Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich’s remarks at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, Vienna, February 15, 2018

Friday, 16 February 2018 10:04

The situation in Ukraine and the need

to implement the Minsk Agreements

 

Mr Chairman,

The situation in Ukraine is growing increasingly tense. Over the past week, the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) registered more than 4,000 ceasefire violations. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are again using multiple rocket launchers (MRL) at the line of contact. On February 8, the monitors pointed to 60 Grad MRL projectiles fired from Svetlodarsk and about 180 hits in the area of Debaltsevo. The Armed Forces of Ukraine continue random gunfire attacks on populated localities. On February 7, the SMM confirmed that the shelling had done damage to a five-storey residential building in Dokuchayevsk.

During the week, the SMM has discovered 57 units of armaments the Armed Forces of Ukraine use in violation of the Minsk Package of Measures, including eight MRL in Topolinoye, 14 howitzers in Vodyanoye, 13 self-propelled howitzers in Aleksandropol, 12 antitank guns in Severodonetsk, four howitzers in Belaya Gora, four antitank guns in Mariupol, an antitank gun in Aleksandrovo-Kalinovo, and an anti-aircraft missile system in Teply. A record amount of military equipment – over 400 units – has disappeared from Ukrainian army depots. It is easy to guess where all this equipment has been redeployed.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces’ fire attacks on SMM drones in Mikhailovka on February 6 and Kleshcheyevka on February 10 as well as the closing of Shchastye, Zolotoye and Stanitsa Luganskaya under the pretext of a mine threat refute the allegations about the self-defence forces’ predominant responsibility for sealing off the monitors.

Not only does Kiev block the disengagement of forces and resources in Stanitsa Luganskaya, although no violations of the ceasefire regime have been registered there since December 25. Kiev also continues to remilitarise other sectors where forces and resources have been disengaged. Members of the SMM and local residents have confirmed that Ukrainian forces have retaken Katerinovka inside the Zolotoye disengagement area.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine have set up roadblocks and deployed soldiers in Novoaleksandrovka, in dangerous proximity to the positions of self-defence fighters. On February 12, a Ukrainian group tried unsuccessfully to seize new positions and crossed the demarcation line in the vicinity of the village of Zhelobok.

The situation is being aggravated by Ukrainian leaders’ statements about the “successes” of the punitive army in Donbass. On February 12, Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine Alexander Turchinov told Hromadske TV channel that, in 2016-2017, the Armed Forces of Ukraine had advanced by ten kilometres and more on the front. Ukrainian forces have improved their positions, and now there are no forces on the occupied territory that can change the current demarcation line, he noted. We hope that members of the SMM will check this statement regarding the Donbass security situation in line with their mandate and will evaluate it accordingly. It appears that Mr Turchinov is preparing public opinion for a new escalation of tensions in Donbass that Kiev is set to provoke in the nearest future.

The creeping offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has repeatedly triggered large-scale escalation of tensions. In February 2016, military units seized Shirokino in violation of obligations to demilitarise this community. In March 2016, they seized the Avdeyevka industrial zone. These incursions created new hotbeds of tension on the map of Donbass. Ukrainian forces redeployed their forward-based positions towards Yelenovka. This caused a tragedy in April 2016 when several civilians were killed and wounded under fire from the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In June 2017, the Armed Forces of Ukraine attacked the village of Zhelobok and also seized the Travnevoye and Gladosovo communities in November 2017. This provoked a serious escalation of tensions.

On February 14, representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk addressed a meeting of the Contact Group in Minsk and provided detailed information about the dangerous concentration of Ukrainian forces and weapons.

As before, there is no progress in discussing prospects for implementing political provisions of the Minsk Package of Measures.

On the contrary, the law on the so-called “reintegration” of Donbass virtually devalues the Minsk agreements and creates pre-requisites for a military operation. Ukrainian military units are intensively preparing for large-scale hostilities. The concentration of forces and resources near the demarcation line has assumed a threatening scale.

Radical nationalist groups, the main advocates of a military scenario, have become more active. Not only do they hold torch processions and rallies, but they commit crimes aiming to pressure the authorities and escape unpunished.

On February 4, nationalists tried to set fire to a Hungarian cultural centre in Uzhgorod. On February 5, radicals from the National Corps, Svoboda (Freedom), the Right Sector and the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists picketed the Polish consulates in Odessa and Lvov. They are making more active attempts to pressure the authorities. On February 9, the accomplices of defendants, charged with killing journalist Oles Buzina, staged a demonstration in support of the criminals.

Journalists continue to be harassed against this backdrop, with the authorities and nationalists actively pressuring media outlets. Igor Guzhva, editor-in-chief of the Strana.ua news website, has been forced to request asylum in Austria. The Mirotvorets website listing “enemies of the people,” including journalists, continues to function.

On February 8, raiders seized the Vesti media holding in Kiev. Ukrainian law enforcement officers blocked the company’s office, conducted illegal searches and prevent journalists from working. The company is now working from another location, and the publication of the newspaper’s next issue is in doubt. Kiev is seeking to rein in opposition media outlets. This is a blatant violation of freedom of speech. We demand that the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media respond promptly.

We hope that SMM members closely study and submit detailed reports on the situation around the media, in line with their mandate. As we see it, the combination of facts that have accumulated since 2014 calls for a detailed SMM report on freedom of expression and access to information in Ukraine.

The oppression of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has assumed threatening proportions. On January 25, nationalists from the S-14 and Sokol organisations dismantled billboards of the Church of the Dime in Kiev. Radicals tried to set fire to the Church at night and later organised pickets, demanding that the Church be demolished. Its priest and parishioners were threatened. Extremists desecrate and seize churches and commit acts of violence with regard to priests and believers. This is supplemented by attempts of official authorities to formalise their right to interfere in church affairs under the law. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is reviewing a number of anti-clerical and unpopular draft laws. Their approval can lead to discrimination, violate freedom of conscience and religion and cause religious strife and bloodshed.

In September 2017, the Verkhovna Rada approved the education law that restricted the right of almost 50 percent of the country’s population to be educated in their native language. The authorities are once again provoking the situation and recreating the causes that largely triggered the conflict in the first place. The approval of this law hampers efforts to bridge the gaps between the parties to the internal Ukrainian conflict and delays prospects for its final resolution. Kiev is openly unwilling to honour its own obligations under clause 11 of the Minsk Package of Measures of February 12, 2015 that stipulates the approval of permanent legislation on the special status of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, with due consideration for their right to linguistic self-determination. There are no indications that the recommendations of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe to modify this law are being fulfilled. On the contrary, new steps are being  prepared to further restrict the use of the Russian language.

The expulsion of famous international swindler and war criminal Mikheil Saakashvili from the country on February 12 is another sign of escalation. The radicals have responded in no time at all, and this could cause further instability. The supporters of Saakashvili have urged people to picket local government administrations in Ukrainian regions and to set up roadblocks along the Kiev-Lvov route. SMM members watched a rally of Saakashvili’s supporters in Kiev on February 12, and balaclava-clad volunteers of the Donbass radical battalion were spotted there.

I would like to remind you that it is possible to achieve peace in Ukraine. This can be accomplished through direct dialogue between Kiev and Donbass and by scrupulously honouring the Minsk agreements. The Minsk Package of Measures that was approved by the UN Security Council remains absolutely relevant. This does not amount to Kiev’s surrender but rather to an opportunity to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its current borders and to achieve reconciliation and accord in society.

Thank you.

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