OSCE reports on Russia’s military presence in Donbas

The OSCE SMM reports on the presence of Russian troops in Donbas, as well as violation of the Minsk Agreements.

31 July 2016 13:19

In an interview with QHA, the First Deputy Head of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine Alexander Hug told about the Mission’s work in the uncontrollable Ukraine’s territories bordering Russia, the use of prohibited weapons by militants, as well as the work of the OSCE Mission in annexed Crimea.

QHA: The shelling on the front line is going on, the militants use prohibited weapons and heavy artillery, proscribed by the Minsk Agreemenst. Can we speak about any progress of the Minsk Agreements in this case?

Alexander Hug: The Mission works 24/7 and observations made during day and night are published in our reports on a daily basis. The SMM dispatches around 90 patrols a day throughout Ukraine on both sides of the contact line, to monitor the ceasefire, the movement of military equipment, the humanitarian situation, and the implementation of the Minsk agreements. At night time we use various technologies – mainly, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), static cameras and other aerial surveillance. Additionally, night time observations are being conducted by SMM monitors from 14 different locations throughout conflict zone who listen and record ceasefire violation. In order to enhance monitoring along the contact line, the SMM has three cameras offering 24/7 360° radius monitoring capacity at three locations: in ‎Avdiivka, nearby Oktiabr mine (just adjacent to the destroyed Donetsk airport) and near Shyrokyne, east of Mariupol – all hotspots, with regular and numerous ceasefire violations.‬‬‬‬‬‬ The SMM indeed registers hundreds of ceasefire violations on a daily basis. The SMM observes numerous weapons missing from storage sites and the presence of weapons in violation of withdrawal lines, quite often in and around residential areas. With these observations, it is clear that the implementation of the Minsk agreement is incomplete. However, the level of violence has decreased since the Minsk agreements were signed. Moreover, the SMM has been able to verify the withdrawn of some weapons. It is important to understand that only the sides are in position to stop the fighting. The sides have to stand by the agreement they reached: introduce a full and sustainable ceasefire, withdraw weapons, clear the land of mines and create a safe and secure environment for civilians.

QHA: The OSCE does not believe in the evidence of the presence of regular Russian soldiers and their involvement in the conflict in Donbas. Journalists find and publish them.

Alexander Hug: The SMM reports only what it actually sees and hears; it is for others to make assessments or draw conclusions. When we observe armed and uniformed persons who say they are part of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, or wear something that could associate them with the Russian Federation Armed Forces, we report these findings. We have reported on them on a several occasions: for example, we met two persons detained by SBU, these persons claimed they were part of the Russian Armed Forces, in May we saw four individuals near Petrivske (near Donetsk) wearing military uniforms with Russian Federation Armed Forces insignia. On 20 May, the SMM visited two individuals held at the military hospital in Kyiv; both said that they were members of a unit of the Russian Federation Armed Forces and that they were on a reconnaissance mission in the East. The SMM has also observes traces of tracked vehiclesacross the border (not the vehicles themselves). In the past, the monitors have seen large amounts of weapons moving from the east to the west in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

QHA: Does the OSCE look for evidence of Russian interference into the conflict in Donbas?

Alexander Hug: The SMM is mandated to monitor and report on the security situation throughout Ukraine. It gathers information and does not conduct investigations. It’s up to others to draw conclusions based on the SMM reports.

QHA: Do the OSCE monitors see which weapon and ammunition is used by the militants? Some types of weapons arrive only from Russia.

Alexander Hug: The SMM continues to observe weapons that should have been withdrawn long time ago on both sides of the contact line. In the past, the monitors have seen large amounts of weapons moving from the east to the west in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. As you can see in our daily reports we describe in great detail any weapon system or other military hardware that we observe, including in areas not controlled by the Government. Our daily reports with all the weapons and types mentioned it will clearly illustrate this point. However, we do report on weapons and hardware we see in areas not controlled by the government. For instance, on 15 June 2016 an SMM mini unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) spotted a jamming communication station, probably an R-330ZH Zhitel, within a military-type compound approximately 11km south of Donetsk city. (http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm/247216). On 1 June, for instance, In “DPR”-controlled areas, the SMM observed an automatic grenade launcher (30mm) loaded on a military-type truck (Ural) in Donetsk city and about 20 military-type trucks (Kamaz) of which most were marked with “7”, and three fuel trucks under camouflage netting in Debaltseve (58km north-east of Donetsk). In addition, the SMM UAV spotted three APCs and 15 military-type trucks in Mineralne, 18 APCs and 30 military-type trucks in Budonivskyi district of Donetsk city, six APCs and 26 military-style trucks Kalininskyi district of Donetsk city, one APC in Leninskyi district in Donetsk city and one anti-aircraft gun (ZU-23) in Korsun (31km north-east of Donetsk).

QHA: Where the fighting is more intensive - in Luhansk or in Donetsk region and why?

Alexander Hug: The level of violence remains high in Donetsk region with violence concentrated around the hotspots: Avdiivka-Yasynuvata-Donetsk airport triangle; western and northern outskirts of Horlivka; areas around Shyrokyne and Kominternove; and Svitlodarsk-Debaltseve road. Worryingly, since 9 July the SMM observed a sharp increase in violence in Luhansk region. A major rise in violence was observed in StanytsiaLuhanska – the only crossing point in the entire Luhansk region.Just a few hundred metres separate the sides at the bridge– after the so-called “LPR” had moved their positions across the contact line. The situation is also tense in the western part ofLuhansk region. As at the bridge in StanytsiaLuhanska, andin all areas where there is still fighting registered by the SMM,the sides are too close to each other. The sides must disengage. They must pull back to points where the likelihood and capability of engaging one another is reduced. To some people it may seem like a step back but in reality it is two steps forward towards normalization. If the sides refuse to take this step, civilians will inevitably continue to suffer. The situation of civilians trapped between armed positions, or in close proximity to armed positions, is particularly difficult as emerging conflict puts civilians and civilian infrastructure at risk of indiscriminate shelling.

