Report of Natalia Nikonorova for the UN Security Council meeting on Arria-Formula on the topic “Implementation of the 2015 Minsk Package of Measures to settle the situation in Ukraine: a year after the Paris Normandy Format summit”.
Good afternoon, dear meeting participants!
First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to give a report on the real situation in Donbass and in the Minsk negotiation process at today's meeting. In the current circumstances, when the mainstream media of Western countries provides coverage of Donbass events basing almost completely on the Kiev’s vision, it is especially important to listen and hear the point of view of the second party to the conflict – Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics. Herewith we do not call to take our word. Everything that the Republics’ representatives state in the media and that I would like to talk about today during this meeting can be immediately confirmed with concrete facts and arguments.
Firstly, I would like to briefly recall the conflict prelude: in February 2014, nationalist forces carried out an illegal coup d'etat in Kiev. It is obvious that the people of Donbass were outraged by such lawlessness. However, I draw your attention to an essential fact: no one called on the residents of Donbass to invade Kiev or to separate from Ukraine. On the contrary, at numerous rallies of that time residents of the Donetsk region themselves appealed to deputies of the local regional council to act as their representatives and protect rights and freedoms. However, after all the deputies of the local council fled from the Donetsk region at the end of March 2014, but chaos and arbitrariness remain in Ukraine (Just take the refusal alone of the law of Ukraine "On the foundations of state language policy" voted on February 23, 2014 by the Verkhovna Rada, which provided the Russian language with regional status), the Donbass residents had no choice but to organize a kind of analogue of the local self-government body (council). Moreover, on April 14, 2014, the Ukrainian authorities announced the ATO (anti-terrorist operation) and sent the Armed Forces of Ukraine to Donbass. After all, it violates all fundamental human rights enshrined in such key international laws as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, etc.
Moreover, the new Ukrainian authorities not only violate justice, but also carried out an outright massacre: on May 2, 48 people were killed and at least 250 people were injured at the hands of radicals in Odessa; On May 9, "Right Sector" fighters went with weapons and tanks against unarmed residents, as a result more than 20 people died and about 50 were injured in Mariupol; the storming of Slaviansk by the Ukrainian National Guard on May 3-5 resulted in deaths of more than 30 civilians.
The intentions of the new Kiev’s authorities were obvious to the residents of Donetsk after such monstrous, bloody actions. Therefore, it was decided to hold a referendum in the Donetsk region – it was necessary for us to find out the residents’ opinions about the events in Kiev, as well as their vision for tomorrow. On May 11, 2014, a referendum was held, the results of which speak for themselves: our residents expressed support for the sovereignty of the Donetsk People's Republic. The turnout reached 74.87%, the declaration of independence was supported by 89.7% of voters.
Herewith, it is demonstrative that Ukraine still does not have a law on holding local referendums, despite the fact that the right of the people to self-determination is provided for in the above documents of international law, including the UN Charter (Article 1: “The Purposes of the United Nations are: ...to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”), and in the Constitution of Ukraine itself (Article 38: “Citizens have the right to take part in the management of state affairs, in all-Ukrainian and local referenda, freely elect and be elected to state and local government bodies”). Since the Constitution is a direct action act, the 38th article was directly implemented during the referendum in Donbass. In addition, in according to Ukrainian legislation, there was no legally elected representative body in Donetsk after March 2014, because all the deputies of the regional council simply fled. Thus, initially there were no intentions in Donetsk to secede and declare an independent state. We were just pushed to this by the actions of the illegitimate Kiev authorities and all those local politicians who decided to flee Donetsk.
Since that moment, Kiev has started the so-called “anti-terrorist operation” against the people of Donbass, which was later renamed into the “operation of joined forces”. In fact, we have been living for the 7th year in conditions of a civil war. On the territory of Donbass, at least 13 thousand people died, including 149 children, about 30 thousand people were injured. And it is difficult to count the amount of people that have lost their roof over their heads and livelihood. However, in these conditions, we were called terrorists, but not Ukraine.
We had no choice but to respond to this war in an appropriate way and protect our land and inhabitants. So, we reacted in such a way that within a few months the Ukrainian army was forced to retire, being crushed in boilers (nooses) near Ilovaysk, Debaltsevo and Izvarino. Unfortinately thousands of people died in this bitter confrontation. Thus, according to the UN OHCHR report of February 15, 2015, in the period before the Package of measures signing (from mid-April 2014 to February 12, 2015), at least 2,420 people were killed and at least 4,919 injured in the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic. The signing of the Package of measures helped to reduce the hot phase of confrontation, but, unfortunately, did not stop it completely.
Now I turn to the main subject of today’s meeting: almost six years since the signing of the Package of measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements, approved by UN Security Council Resolution No. 2202 of February 17, 2015, not a single paragraph of this document has yet been fully implemented. The similar situation is with the implementation of the Common agreed conclusions of the Paris Summit of the Normandy Format leaders held on December 9, 2019 – none of the three blocks recorded in these outcomes has been fully implemented. Since our meeting is dedicated precisely to the summit anniversary, let me speak on this issue in more detail and give several examples that most clearly demonstrate the state of affairs in the Minsk process.
