond the withdrawal lines. The Ukrainian armed forces are redeploying to the contact-line zone cannon and rocket-launching artillery systems, including 152mm Akatsiya and 122mm Gvozdika and Lyagushka howitzers. Trains were reported to have been used to deliver military equipment to Konstantinovka and Bakhmut (Artyomovsk) in the Donetsk Region.

The armed forces of Ukraine continue preparations for an offensive. During an exercise conducted by the Ukrainian Joint Forces on January 20, an airborne assault unit drilled capture of new positions near Mariupol with air support from attack helicopters.

Ukraine continues to stage provocations in the vicinity of civilian infrastructure facilities. Following the January 10 fire attack on the staff of the Water of Donbass Company, who were ensuring the operation of the Donetsk Filtration Station, two civilian cars parked near the Vasilyevskaya Pumping Station in Krutaya Balka came under fire on January 17. Early on January 23, a fire attack on the Vasilyevskaya Pumping Station itself resulted in damage to the entrance checkpoint plus the chlorinator facility and the accumulator room. The personnel had to take refuge in a shelter. Incidentally, five purifying stations that supply running water to 1.3 million people on both sides of the contact line are connected to the Vasilyevskaya Pumping Station. The Ukrainian forces shelled the school in Zolotoye-5, for a third time in the past four weeks. Luckily, no children were injured.

What is needed to prevent an escalation is not only an effective monitoring but also measures to supervise and consolidate the truce, including a mechanism to discipline ceasefire violators. This is an urgent problem, as is the need to publish orders prohibiting the use of arms. The SMM has reported that some Ukrainian servicemen did not even know about the New Year and Christmas truce. It is especially important to coordinate and receive a confirmation in writing on additional security guarantees in the area of civilian infrastructure facilities. Regrettably, no progress was made on these matters at the January 17 meeting of the Contact Group in Minsk because of Ukraine’s position.

Ukraine continues to sabotage the implementation of the September 21, 2016 Framework Decision of the Trilateral Contact Group relating to the disengagement of forces and hardware. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are undermining the ceasefire regime and consolidate their positions in the Zolotoye sector. No progress is posted in Petrovskoye, where repeat fire attacks have been recorded since the New Year truce. The Armed Forces of Ukraine stubbornly refuse to disengage forces and hardware in Stanitsa Luganskaya, where, according to the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, the required conditions have been maintained for this since December 2018.

Kiev’s actions make it impossible to stabilise the situation along the contact line. All of this has been impacting the situation at checkpoints, with mostly senior citizens suffering as a result. In the past seven days, three people, including two elderly men, have died while crossing the contact line. This happened in the space of three days (January 18 and 21), immediately after crossing the Armed Forces of Ukraine checkpoint in Stanitsa Luganskaya.

Kiev has also deliberately deadlocked the peaceful resolution of the crisis under the Minsk Package of Measures. Constitutional amendments regarding decentralisation have been shelved indefinitely. The law pardoning participants in the Donbass developments has not entered into force. Contrary to provisions of the Package of Measures, Ukraine has failed to grant permanent status to the law regarding the special status of Donbass; this document expires December 31, 2019. Additionally, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko made an election campaign promise on January 22 that no special statuses whatsoever would be granted in Ukraine. How does this tally with Ukraine’s obligations under the Minsk Agreements?

Today, campaign rhetoric and vying for the sympathies of nationalist radicals, who have become the pillar of the incumbent regime, determine nearly all of Ukrainian leaders’ actions. They continue to incite tensions in society, to crack down on any dissent, to purge the information space, to meddle in church affairs and to drive out the Russian language.

Human rights activists also note an alarming trend. The new annual Human Rights Watch report highlights the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine. The document notes the rampage of nationalist radicals, and Kiev authorities are either unable or unwilling to stop this. Donbass residents are being discriminated against. The report also notes the negative consequences of the region’s blockade imposed by Kiev and the harassment of journalists. There is no progress in investigating high-profile crime cases either. According to human rights activists, those guilty of killing people in Odessa in May 2014 have escaped unpunished.

On January 17, a Kherson court ruled to extend the arrest warrant of Kirill Vyshinsky, editor of the RIA Novosti Ukraine website, until February 16. That same day, authorities searched the office and apartment of his lawyer, Andrei Domansky; the search also continued on January 18. This was obviously done to intimidate the Russian citizen’s lawyer. On January 18, the office of the Kherson-based newspaper Novy Dyen (New Day) was fired upon. Incidentally, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir has already commented on this incident.

More provocations have been staged against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC). An unprecedented legislative onslaught on the UOC has been complemented with pressure on its clergy and parishioners. These Ukrainian actions are in violation of a number of Ukrainian international legal commitments, including those assumed within the OSCE framework. They are also at variance with Ukraine’s domestic legislation, in particular Article 35 of the Constitution, which precludes government interference in church affairs or any privileges for religious associations.

On January 17, the Verkhovna Rada adopted fresh amendments to the Law on the Freedom of Religion and Religious Organisations. These amendments will provide the legal basis for a large-scale revision of UOC’s ownership rights. The loosely worded law can lead to new religious conflicts and can be used for the illegal seizure of churches as well as their property. Inspired by this law, radicals attacked the UOC’s Holy Transfiguration Cathedral in Sumy on January 18. The evening service had to be discontinued after the extremists tossed a pyrotechnic device inside the building.

More attacks have been reported on UOC parishes. All of these are based on the same scheme: a decision to take over an Orthodox church is taken at a meeting, which is often attended by representatives of the local authorities, following which aggressive people seize the said church. On January 16, aggressive people led by the head of the local government, forced open the doors of an UOC church in the village of Shandrovets in the Lvov Region, making the local priest leave the temple. In the early hours of January  19, when Orthodox Christians were celebrating Epiphany, the archpriest of the Church of St. Trinity in the village of Rostoki, Ternopol Region, was not allowed to conduct the service. On the same day, the head of the local administration g in the town of Brailov, Vinnitsa Region, tried to prevent the priest of the local UOC parish from performing the dedication service over the baptismal font. On January 21, an UOC church was seized in the village of Bronnitsa, Volyn Region. During the same day, armed members of an ultra-nationalist Ukrainian group tried to help take over the UOC church in the village of Vesyoloye, Lugansk Region.

Mr Chairperson,

It is perfectly clear that Kiev has only used the Minsk Agreements to get a tactical respite, build up its military potential and attain short-term political goals. Kiev’s speculations about an alleged “Russian aggression” are only making a peaceful settlement of the crisis even more remote.

Despite Ukraine’s counterproductive policy, we proceed from the assumption  that there is no alternative to the Minsk Package of Measures, which was signed on February 12, 2015, and approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2202, as the basis for a settlement. But it is impossible to move forward without the political will of the Ukrainian leaders. Ukraine must be made to abide by its commitments to cease fire, to synchronise the achievement of security goals with progress on the political track and to consistently implement all the provisions of the Minsk Package in their entirety and interconnection.

Thank you.