Delivered by Ambassador Ihor Prokopchuk, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the International Organizations in Vienna, at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on 7 April 2016
I regret to inform the OSCE Permanent Council that in three weeks since its last regular meeting and over one month since the Normandy Four meeting the security situation in the conflict-affected areas of Donbas has remained on a deteriorating trajectory as the regular attacks and shellings by the combined Russian-separatist forces persisted.
The OSCE SMM reported on the sharp increase of ceasefire violations. 376 cases of shellings and attacks, targeting the Ukrainian positions and the nearby residential areas, were registered between 30 March and 5 April. About two third of them occurred in Donetsk direction – Avdiyivka, Zaytseve, Mayorsk and outskirts of Horlivka. Situation in Mariupol direction was also marked with regular militants’ attacks, targeting mostly Shyrokyne, Marinka, Granitne and Novotroitske. Among the disturbing trends – intensification of militants’ armed provocations in Luhansk region, where a relative calm had been observed until recently.
The SMM reports about continuous use by the combined Russian-separatist forces of the heavy weapons, in particular mortars and high caliber artillery. For instance, on 31 March the Mission analysed three craters in the residential area of the government-controlled part of Zaytseve, finding one of them to have been caused by a 122 mm artillery round and the other two – by 152 mm artillery.
The toll of casualties continues to steadily grow. In March 19 Ukrainian soldiers lost their lives and 128 were wounded as a result of attacks and shellings by the illegal armed groups. Civilian population also continuously suffers from militants’ shellings. In particular, on 31 March the SMM informed of monitors’ visits to the hospitals in Avdiyivka, Lysychansk and Popasna to collect evidence of local civilians, who got injured by militants’ shells.
The manifestations of utmost disdain by the combined Russian-separatist forces for the lives and humanitarian needs of the civilian population of Donbas are not limited to the shellings of the residential areas. Among many examples, reported by the SMM over the past week, are the militants’ refusal to allow SMM patrolling in the area of Yasynuvata – an essential measure of the local ceasefire on the ground; absence of real progress in agreed de-mining actions due to shellings. On 31 March the workers, repairing the gas pipeline in the vicinity of Maryinka, came under fire from occupied territory. As they were compelled to suspend the repair works, 27 000 people were left without gas supply.
At the beginning of March the Ministers of the Normandy Four, including Russia, emphasized the need of full freedom of movement and access of the OSCE SMM. However, the situation has not improved and the Mission continues to face regular impediments to its activities in the occupied part of Donbas. The SMM reported on 23 cases of restrictions, imposed by the militants between 30 March and 4 April, which constitute 95% of all freedom-of-movement incidents in this period.
We draw attention of the Permanent Council to the Mission’s conclusion in its weekly report of 30 March about clear link between freedom-of-movement restrictions and other violations of the Minsk Agreements by the combined Russian-separatist forces. The conclusion also took account of the incident with an SMM UAV, which was shot at over Donetsk on 26 March after spotting 7 tanks in the militant-controlled area.
We consider unacceptable that the militants under Moscow’s control continue to show aggression and resort to threats in their contacts with the OSCE monitors. We are particularly concerned over the firing incident on 22 March, when the SMM team was in the government-controlled part of Zaytseve. The details of the incident prove a deliberate provocation of the militants. Russia must immediately intervene and ensure that incidents, exposing the OSCE monitors to danger, are not repeated and the SMM is able to perform unhindered monitoring and verification.
This includes, in particular, removal of all limitations for the SMM monitoring at the Ukrainian-Russian border in the occupied areas of Donbas. The SMM reports testify that the situation with border access has not been improved. Only on 25 March the SMM was denied access to five locations in the border area in Luhansk oblast. Those few visits to the border areas that the OSCE monitors were allowed to make were “strictly conditioned and closely controlled”, as termed by the SMM. This is not freedom of movement which Russia has undertaken to grant.
The uncontrolled border is one of the main stumbling blocks for de-escalation which Russia resists removing. Claiming peaceful intentions, Moscow continues to regularly send its weapons and other reinforcements into Donbas. Since the beginning of 2016 Russian trains and trucks full of supplies have crossed the uncontrolled part of the border over 80 times. Just in the recent days wagons with ammunition, tank spare parts and fuel arrived to the train stations of Khartsyzsk, Illovaysk and Krasnodon. 15 tanks were delivered to the occupied Luhansk on 1 April.
It remains critically important to implement an agreed Minsk provision on establishment of a security zone in border areas of Ukraine and Russia, with the OSCE permanent monitoring and verification at the border. We encourage the SMM to speedily establish its Forward Patrol Bases and patrol hubs close to the border in order to ensure due monitoring of uncontrolled sections of the border and adjacent areas, including BCPs and transport routes. We call on Russia to implement its part of the agreement without delay. We encourage the Chairmanship and the Secretariat to table relevant proposals in that regard.
The on-going security degradation affects prospects for progress on all other aspects. We reiterate that full implementation of the initial security provisions of the Minsk Package of measures by Russia and its proxies remains a basic requirement for progress on the political and social and economic tracks.
The deployment of a special police mission would contribute to ensuring safe and secure environment in Donbas, in particular in the context of local elections, and we call on the OSCE participating States to constructively engage in practical realization of this initiative.
The important agreement of the Normandy ministerial in March, that all restrictions on operation of the international humanitarian organizations in the occupied part of Donbas must be lifted remains unimplemented.
The incident in the crossing point “Zolote” on 31 March, where over 300 people were denied passage to the occupied territory by the militants, is also illustrative of how far the Russian declaratory concerns about humanitarian situation in Donbas are from the real deeds on the ground. Constant shelling of the “Stanytsya Luhanska” crossing point over the past week compels the Ukrainian authorities to suspend its operation until the shelling stops.
The Ministers of Normandy Four also agreed in Paris that the ICRC must have access to hostages and illegally detained persons. This also has not yet materialized. No progress has been registered in the release of hostages and illegally detained persons on the basis of “all-for all” principle, as agreed in Minsk. Russia and its proxies continue to hold hostages as blackmail leverage, refusing to release even wounded and those in poor health.
We regret that yesterday’s TCG meeting in Minsk demonstrated continuous unwillingness of Russia and its proxies to constructively work on these issues, which are of critical importance for the progress on the humanitarian track.
We consistently draw attention of the Permanent Council to the dire human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, illegally occupied by Russia. It remains a matter of deep concern for us as the Russian occupying authorities further consolidate their policy of repressions against those, whom they consider to be opponents of the illegal occupation.
Later today a briefing “Stop Impunity for Human Rights Violations in Crimea” with the participation of the experts from the civil society, OSCE and UN will take place in Hofburg. I invite all colleagues to join the discussion, which is to start at 13.30 in Ratsaal.
Against the backdrop of gross human rights violations by the Russian occupying authorities it remains of paramount importance to seek permanent international monitoring of the human rights situation in the occupied peninsula.
Unwillingness of the Russian Federation to implement commitments it had undertaken stalled progress in fulfilling the Minsk agreements in 2015. This year again Moscow pays only lip-service to the agreements, continuing to push for military escalation for its own political ends.
The recent developments clearly testify that Moscow continues its aggression against Ukraine and against the rules of the European peace and order. It is therefore critical that the international community maintains its political and economic sanctions, it has imposed on the state-aggressor, to stimulate Moscow’s return to compliance with international law.
We urge the Russian Federation to immediately take practical steps to implement its Minsk commitments on peaceful resolution in Donbas and to exert its influence on the militants it supports to do likewise.
We urge Russia to halt its aggression against Ukraine and reverse the illegal occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.
Thank you, Mr.Chairman.