Delivered by Ambassador Ihor Prokopchuk, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the International Organizations in Vienna at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on 23 April 2015
Ukraine warmly welcomes H.E. Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, to the Permanent Council. We thank him for the presentation of the comprehensive and well-structured report of the activities of the Mission, which was set up upon request of the Government of Ukraine to assist my country in responding to significant security challenges stemming from external aggression.
At the outset, let me express our high appreciation of the Mission’s work in line with the agreed mandate which covers the entire territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, including the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.
In view of significant deterioration of the situation in eastern Ukraine in January-February of this year, the SMM has been again assigned a significant role in facilitating the implementation of important aspects of the Minsk agreements, in particular of the Minsk package of measures of 12 February. We note positively that during the reporting period, the SMM moved swiftly to expand the number of monitors in Donbas and significantly improved its operational capacity. At the same time the operational conditions in that area of Ukraine remain adverse due to the lack of willingness on the part of the Russian Federation and the illegal armed groups, it supports, to abide by the undertaken commitments.
Effective implementation by the SMM of its tasks, in particularly those related to monitoring and verification under the Minsk agreements, can play a crucial role in assisting sustainable peaceful resolution of the situation in the east of Ukraine. This remains a primary goal for the President and the Government of Ukraine.
In this regard we would like to particularly praise the dedicated work of the monitors, who perform their functions in Donbas, demonstrating their commitment and professionalism in a complex security environment, marked with regular armed provocations and ceasefire violations by the militants. We are grateful to all OSCE participating States, which second their nationals to the SMM and support the Mission financially.
We take a careful note of the report’s outline of operational plans and needs of the Mission and expect that the Chief Monitor will continue to thoroughly examine the situation with a view of enhancing the effectiveness and operational capacities of the SMM, including by providing the necessary numbers of monitors on the ground and technical capabilities.
We welcome and highly value the Mission’s commitment to do its utmost to reduce tensions and foster peace, stability and security in Ukraine as my country fell victim to the external aggression.
As rightly pointed out in the report, the Minsk agreements of September 2014 and February 2015 constitute an integral whole and represent an agreed framework for peaceful political resolution of the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas. Bringing peace back to Donbas requires political will and observance of undertaken commitments by all signatories of the Minsk agreements.
Ukraine, for its part, has consistently demonstrated good – faith and responsibility in fully implementing the Minsk agreements. Ukraine has strictly observed agreements on cease-fire, withdrawal of heavy weaponry, in particular the specified artillery, adopting the legislation on the special order of self-governance in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and specifying the territory of its application, laying ground to holding free and fair local elections in those areas, which, as agreed, must be held in accordance with the Ukrainian legislation and the OSCE/ODIHR standards.
The Ukrainian authorities have shown resolve in achieving decentralization of power and spearheading the efforts on Constitutional reform in a transparent and inclusive manner aiming at enhancing the system of governance in the country, the rule of law and protection of human rights. In pursuing these reforms the Ukrainian authorities closely cooperate with relevant international organizations and institutions to draw on best practices in line with established European standards.
The Government of Ukraine and the local authorities do their best to address the plight of the population affected by the conflict in Donbas. It concerns the needs of over 1.2 million IDPs and the people who remain in the terrorists-controlled area. The Government keeps allocating 100% of pensions and other social benefits to the Donbas residents, a special simplified mechanism was established to ensure that they can receive those payments outside the terrorists-controlled area. The Government maintains the supply of gas and electricity despite unpaid bills and sends humanitarian aid.
As prescribed by para 13 of the Minsk package, the Ukrainian side is committed to intensifying the work of the Trilateral Contact Group, which includes Ukraine, the OSCE and the Russian Federation, and supports the speedy establishment of the relevant working subgroups which would reflect the composition of the TCG. Last week we submitted a list of Ukraine’s candidates for participation in subsequent consultations of its working subgroups on security, political, socioeconomic and humanitarian issues, which should immediately start meaningful and effective discussions of the practical aspects of implementation of the Minsk documents. We call on all participants of consultations to complete the consideration of Ambassador Tagliavini’s proposals regarding organizational modalities of operation of subgroups as soon as possible.
We proceed from the understanding that the priorities of the working subgroup on security issues should be: the soonest approval and facilitation of practical implementation of additional effective measures capable of ensuring the regime of sustained and comprehensive ceasefire; completing the process of withdrawal of heavy weapons of 100 mm caliber or more, with subsequent withdrawal of tanks, guns with caliber below 100 mm and mortars below 85 mm caliber under OSCE monitoring and verification.
We consider the maximum facilitation of SMM’s activities as an important area of operation of this subgroup, primarily as regards ensuring unhindered access, freedom of movement and security of observers.
We also reaffirm our readiness to discuss the topic of holding local elections in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine under Ukrainian legislation and in accordance with OSCE standards, as well as other aspects of political process. With that, we believe that the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights should also take an active part in the discussion of modalities of holding local elections in those districts.