The paragraph 1 of the Common agreed conclusions of the Paris Summit entitled "Immediate measures to stabilize the situation in the conflict zone". Thus, the “full and comprehensive” implementation of the ceasefire as provided for in the first paragraph of this clause was not completed within the specified period – until the end of 2019. Only on July 22, 2020, within the framework of the Contact Group, both sides of the conflict – Kiev and Republics – agreed and signed additional measures to control and strengthen the ceasefire.
I would like to emphasize that agreeing on these measures was a really great achievement: for a whole year, the Republics tried to force Kiev to officially sign these measures. Although they were previously agreed upon in July 2019, but not actually implemented by the Ukrainian party.
Let us now have a look to some figures to understand how much efforts we have made to get Kiev to sign additional measures. For the first time, the project of additional measures was proposed back in May 2018. The Republics have officially sent this project to Kiev 6 times – I can even recite the concrete dates for sending each such letter (23.05.2018; 19.12.2018; 06.2019; 07.2019; 09.2019; 27.05.2020). But Ukraine stubbornly refused not only to agree on such measures, but even to discuss them within the framework of the Contact group. By the way, the information I have provided is easy to confirm by making a request to the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Contact Group Ambassador Heidi Grau and to the Chief Monitor of the OSCE SMM in Ukraine, the OSCE Representative to the security group, Ambassador Yasar Halit Cevik. We did not receive a single written response to our proposals from the Ukrainian side, as well as their own related proposals.
I also would like to note an interesting conclusion that we have made while observing the Ukraine’s behavior in negotiations: the Ukrainian side agreed to practically all progress and constructive shifts, without exception, only on the eve of any important dates and events for the Ukrainian political elite and its rating. Here are some examples:
- An indefinite truce was agreed by Kiev on July 21, 2019 – the parliamentary elections were held in Ukraine on July 21;
- The Steinmeier’s formula was initialed by Kiev on October 1, 2019 – solely in order to hold so desirable for Zelensky Normandy Format summit on December 9, 2019;
- Additional measures were signed on July 22, 2020 – just on the eve of the election campaign start in the framework of local elections in Ukraine.
At the same time, it should be noted that after additional measures signing, we really saw their effectiveness – there were no casualties or significant destruction for almost two months. However, now this fragile peace, established thanks to additional measures, is essentially destroyed due to the Kiev’s fault. It refused to implement the main measure – interaction within the coordination mechanism to verify violations.
Why is it the main one? Because it is the measure that provides both parties with the opportunity to jointly verify the presence or absence of violations. Without this procedure additional measures will remain only a declaration, and not an effective mechanism for monitoring the ceasefire regime. Thus, immediately after the local elections end, Ukraine thwarted additional measures in a particularly insidious way – in fact, it did not announce its withdrawal from the agreement on additional measures, but simply decided not to implement one of them – the fundamental one.
To date it has resulted in ceasefire violations increasing. Since Kiev's disruption of additional measures, 157 violations have been recorded, including 33 cases with the use of heavy weapons. Just recently, on November 12, the first civilian casualties occurred – for the first time since July 27, i.e. from the date of entry into force of additional measures to strengthen the ceasefire. It only confirms that these measures do not work. In the village of Aleksandrovka, located on the DPR territory, as a result of shelling from the direction of the AFU (Armed Formations of Ukraine), two civilians were injured – a 69-year-old man and his 20-year-old grandson. Both are shell-shocked. The grandfather had moreover a hypertensive crisis. I would like to emphasize that this fact was recorded in the OSCE SMM report.
Moreover, three servicemen were killed, one of them – the battalion commander. Herewith, the AFU is not fastidious about the most cynical killings: one of the victims was killed with the help of ammunition dumped by the Ukrainian side from the UAV. Let me recall that mainly terrorist groups and organizations – for example, Islamic State fighters etc., use such methods of dumping shells from UAVs. The second soldier was shot by the AFU sniper fire at the moment when he was trying to drag away his comrade body from the battlefield. In general, there is a disappointing trend: statistics on shelling, casualties among civilians and military personnel, the number of recorded cases of equipment advance by the AFU in November is higher than the common statistic for the previous three months, and this clearly proves that additional measures are not being implemented by Ukraine.
I also would like to go in details on the situation with the implementation of paragraph 2 of the Common agreed conclusions of the Paris Summit “Measures to implement the political provisions of the Minsk agreements”. According to this paragraph, the parties had to agree on all legal aspects of Donbass special status, as stipulated in the Package of measures, to ensure its operation on a permanent basis, as well as to integrate Steinmeier’s formula into Ukrainian legislation. However, at the moment, this paragraph remains completely unfulfilled.
Let me briefly recall the genesis of such compromise mechanism as Steinmeier’s formula.
According to the terms of the Minsk package first document (the Protocol, signed on 05.09.2014), the law on Donbass special status was supposed to entry into force back in 2014. On September 16, 2014, the corresponding law was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and formally entered into force on October 18, 2014. However, the possibility of its practical action was initially excluded, since the determination of the essential condition of its action, namely the territory that it covers, was associated with the adoption of another separate resolution by the Verkhovna Rada. This resolution was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on 03.17.2015, but simultaneously with the adoption of this resolution, amendments were made to the law on special status, which blocked all essential articles on special status. So, this law, in fact, was not in effect for a single day.
