Delivered by Ambassador Ihor Prokopchuk, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the International Organizations in Vienna, to the 1140th meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, 5 April 2017
We wish to start by thanking the Chairmanship for convening today’s special meeting of the Permanent Council and by thanking our distinguished speakers for their contributions to our debate and the assessments they shared with us.
When addressing the Permanent Council in January, Ambassador Martin Sajdik pointed out that security is a key for advancing on political, humanitarian and economic issues. Today security is again the highlight of the debate and the matter of deep concern.
Indeed, the security starting from a comprehensive and sustainable ceasefire is the very first provision of each of the three Minsk agreements: the Protocol of 5 September 2014, the Memorandum of 19 September 2014 and the Package of Measures of 12 February 2015, under which both Ukraine and the Russian Federation have assumed their obligations with the mediation of the OSCE. To our deepest regret, for two and a half years we have not witnessed the political will on the part of Russia to start implementing the Minsk agreements by establishing and keeping the ceasefire regime.
Having carried out in one year of 2016 over 16 thousand shelling attacks (5 thousand of them with the use of the Minsk-proscribed heavy weapons), the hybrid Russian forces started this year with further escalation of hostilities accompanied by Kremlin’s political moves in contravention of the Minsk agreements.
Only in the last three months (1 January – 4 April) 75 Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 517 were wounded. The shellings of the hybrid Russian forces deliberately target residential areas and critical civilian infrastructure, endangering lives and putting dozens of thousands of people on the brink of humanitarian disaster. In the last two months (1 February – 27 March) 574 shellings targeted the locations populated by civilians, 4 additional sites of critical civilian infrastructure were damaged. The sufferings of the people of Avdiivka and its suburbs, which lack supply of electricity, water and heating because of shellings, have been repeatedly highlighted in the Permanent Council meetings, including the special PC meeting of 31 January convened on the request of the Ukrainian delegation.
We welcomed the Trilateral Contact Group agreement of 29 March on renewal of commitment to a comprehensive and sustainable cease-fire from 1 April. The President of Ukraine, Commander-in-Chief Petro Poroshenko issued the respective order to the country’s Armed Forces and the Ukrainian military provided to the SMM the weaponry information. However, from 1 April we again encountered regular violations of cease-fire by the hybrid Russian forces, including with the use of Minsk-proscribed weapons, although of a lower intensity than in the previous weeks. In the last two days, 3 and 4 April, 2 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 10 were wounded by shellings.
It is absolutely clear to all, based on facts, that the intensive and regular military offensives and shellings of the illegal armed formations in Donbas would not have been possible without the constant flow of the Russian weapons, military personnel and trained mercenaries, through the uncontrolled segment of the Ukrainian-Russian state border. The Russian military have made the conflict-affected area of Donbas the testing ground for their military equipment. The SMM reported about registering exclusive Russian weapons and military equipment, including the jamming system R-330 “Zhitel”, heavy flame-thrower system “Buratino”, portable flame-thrower “Shmel”, “Grad-P”, UAV “Orlan-10”. The actual list of such weapons is significantly longer. This morning the Ukrainian military near Svitlodarsk found a Russian UAV “Granat-1”.
The uncontrolled segment of the border allows the Russian Federation to procure to its hybrid forces in Donbas within a single command and supply chain hundreds of MLRS, tanks, self-propelled guns, armoured vehicles, as well as fuel tankers and railway carriages with munitions and military supplies. We are speaking about hundreds of thousands of tons of ammunition of all calibers! It is this supply that fuels large-scale human losses, destruction of infrastructure and civilian houses, of schools and hospitals.
Russia continues attempts to thoroughly conceal its military losses in its hybrid warfare against Ukraine in Donbas. Yet the OSCE Border Observation Mission at two Russian border check-points frequently reports about crossings of groups of military-clad people, of Russian ambulances and vans bearing the inscription “Gruz 200” – Russian military code for personnel killed in action. Such findings can only serve as a very small indicator of what is happening along the 400 km stretch of the uncontrolled section of the Ukrainian-Russian state border.
It is hardly possible to extinguish a fire when one party is constantly throwing woods into this fire. Real de-escalation in Donbas demands that Russia stops its military supplies to the region and starts withdrawing its troops, mercenaries, fighters and weaponry, as Russia committed itself to deliver under the Minsk agreements.
Security and de-escalation also demand that the SMM be ensured unfettered access and freedom of movement in the non-government controlled areas for effective monitoring and verification. The situation in this regard has not been improving, but deteriorating as registered in the SMM reports. Unlike in the government-controlled areas, where restrictions to freedom of movement are mostly attributed to security reasons, be it presence of UXOs, mines or shellings by the hybrid Russian forces, in non-government controlled areas Moscow and its proxies deliberately impose restrictions to conceal what is happening. Weekly SMM reports are very pronounced in this regard. Last year the OSCE Secretary-General called the downing of the OSCE long-range UAVs in the occupied areas of Donbas as the strategy of “blinding the SMM”. We have to state that the Russian strategy of deception, of falsification of events continues to be in action, whereas significant restrictions on monitoring and verification by the SMM remain an indispensable element of this strategy.