Against this backdrop, we witness and deplore the continuing failure by the Russian Federation and the illegal armed groups, it supports, to abide by the commitments they have undertaken in Minsk. Let me point out to some of the most pronounced failures which continue to be registered after over two months since signing of the Minsk package.
First, Russia and its proxies continue to flagrantly violate the ceasefire. Since 15 February 2015 over 2555 cases of attacks on the Ukrainian positions and residential areas have been registered. In that period 65 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, 243 were wounded.
Between 15-20 April more than 75 instances of militants’ use of 120 mm mortars and 122 mm artillery were registered along the contact line. Many of them were referred to in the SMM reports.
We are gravely concerned that the illegal armed groups again resort to shelling the residential areas and the Ukrainian positions with MRLS GRAD. The SMM reported on such incident that happened on 18 April in Avdiyivka. Crater analysis and rocket fragments examination by the SMM experts clearly pointed to the militants’ responsibility. The SMM also reported on GRAD shelling of the government-controlled Valuyske on 19 April.
The militants continue to maintain intensive shelling of the areas around Donetsk airport, including Pisky and Avdiyivka, and Shyrokyne near Mariupol. We commend the SMM for its engagement in establishing local truce and seeking demilitarisation around Shyrokyne. We consider the initiative on demilitarizing the area of Shyrokyne and establishing there 24/7 SMM monitoring as a necessary step in the right direction. Ukraine has already prepared a draft demilitarization plan and handed it over to the SMM.
We regret the monitors had to withdraw from the village following the militants resumption of the shelling, including with the heavy weapons. In particular, on 20 April they shelled the village with tanks and 120 mm mortars. We strongly condemn the escalation in Shyrokyne and urge the Russian Federation to exert influence on its proxies to halt armed provocations allowing to resume 24/7 OSCE monitoring in the village.
As permanent SMM presence and engagement contribute to securing a ceasefire along the contact line it should be expanded to other areas of concern. Ukraine has earlier presented the list of 10 locations, where the permanent deployment of the OSCE monitors could contribute to defusing tensions, and we encourage the Mission to step up its efforts towards practical implementation of this initiative.
Second, despite their claims Russia and pro-Russian militants have not withdrawn heavy weapons, including the specified artillery, beyond the established distances as proved by the above examples of their continuous use to shell Ukrainian positions, towns and villages. Just few days ago at two holding areas of the so-called “DPR” the SMM monitors registered absence of weapons previously recorded there.
Third, Russia and its proxies continue to seriously impede the freedom of movement and access of the SMM by imposing mandatory escorts on SMM patrols, restricting the SMM access to many areas, including at the border, jamming the UAVs. We encourage the Mission to continue to include in the reports the overview of areas to which the SMM’s access remains restricted.
We consider impediments to Mission’s work to be unacceptable as they undermine due implementation of the Minsk agreements and sustainable de-escalation. Ukraine is committed to fully cooperate with the SMM, in particular in ensuring its unfettered freedom of movement. All reported isolated incidents at the Ukrainian military check-points are subject to prompt examination and due reaction. However these incidents of delays at check-points for 15-20 minutes can in no way be compared to full or partial denial of access by illegal armed groups to vast areas in Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts as clearly seen at the maps produced in SMM weekly reports.
Fourth, para 6 of the Minsk Package established a specific deadline for release of all hostages and illegally detained persons on the basis of “all for all” principle. The militants and the Russian Federation, which also illegally locked up Ukrainian citizens on the Russian territory, continue to ignore this agreement. We urge its immediate and long overdue implementation.
In the meantime, these citizens get executed, tortured and are kept in inhumane and degrading conditions. At the last PC meeting we drew attention to the execution of captured Ukrainian soldier Ihor Branovytskyi, reported by the Amnesty International. New evidence, including video-footage, unveiled the names of three other Ukrainian soldiers, who were executed by the pro-Russian militants. They are Oleksandr Berdes, Vasyl Demchuk and Pavlo Platsynskyi, all captured on 9 February in Debaltseve.
We reiterate that these executions constitute war crimes and responsible must be held accountable. We urge the Russian Federation to use its influence on the illegal armed groups, comprised largely of Russian citizens, to immediately stop their unacceptable and inhumane actions. We encourage the SMM to seek access to the hostages and illegally detained persons, held in captivity by the militants, and facilitate the observance of their basic human rights.
Fifth, instead of proceeding to withdrawal of its troops, mercenaries and weapons from the territory of Ukraine, Russia increases its military presence in eastern Ukraine by sending reinforcements, heavy weapons and resupply of ammunition.
In the course of last few days 50 military trucks and 20 armored infantry fighting vehicles with personnel crossed the border checkpoint “Dovzhansky” into the territory of Ukraine, a freight train with 40 carriages of heavy weaponry was spotted in the town of Sverdlovsk in Luhansk oblast.
As part of the overall efforts of seeking de-escalation, we encourage the SMM to pay greater attention to monitoring the use of railway stations, in particular Debaltseve, Ilovaysk, Krasnodon, Sverdlovsk, as the freight trains continue to illegally enter into Ukraine from Russia every week.
