Embassy of Ukraine in Romania Bucharest, June 26, 2020
Since President Zelenskyy taking office Ukraine has persistently sought viable options to ensure peaceful resolution of the conflict in Donbas, initiated and fueled by Russia.
Ukraine has adopted pragmatic and constructive approach, based on international law and Minsk agreements and implemented without prejudice to the ultimate goal – full restoration of sovereignty and territorial integrity within the internationally recognized borders. This has paved the way to reinvigoration of the peace talks on the highest level, contributed to improving daily life of peaceful civilians and enabled release of about 130 Ukrainian citizens from prisons in Russia and Russia-occupied Donbas.
For the sake of ending the bloody conflict Ukraine’s readiness for compromises have even stretched beyond the commitments, enshrined in the Minsk agreements, e.g. consent on the so-called “Steinmeier formula” and disengagement process, strongly promoted by Russia.
Ukraine’s position along with active efforts of the mediating states of France and Germany made it possible to hold the Normandy Four Summit (Paris, 9 December 2020) after a three-year pause. Ukraine has considered the Summit to be a window for opportunities and proceeded to immediate implementation of the Summit’s Overall Agreed Conclusions as the security situation on the ground required urgent improvement.
Ukraine’s message has been crisp and clear: we remain committed to constructive approach and expect the same from the Russian Federation as the other party to conflict.
It is a matter of regret that our positive approach has not yet been reciprocated by the Russian side and all N4 agreements aimed at improving security on the ground still remain blocked by Moscow.
In particular, the failure to implement Paris arrangement on launching full and comprehensive ceasefire, due to start by the end of 2019, has further contributed to the human sufferings on the ground and increased the toll of casualties among the Ukrainian servicemen and civilians. Over the period of 19 December – 24 June 36 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in action, while 272 were wounded.
It is disturbing trend that in comparison with the same previous period (19 December 2018 – 24 June 2019) the toll of casualties increased by 14,5%.
COVID-19 has multiplied the threats from the ceasefire violations as it increases vulnerability of the local population. However all Ukrainian initiatives to launch a new ceasefire regime to improve the security situation and mitigate the COVID-19 impact on the ground have not been responded by the Russian side.
Ukraine has taken steps to activate the N4 format and initiated the Foreign Ministers talk on 30 April to review and facilitate the implementation of Paris Summit conclusions and to reach an agreement on a new ceasefire and other urgent steps to move forward towards conflict resolution.
The Ministerial discussion has also not yet been translated in practical deeds on the ground as in May the occupation forces in Donbas (so called 1st and 2nd Army Corps) were put on full combat alert following false allegations against Ukraine of offensive preparations. Ukraine had to call an extraordinary meeting of the TCG and its Security WG to use all political and diplomatic means to prevent escalation.
Taking into account the unabated validity of the „the security first” principle Ukraine proceeds from the urgent need to implement agreements on:
new ceasefire regime;
additional disengagement areas;
new crossing points on the LoC;
updated demining plan
restoration of border control.
All these issues are at the core of the conflict resolution process: until there is no ceasefire and until 400-km section of the state border in the conflict zone is open for free flow of Russian weaponry and personnel, the situation in Donbas will remain tense and fragile.
Sustainable security as well as effective return of Ukraine to the occupied territories of Donbas serve an indispensable prerequisite for the progress on political track.
Despite all arrangements and commitments there are still impediments for the SMM to access to the temporary occupied territories of Donbas. Moreover, in order to hide the violation of the Minsk agreements, the occupational forces have significantly restricted the freedom of movement for the OSCE SMM monitors, in particular under the pretext of anti-pandemic measures.
Full and unhindered access of international monitors is crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. Absence of national and international control on the occupied territories poses an epidemiological threat not only to locals, but also to the entire region.
Against the above backdrop Ukraine proceeds from the need to boost the dialogue within the TCG and to make the TCG capable enough to expedite the long awaited decisions aimed at de-escalation and improving the humanitarian situation on the ground.
To this end, Ukraine has initiated 24/7 format of negotiations within the TCG during the COVID-19 pandemic and increased the level of Ukrainian delegation by including top officials of the Government and heads of parliamentary committees.
Russia’s unwillingness to contribute to security and its ungrounded demands to ensure “direct dialogue between Kyiv and Donbas” have resulted in a deadlock in the peace process.
Ukraine is committed to implementing the Minsk agreements in their entirety, including paragraphs 9, 11, 12 of the Minsk Package of Measures, stipulating a role for representatives of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (CADLR) in consulting on legislation on special order of self-governance and on local elections.
Direct dialogue with representatives of the occupation administration is unacceptable.
However, Ukraine has a solution to this problem. To ensure such a dialogue we propose to engage legitimate representatives of the occupied territories, including IDPs, in the discussions within TCG.
Moreover, Ukraine deems it necessary to engage representatives of the certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions (CADLR), who left the territories due to the Russian aggression, in the TCG work. On 9 June 2020 four of them took part in the discussion during the TCG Political WG meeting in VTC format (certain areas of the Donetsk region was represented by well-known journalists Denys Kazanskyi and Serhiy Harmash, and certain areas of the Luhansk region – by lawyer Vadym Goran and doctor Kostiantyn Libster).
Ukraine proceeds from premise that these representatives are more eligible to represent their region than members of the Russian occupation administration, who have been designated by the Kremlin and hold Russian passports.
As Ukraine has already implemented its part of the solution and included four of CADLR representatives in its delegation to the TCG, reciprocal steps from Russia is expected – Russia’s designated representatives should be included to the Russian delegation.
It should be stressed, that no single initiative regarding the activities of the TCG in any way changes the composition of the Trilateral contact group and idea behind this framework – Ukraine and Russia as parties to the conflict and the OSCE as mediator.
Ukraine’s unilateral implementation of the Minsk agreements, despite being full and good-faith, would neither appease the aggressor nor make Russia change its perception of Donbas as a tool to influence Ukraine. Until now the Russian goal with regard to the conflict remains the same – to ensure effective control over entire Ukraine to strategically undermine the European integration process and to maintain the NATO eastern flank under the constant threat of destabilization.
The task, that Ukraine and the international community should invest their efforts in, should be to enforce Russia to give up the above goals and to proceed to practical implementation of its peace commitments.
We expect our international allies will continue to keep a close eye on Russia’s behaviour and respond adequately to its destructive approach, in particular by prolonging sanctions and imposing new ones in case of further violations.
On its side, Ukraine will continue its tireless efforts to stop hostilities and bring peace back to Donbas.