In the Permanent Council meetings over the last two months we have reacted with deep concern to serious incidents of pressure on and intimidation of the SMM monitors in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, highlighted in the respective spot reports. Their number and the level of threat, including by firearms, have rapidly grown after on 18 February the Russian Federation decided to recognize the so called “documents”, issued by its proxies in Donbas, to proceed to full circulation of the Russian currency in the occupied areas of Donbas, to give a green light to the seizure of Ukrainian enterprises in those areas and to the so called “state border” along the contact line, announced by Russia-backed illegal armed formations in Donetsk. The Russian side has taken deliberate steps to undermine the political track of the Minsk agreements in addition to continuous violation of security provisions and these steps have had far-reaching negative consequences, affecting also the SMM activities, the stationing and security of the monitors. These steps echo the endorsement by the Russian Federation of the illegal exercise of so called “elections” in the occupied areas of Donbas in November 2014, ignoring the calls of the OSCE community to refrain from steps that run counter to the Minsk agreements and erode the prospects of peaceful resolution.
Notably, the company “Ukrenergo” presently continues to operate within the Ukrainian legislation in the non-government controlled areas after the illegal armed formations had attempted to seize its offices last year. Having realized the possible consequences of the seizure which would disrupt electricity supply, Moscow aborted the attempt then. Having now seized dozens of Ukrainian enterprises leading to disruption of industrial and supply chains, likely lay-off of staff and further deterioration of the humanitarian situation, Moscow evidently saw these negative consequences as desirable for its own political ends.
The humanitarian situation in the conflict-affected area of Donbas is extremely disturbing, being affected by hostilities and violence driven by the hybrid Russian forces. The situation for the people has been aggravated by the expulsion from the occupied areas of international and Ukrainian NGOs that had been distributing substantial humanitarian assistance. Russia neglects its Minsk commitment on delivery of humanitarian aid in accordance with the international mechanism, instead resorting to sending its so called “humanitarian convoys” in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the principles of international humanitarian law. Agreements in the Normandy format of 2015 on lifting all restrictions on operation of humanitarian organizations in the non-government controlled areas have been flouted by Moscow and its proxies. Persons illegally detained in those areas are denied access of international organizations, including the ICRC. For example, while monitoring the detentions in 2016–2017 the ICRC conducted 106 visits in government-controlled area and was allowed only three visits by the illegal structures in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.
Currently the illegal armed formations detain 121 hostages, while the exact locations are known only for half of them. Moreover, Russia holds behind bars at least 17 Ukrainian political prisoners and more than 27 – in the temporarily occupied Crimea. We fully support the principles elaborated by the UN OHCHR on the attestation of willingness/unwillingness of some individuals, deprived of their liberty in the context of the conflict, to relocate to the certain areas (or to the government-controlled territory) after the release. Ukraine is interested in the earliest launching of the verification process and is alarmed by the delaying tactics on the part of Russia and its proxies.
We are interested in the ICRC assistance to establish a coordination mechanism on the issue of missing persons. Hundreds of people are on Ukraine’s list. Progress is hampered by Moscow’s denial of any participation in such a mechanism, cynically claiming its “non-involvement” in what Moscow calls “internal Ukrainian conflict”.
As the Russian Federation continues to undermine the security, political and humanitarian tracks of the Minsk agreements, let me reiterate that the crisis in and around Ukraine was started by Russia’s illegal occupation of the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine. The restoration of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, as well as of respect for the Helsinki Final Act principles and OSCE commitments necessitates Russia’s de-occupation of Crimea, reaffirming the inviolability of frontiers of states.
We also reiterate that the SMM must have safe and secure access throughout Ukraine to fulfill its mandate. We regret that the Russian Federation continues to deny access of the SMM to the Crimean peninsula against the background of multiple reports of oppression, grave and systematic human rights abuses by the Russian occupation authorities. We appreciate the activities of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which continues its endeavours to inform the international community on the situation and developments on the ground, being also denied the permanent presence there.
The decisions taken in Moscow started Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and it will require decisions to be taken in Moscow to stop and peacefully resolve the crisis with full respect for international law and the Helsinki Final Act principles. The practical steps, pending implementation, are clear and were agreed to by Russia in the Minsk agreements: comprehensive and sustainable cease-fire, withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the contact line and from the territory of Ukraine, full freedom of movement and unhindered monitoring by the SMM, establishment of permanent monitoring by the OSCE at the uncontrolled segment of the Ukrainian-Russian state border to verify that illegal supplies of weaponry, fighters and ammunition from Russia have stopped. The readiness of Russia to transparency and verification at those segments of the border will serve as a litmus test of the real intentions to move towards peaceful resolution of the conflict. We expect to see unblocking by Moscow of the release of hostages and illegally detained persons and the lifting of all restrictions on operation of humanitarian organizations in the non-government controlled areas. The stolen Ukrainian enterprises must be returned into Ukraine’s jurisdiction. Creating the security environment conducive for holding local elections in line with the Ukrainian legislation and international standards under the OSCE/ODIHR monitoring requires that Russia pulls out in good faith from the area under its control in Donbas. This would not be a matter of “good will” on the part of Russia, but a matter of implementation of the commitments undertaken by the Russian Federation. So far Russia acted contrary to its commitments. On the part of Ukraine, we remain fully committed to implementation of the Minsk agreements.
The Delegation of Ukraine concludes by again urging the Russian Federation to return to the tenets of international law and reverse the illegal occupation of the Crimean peninsula, which is a part of Ukraine.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.