Delivered by Ambassador Ihor Prokopchuk, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the International Organizations in Vienna at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on 16 April 2015
Over three weeks since the past meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council the situation on the occupied territories of Ukraine in Crimea and certain areas of Donbas has remained tense and volatile as the Russian aggression against my country and its support to the militants in the east of Ukraine have not ceased.
We are deeply concerned over the increased number of ceasefire violations by the pro-Russian illegal armed groups in Donbas, which again resort to use of the heavy weapons that must have been withdrawn under the Minsk agreements. Over the period of 8 – 13 April the positions of the Ukrainian forces and the nearby residential areas were shelled by the militants with the 120 mm mortars and 122 mm howitzers for at least 55 times. In its spot report of 12 April the OSCE SMM confirmed the use of 122 mm artillery by the illegal armed groups in Shyrokine. In total for the past week the militants attacked the positions of the Ukrainian forces 360 times.
The villages in the vicinity of Mariupol, the outskirts of the Donetsk airport, in particular Avdiyivka and Pisky, as well as the settlements along the Bakhmutka road remain the main targets for shellings and offensive provocations committed regularly by the illegal armed groups.
As a result, the number of casualties continues to steadily grow. Only over the Easter weekend 7 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 18 were wounded following the attacks and shellings by the militants.
We reiterate that every effort must be made to secure a comprehensive and unconditional ceasefire, which has not yet happened two months after the “Minsk Package” was agreed. As a practical step towards de-escalation Ukraine has strongly encouraged to demilitarize the area of Shyrokine by withdrawing all forces from the village and surroundings. We commend the prompt engagement of the SMM in elaborating practical modalities of implementation of this initiative.
We also emphasize the need for deployment of the OSCE observers in 10 areas of concern across Donbas, where the regular ceasefire violations are registered, to provide 24/7 monitoring. Experience shows that the OSCE presence leads to militants’ restraint in committing violations.
The intensification of the militants’ activities is directly linked to the on-going reinforcements they continue to receive from the Russian Federation, including in the form of the so-called “humanitarian convoys”. Russia again resorted to this illegal practice, violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and acting counter to the modalities of humanitarian assistance based on international mechanisms, agreed in Minsk. We reiterate our condemnation of this practice and call on Russia to fully respect international law and reached agreements on the matter. We urge Russia to provide any humanitarian assistance only through Government-controlled border checkpoints.
As weapons and manpower continue to flow through uncontrolled section of the Ukrainian-Russian border we are alarmed with the on-going concentration of the illegal armed groups, supported and trained by Russian military, in the vicinity of the line of contact. They have significantly intensified air reconnaissance activities over the recent period. 150 cases of UAV flights over the Ukrainian positions were registered between 8 – 13 April, thus strengthening our concerns over the preparations of the Russian Federation and its proxies for further military offensives. According to the ATO staff, two days ago another military convoy entered into Ukraine from Russia through “Dolzhansky” BCP consisting of 25 battle tanks, up to 5 MRLS “Grad”, over 15 trucks. Movement of 122mm artillery systems “Gvozdika” and trucks with ammunition was registered in the direction of Donetsk.
At the Normandy meeting in Berlin on 13 April foreign ministers expressed their grave concern at the recent outbreak of fights and called on all sides to stop fighting and demonstrate their commitment to fully implementing the ceasefire and conclude the withdrawal of heavy weapons definitely. Ukraine strongly supports the Normandy meeting’s call to withdraw mortars and heavy weapons below 100 mm as well as tanks as it follows the earlier initiative of the President of Ukraine. We are ready to fully implement this initiative.
In this regard we deem it as imperative for the Russian Federation to exert its influence on the illegal armed groups, it backs, to withdraw all heavy weapons, stop hostilities and proceed to de-escalation, including by providing free and unimpeded access to the OSCE SMM throughout Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
To ensure implementation of the Minsk agreements in their entirety we also strongly urge the Russian Federation to take practical steps in implementing its commitments and withdraw its weapons and armed formations from Ukraine under the OSCE monitoring, as agreed.
We note with concern the continuous militants’ restrictions to the SMM monitoring and verification abilities, including by imposing escorts to SMM patrols and impeding the SMM access to the border area. These restrictions clearly aim to conceal the real situation on the militants-controlled areas, in particular near the border. The on-going developments in Donbas make it again absolutely clear that the resumption of the efficient control at the Ukrainian-Russian border remains a crucial prerequisite for de-escalation.