The current developments in Donbas make it absolutely clear that the resumption of the efficient control at the Ukrainian-Russian border remains a crucial prerequisite for de-escalation and sustainable peaceful resolution. We encourage the SMM to continue its efforts aimed at monitoring those sections of the Ukrainian-Russian state border, which are temporarily out of control of the legitimate Ukrainian authorities.
Sixth, the Minsk Package of measures stipulates that the humanitarian aid be delivered through an international mechanism. However, Russia continues to resort to sending the so-called “humanitarian convoys”, without the consent of the Ukrainian authorities, grossly violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and without fundamental international humanitarian principles being observed. The last so-called convoy illegally entered the territory of Ukraine on 16 April, 2015.
We insist that the Russian Federation renews respect to the norms of international law and observes the reached agreements. On 21 April in Switzerland the President of Ukraine met with the President of ICRC and encouraged the expansion of its activities in the occupied territories of Ukraine. We thank numerous Ukraine’s partners for their readiness to provide humanitarian assistance to the conflict-affected population. We call on Russia to exert its influence on the militants, it backs, to remove all obstacles to safe delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid from Ukrainian authorities, foreign states and international organisations. We encourage the SMM to continue contributing to resolution of issues related to the humanitarian situation in the affected areas of Donbas.
The above highlights present sufficient factual basis which proves that as yet the Russian Federation and the illegal armed groups it supports have not backed up their declarations by practical steps on good-faith and comprehensive implementation of the Minsk agreements. We call on all signatories of the Minsk agreements to immediately take responsibility for their full implementation as an agreed framework for restoring peace in Donbas.
We note the part of the Mission’s report on the situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, where the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms has significantly deteriorated, posing numerous risks to life and liberty of an individual. Intimidation and persecution of representatives of Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian communities, of human rights defenders, drastic curtailing of media freedom are all hallmarks of today’s situation on the peninsula. We are appalled over the detention of representative of the Contact Group on Human Rights Emir-Usein Kuku that took place on 20 April in Yalta and the arrest of the ATR channel operator Eskander Nebiyev on 22 April.
Provision of constant monitoring of the situation, seeking in conjunction with the OSCE Institutions full and unimpeded access to the Crimean peninsula must remain high among priority areas of attention.
It is important to bear in mind that means and tools available to the OSCE SMM - a strictly civilian mission - are not sufficient to ensure compliance by all signatories with the broad range of commitments taken under the Minsk Agreements that encompass security, political, humanitarian and other clusters.
Thus, in parallel to the efforts aimed at strengthening of the OSCE SMM there is a clear need to involve additional international instruments and mechanisms in order to de-escalate and stabilize the situation on the ground as well as to create favorable conditions for full implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
With this in mind on 17 March 2015 the Parliament of Ukraine endorsed the addresses by the President of Ukraine to the UN and the EU with the request to deploy peacekeeping operation in the territory of Ukraine.
Both the UN and the EU have acquired unique experience in multidimensional missions mandated not only to maintain peace and security, but also to facilitate political processes; protect civilians; assist in the disarmament, demobilization and re-integration of former combatants; support the organization of elections; protect and promote human rights and assist in restoring the rule of law and extending legitimate state authority. Thus using the abovementioned potential of the UN and the EU can be most indispensable to achieving lasting peace in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
The main task of such a civilian/military Mission deployed in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine would be to support full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. In this regard we call on all participating states to support this initiative.
We fully support the Mission’s statement that the OSCE principles and commitments and the agreed mandate must remain at the core of the SMM’s activities. Indeed, as we undertake collective efforts to help stabilise the situation in Ukraine and tackle the biggest crisis in European security since the end of the Cold war it is important to remember and duly respond to its root-causes. Unprovoked Russia’s aggression resulted in illegal occupation of part of Ukraine’s territory, in death of over 6000 civilians, displacement of over 1.2 million people and enormous human sufferings, in destruction of towns, villages and infrastructure. In this connection the regular Permanent Council current issue of “Ongoing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and violation of OSCE principles and commitments” has a direct bearing on the prospects for resolution of the crisis which demands Russia halting its aggression against Ukraine, its good-faith implementation of the Minsk agreements, its return to the tenets of international law. As the conflict has been instigated and fuelled by the Russian Federation, it will have good chances to cease when Russia reverses its course which has not yet happened. Restoration of Russia’s respect to its commitments and international obligations would represent a turning point that would help create a conducive environment for the SMM operation in Ukraine as the country and its people aspire for peace and progress in democratic and economic development.
I will conclude by expressing assurance of Ukraine’s continued commitment to co-operation with the Chairmanship-in-Office, the SMM and the participating States in seeking peaceful resolution in the east of Ukraine and restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity based on President’s Poroshenko Peace Plan, the Minsk agreements, the OSCE principles and commitments.
I wish to once again thank H.E. Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan and his staff for their professional work and dedication and wish them success in accomplishing the the mandate and assigned tasks.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.