Delivered by Ambassador Ihor Prokopchuk, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the International Organizations in Vienna at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on 13 November 2014
Since Russia’s illegal occupation and annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol and military aggression in Donbas, its policies remain the main source for instability and the security threats in the OSCE area. Over the recent days we have witnessed with utmost concern the build-up of military power by the Russian Federation and the Russia-backed illegal armed groups in Donbas. These developments testify to on-going and growing departure of the Russian Federation from its commitments on peaceful resolution undertaken under the Minsk agreements.
Despite common endeavors of Ukraine and the OSCE community to safeguard a peaceful resolution of the situation on the basis of the Minsk agreements, illegal armed groups, with the Russian support, have significantly intensified their dangerous provocations in Donbas.
The ceasefire regime - one of the pillars of the Minsk agreements – has been violated by the militants on a regular basis. Over two months since the meetings in Minsk, residential areas and positions of the Ukrainian forces have been shelled over 2800 times. Over the recent period up to 70 shellings are registered daily. The death toll among Ukrainian military since establishment of the cease-fire has reached 131 persons, 568 have been wounded. The number of losses among the civilian population is also steadily growing with at least 65 civilians having lost their lives already. One more tragic incident happened on 10 November in the city of Avdiyivka near Donetsk, where 3 peaceful civilians and 1 Ukrainian soldier were killed as a result of indiscriminate shelling by the militants. In the last 24 hours there were 44 shellings by the militants which killed 4 Ukrainian servicemen and left 19 wounded.
We are alarmed by numerous reports on preparation of offensive operations by the illegal armed groups which are backed up by increased influx of Russian military personnel and hardware to Donbas from across the border.
In this regard securing the border is the key to stabilizing the situation and preventing it from further escalation. The importance of the issue is widely recognized and was duly reflected in the Minsk Protocol, which calls for “permanent monitoring on the Ukrainian-Russian state border and verification by the OSCE.” It is of utmost importance that the SMM gets proper access to the border area to conduct the necessary monitoring. We note the concept paper prepared by the SMM on the border monitoring and expect that the SMM will be able to move swiftly to embark on the wide scale monitoring.
Related to this issue is the mandate of the OSCE observation mission at two Russian border checkpoints. With the current mandate to expire soon we call on the Swiss Chairmanship to convene, as it was done in October, open-ended consultations on the extension of the mandate with its simultaneous significant expansion.
Lack of proper border control is also behind the deplorable Russian practice of sending illegal convoys under the guise of humanitarian assistance to the people of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. These convoys cannot be considered as the “humanitarian aid” since they are being organized and carried out in contravention of Ukrainian legislation and the established international practice, as well as contrary to the previously reached agreements between Ukraine and the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Russian Federation. Rather they can be qualified as illegal smuggling of weaponry and mercenaries to Ukraine.
Such convoys crossed the state border of Ukraine on 31 October, 2 November and 4 November. With concern we hear about preparations to send another one in the coming days. This irresponsible behavior must stop immediately and in this regard we expect the OSCE observers at the Russian border check point to give proper assessment of relevant facts in their reports.
In its spot reports of 8, 9 and 11 November the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission reported the movement of significant amounts of heavy weapons, tanks and troops without insignia in the terrorist-controlled areas of Donbas moving westwards from Russia towards the areas under governmental control.
Concentration of illegal armed groups, reinforced with Russian regular troops, is observed in the areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Debaltseve and Mariupol. Shelling and attacks on the Ukrainian positions in these areas have intensified dramatically over the recent days.
We also register alarming proportion of on-going concentration of the Russian Army units in the vicinity of the state border with Ukraine. Around 60 tanks have been recently deployed near the village of Fedorovka in Rostov oblast. The strength of the Russian military along the border amounts to hundreds of tanks, military trucks, artillery systems, combat planes and helicopters.
These are extremely worrying signs that lead us to well-grounded concerns over the next stage of aggression against Ukraine that may be under preparation. This level of preparation leaves little room for doubt that we are facing the real threat of a full-scale invasion.
The Russian Federation must stop moving in this menacing direction as it will totally undermine the peace process and could lead to increasing hostilities in the region. We remain convinced that the Minsk agreements provide appropriate platform for peaceful settlement based on respect for territorial integrity, sovereignty and unity of Ukraine.
While pursuing the peaceful track of settlement, the Ukrainian leadership is aiming to help Ukrainians who live in the areas of Donbas controlled by the pro-Russian illegal armed groups. The National Defense and Security Council and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine recently decided to continue delivering gas and electricity, despite significant arrears in payments, to the militants-controlled areas in the east of Ukraine. The logic that guided this decision is clear-cut: this is the Ukrainian territory with our citizens living there, and we cannot leave them alone through the winter time.
At the same time, full responsibility for depriving the local population of social benefits rests with illegal armed groups who seize all respective funds that the Ukrainian Government allocates for social needs in the region. We will not finance terrorists. All social benefits will be accumulated for each individual and paid immediately after we regain control over these areas. At the same time local resident can be provided with all social benefits outside the terrorist-controlled areas.
Ukraine remains convinced that a thorough investigation, which was called for by the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, is needed in relation to the shelling of a school playground in Donetsk on 6 November, which led to deaths and casualties among teenagers. We express condolences to the families of the victims. We took note of the SMM Spot Report on the matter of 7 November. We proceed from the understanding that all findings thereof, including images and video footages made, methodology used, should be a subject of careful examination by experts to establish the truth. Regrettably, those images attached to the spot report as well as lack of relevant explanations for conclusions do not provide us with better understanding of the incident.
A deliberate provocation, one more among many by the illegal armed groups is not ruled out. Given the intensification of the Russian troops and militants’ activities, growing inflows of military personnel and hardware, such provocations would aim at creating a pretext for offensive operations against the Ukrainian forces.
The situation in the occupied Crimea continues to be characterised by serious human rights violations and restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Ukraine is particularly concerned over the increasing number of enforced disappearances and growing pressure against the Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and all those who have refused Russian citizenship.
We urge the Russian Federation, which illegally occupied and annexed Crimea, to stop all human rights violations on the peninsula and to facilitate free and unconditional access of the international monitors to Crimea. Until now the occupying authorities have not made steps in this direction.
The situation in the east of Ukraine takes on extremely menacing forms. The concentration of Russian military presence in the terrorists’ controlled area defies the logic of the Minsk agreements and further seriously undermines the efforts of Ukraine and the OSCE community to seek peaceful resolution of the situation in Donbas.
I therefore call all OSCE participating States to continue to be firm in upholding Ukraine's unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
As Russia’s military aggression continues, Ukraine’s position remains clear and consistent on steps for de-escalation: Russia must withdraw its forces from Ukraine, stop reinforcing the terrorist organizations with personnel and weapons, cease its destabilizing and provocative actions in Ukraine, and release all hostages. Russia must also end its occupation of Crimea, which remains an integral part of Ukraine.
We reiterate our call on the Russian Federation to recommit to the Minsk agreements and stop the activities that undermine the peace process in the east of Ukraine.
Thank you, Mr.Chairman.