Given the security situation and the civilian nature of the SMM, which shows full dedication to performing its tasks, we are confident that its efforts should be supplemented by a civil-military mission tasked to support the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
We deeply deplore that no positive developments have taken place in releasing the hostages and illegally detained persons on the basis of “all-for-all” principle as envisaged by the Minsk agreements. The Ukrainian side has been ready to implement the relevant provision of the Minsk “Package of measures” by the established deadline in early March. We are concerned over the unwillingness of the Russian Federation and the militants to proceed to accomplishing the release in line with agreed parameters. The SMM report of 15 April presents horrifying figures about military and civilians in detention killed, missing and still kept in inhumane conditions.
Our concerns are greatly deepened by the evidence of torture, humiliation and even killings of the captured Ukrainian soldiers by the pro-Russian militants. We condemn these acts of terror and intimidation. We draw attention of the participating States to the 9 April statement of the Amnesty International, referring to the case of Ukrainian serviceman Ihor Branovytskyi, who was tortured to death by the pro-Russian militants after being captured in the Donetsk airport in January. The Amnesty International collected videos and eyewitnesses’ accounts proving execution style killing of Mr.Branovytskyi and three other Ukrainian soldiers, who had been captured by pro-Russian militants in Debaltseve. As the Amnesty International concludes, “the new evidence of these summary killings confirms what we have suspected for a long time.”
We strongly urge the Russian Federation to use its influence on the militants to immediately stop torture, ill-treatment and killing of captured Ukrainian soldiers. We condemn these unacceptable inhumane actions and remind that they constitute war crimes under international law and those responsible will be brought to justice.
Despite the ongoing failure of Russia and its proxies to back up their commitments by credible practical steps, Ukraine remains consistent in its commitment to good faith implementation of the Minsk agreements as an agreed framework for de-escalation and peaceful political resolution.
The Law of Ukraine on the area of application of the special order of self-governance in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts took effect following the adoption by the Verkhovna Rada.
As stipulated by the Package of Measures on Implementation of the Minsk agreements the elections in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions shall be held in compliance with relevant OSCE standards and monitored by the OSCE/ODIHR. In this regard on April 2, 2015, the Ukrainian side requested the ODIHR to conduct an assessment of the situation in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Conducting such an assessment is important for further work on holding free and fair elections in line with the OSCE standards for democratic elections and in compliance with the Law of Ukraine on a Special Order of Local Self-Government in Certain Areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions of 16 September 2014 as amended.
The Constitutional Commission, established by the President as an advisory body with wide representation of political and regional elites, civil society, experts and international organizations, has launched its practical activities. It was decided to establish three working groups focusing on human rights, reform of judiciary and decentralization. It is planned to approve the constitutional changes, including on decentralization, before the local elections, due this autumn.
The developments in the illegally occupied Crimea demonstrate that the Russian occupying authorities continue to aim at depriving Crimean Tatars of the freedom of expression and the right to seek, receive and impart information through media in their native language. Since 1 April the Crimean Tatar Channel ATR is no longer on the air due to the denial of registration by the occupation authorities. Other Crimean Tatar media outlets, including Lale child TV channel, Meydan and Lider radio stations, QHA new agecy, Avdet and Kyrym newspapers suffered previously the same fate.
We condemn the severe restrictions on media freedom on the peninsula. These steps aim to deprive Crimean Tatars of cultural, information and political visibility after Crimean Tatar community strongly opposed the illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol.
The occupying authorities continue to intimidate Crimean Tatar activists by launching criminal proceedings on fabricated charges of “organizing mass disorder” near the building of the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea on 26 February 2014. The recent period was marked by raids in the apartments of Mejlis members, including First Deputy Chairman Nariman Dzhelyal, Deputy Chairman Ilmi Umerov and Chairman of Belogorsk regional Mejlis Mustafa Asaba. A number of Mejlis representatives were summoned for interrogation. Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Ahtem Ciygoz, detained in January under the same pretext, remains behind bars.
We reiterate that Russia as an occupying power bears full responsibility for all human rights violations, including persecution of the Crimean Tatar indigenous population of Crimea and ethnic Ukrainians. We call on the Russian occupying authorities to allow free and unconditional access of the international monitors to Crimea to assess the situation on the ground.
I will conclude by reiterating our persistent call on the Russian Federation to immediately take practical steps towards de-escalation, stipulated by the Minsk agreements, which Russia has committed to implement fully and in good faith, and to exert its influence on the militants it supports to do likewise. Until now this has not been the case.
We urge Russia to restore its respect for the norms of international law and the OSCE principles and commitments, to halt its aggression against Ukraine and reverse the annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.
Thank you, Mr.Chairman.