QHA: The militants hinder the OSCE work, even kidnap its representatives (near Luhansk) and fire upon the cars. How the OSCE is going to react? Will the SMM allow it happen again?

Alexander Hug: The SMM is willing and able to help the sides in eastern Ukraine de-escalate further and disengage. In order for the SMM to do its job it must have unfettered access. The mandate given to the SMM by the 57 participating States of the OSCE, including Ukraine and the Russian Federation, clearly states that the “Special Monitoring Mission members will have safe and secure access throughout Ukraine to fulfil their mandate.” All signatories to the Minsk agreements have agreed that the SMM should monitor and verify the ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons. Freedom of movement and unconditional and safe access is a vital ingredient of this. The SMM is an unarmed civilian monitoring mission. Attacks and threats against monitors must not be tolerated and should be thoroughly examined. Without access, the SMM cannot monitor. Without monitoring, there is no verification. Without verification, there is no trust. Without trust, there will be no disengagement. Without disengagement, this vicious cycle of violence will continue.

QHA: Comment on the incident in Horlivka, when the locals blocked the OSCE car, not allowing it to leave.

Alexander Hug: The SMM operates on the both sides of the contact line and reports accordingly. This particular incident happened while our monitors were in Mykytivskiy, on the northern outskirts of so-called “DPR”-controlled Horlivka, where they had gone to monitor and record civilian infrastructure damaged by shelling. Our monitors actually spoke to the owners of every property damaged. They were understandably angry and shocked. They did not, however, participate in the orchestrated farce that ensued. People have a right to express their views, as long as they do that peacefully, and we are always ready to discuss their concerns, as well as clarify questions regarding our mandate. The people in the video, however, were marshalled, encouraged and even filmed by so-called “DPR” members, who are responsible for ensuring our freedom of movement. The people involved proceeded to prevent our monitors from carrying out their duties. Refusing to listen, and even refusing to allow our vehicles to move, these people were part of a spectacle designed to turn attention away from where it belongs: on the people who order and carry out such attacks, and who position military hardware amongst civilian infrastructure.

QHA: The OSCE SMM monitors the situation only within the borders of Ukraine. More than 400 km of territory near Luhansk is not controlled either by Kyiv or by the OSCE. Is it the specific area where Russia passes through heavy weapons?

Alexander Hug: The SMM continues visits to border areas. The Mission still has restricted access to parts of the Ukraine-Russian Federation border outside government control. In such casesone can onlyspeculatewhat is in these areas that is hidden from our view.

QHA: The OSCE Police Mission in Donbas. At what stage is its formation, will there be any citizens of Russia?

Alexander Hug: The SMM is an unarmed civilian monitoring mission, and its mandate as such has only recently been extended for one year, until end of March 2017. The OSCE SMM is one of the many OSCE field missions. The SMM is not in a position to decide or comment on deployment of other missions by the OSCE. The SMM was deployed following a request to the OSCE by Ukraine’s Government and was agreed by all 57 OSCE’s participating States. Like in the case of the SMM, the decision on deployment of other missions will have to be taken by the 57 OSCE participating States in Vienna.

QHA: How many Russians are working for the OSCE SMM to Ukraine?

Alexander Hug: Presently, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine includes 700 international monitors originating from 45 participating States.As of 26 July 2016 there are 40 Monitors from Russian Federation. In addition, there are 306 Ukrainian colleagues and 85 other international staff.

QHA: Why is there no detailed information in the OSCE SMM reports on the casualties among civilians?

Alexander Hug: The SMM reports only on what it sees and can verify. The SMM corroborated cases of civilian casualties by consulting a broad range of sources, including accounts of victims, witnesses and other directly affected individuals, armed formations, medical professionals, community leaders and other interlocutors. For example, on 15 July the SMM followed up on information that a civilian had allegedly been killed during shelling in “DPR”-controlled Staromykhailivka (15km west of Donetsk) on 12 July. The head of the morgue of the Kalinin regional hospital in “DPR”-controlled Donetsk city told the SMM that the body of a man (resident of Staromykhailivka) had been brought to the morgue on 12 July with multiple shrapnel wounds. The SMM also followed up on reports of a civilian wounded during an intensive exchange of small-arms fire in Zaitseve (50km north-east of Donetsk) on 14 July. The head of the intensive care unit at Horlivka No.2 hospital confirmed to the SMM that a 79-year-old man had suffered shrapnel injuries. On 5 July,the Mission confirmed reports of three children killed by a grenade explosion in Yenakiieve. We also would like to take this opportunity to suggest referring to OHCHR-HRMMU quarterly reports, which present regular update on total number of casualty figures in Ukraine.

QHA: How does the OSCE monitor the situation in the Crimea? Russia strongly militarizes the peninsula. NATO plans to watch it from Romania, what about the OSCE?

Alexander Hug: We do monitor developments in Kherson such as movements of vehicles and people, water flow levels, from and into Crimea. Some of the OSCE institutions monitor human rights and media developments in Crimea remotely. The SMM issued a number of Thematic Reports covering Crimea-related issues. For instance, Thematic report “Internal displacement in Ukraine” briefly describes the current IDP situation based on interviews with IDPs from Ukraine’s eastern regions and Crimea (see report at: http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm/122620). In June 2015 the SMM issued a thematic report “Freedom of movement across the administrativeboundary line with Crimea” that provides an overview of the situation on freedom of movement across the administrative boundary line (ABL) between Ukraine’s Kherson region and Crimea.

Photo: Internet