Ukraine's failure to fulfill its obligations of implementing the special status in Ukrainian legislation in 2015 led to a deadlock in the discussion of the working group on political issues. As a reaction to this crisis on 02.10.2015 at the Normandy format summit in Paris, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany of that time Frank-Walter Steinmeier proposed a mechanism – the Steinmeier’s Formula.
This formula essence assumes the entry into force of the law of Ukraine “On a special procedure for local self-government in certain areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions” on a temporary basis on the voting day of local elections held in these territories, and entry into force on an ongoing basis after the publication of the final report by the OSCE ODIHR mission on the compliance of these elections with the standards of this organization.
On 10.10.2016, the Normandy Format Berlin summit was held, at which the need to agree on Steinmeier’s formula within the Contact group was confirmed. At the 50th CG meeting on 09.11.2016, the special status and Steinmeier’s Formula were approved by the Contact group as the first agenda item of the working group on political issues. However, until the 117th political group meeting (September 18, 2019) consideration of this issue was blocked by the Ukrainian party. Thus, over the course of 67 sessions, which is 2 years and 11 months, the Ukrainian side deliberately sabotaged the consideration of this main political issue at that time.
As a result, Steinmeier’s formula was initialed only on 01.10.2019, and as I noted previously, Kiev did it solely for the sake of creating opportunities for convening the next Normandy Format summit, since the new President of Ukraine Zelensky really wanted to meet the leaders of such key countries like Russia, France and Germany.
A year has gone since the initiation, however, the SF has not yet been integrated into Ukrainian legislation and there is absolutely no progress on the Ukrainian side in this direction. It is important to emphasize that this integration of this formula into Ukrainian legislation provides not only its formal inclusion into the text of the Law of Ukraine “On the Special Procedure for Local Self-Government in Certain Districts of Donetsk and Lugansk Regions”, but also the complete alignment of this law entire text in accordance with Steinmeier's formula. Moreover, the primary task for working on the political track is to agree on amendments to the Constitution at the Contact Group, taking into account all the nuances of a special status for its permanent operation: the powers of the authorities, the system structure, administrative-territorial division etc. Without the stipulation of all these amendments in the basic law of Ukraine, the rest of the work may simply be wasted. However, up to date we have not seen a single constructive attempt from the Ukrainian party to implement all of the above.
Another interesting detail: Ukrainian representatives, speaking at any international platforms or in foreign media, are very fond of talking about the draft law on amending the Constitution of Ukraine developed and adopted in the first reading by the Ukrainian parliament – the so-called, decentralization bill. However, this bill has nothing to do with the concept of decentralization that is stipulated in paragraph 11 of the Package of measures. I would like to remind you that it deals with decentralization, taking into account the peculiarities of Donbass and in coordination with its representatives. However, this bill does not contain a word about the special status of Donbass, although its consolidation in the Constitution is one of the fundamental conditions for a long-term and effective political settlement of the conflict. Not only Republics’ representatives, but also the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, whose conclusions contained comments on the inconsistency of this draft law with the Package of measures, pointed this out to Kiev.
Moreover, the Ukrainian authorities are not just sabotaging the constructive of the Minsk agreements, but on the contrary, they are taking all kinds of destructive steps to avoid a political settlement. One of the most flagrant examples: for the fifth month we have been persuading the Ukrainian party to confirm its intention to implement in practice these very Minsk agreements.
These persuasions did not begin from scratch. On July 15, 2020, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted Resolution No. 795 “On the appointment of the next local elections in 2020”, paragraph 4 of which directly contradicts the Minsk agreements, since it envisage the transfer of border control to the Ukraine’s government before the local elections are held, as well as contains inappropriate terminology.
The current situation jeopardize the entire future of the Minsk process: is the Ukrainian government really committed to the Minsk agreements and the Package of measures, and is it going to implement the agreements reached in the Contact group? This question seems absolutely appropriate against the background of the fact that the Ukrainian parliament adopts not the first act that openly contradicts the documents approved by the UN Security Council. Moreover, during the Contact Group meetings, Ukrainian negotiators regularly talk about the lack of political powers to influence the implementation of the steps that they and we will agree on and which are stipulated in the Package of measures.
Therefore, the Republics proposed to agree and approve at the level of the Verkhovna Rada and the President of Ukraine a document, which will contain Ukraine's adherence to the Minsk agreements and the way of their direct implementation in the interconnection of all aspects. Such a document could be the Roadmap for a comprehensive settlement of the conflict in accordance with the Minsk agreements.
Our proposed draft Roadmap is aimed at implementing the Package of measures items: it covers all negotiation areas and issues, including the procedure and nature of amendments to the Constitution, with clear deadlines for the implementation of all political settlement stages.
But, unfortunately, in response to our step towards peace, the Ukrainian side presented its draft “Plan of joint steps of the participants of the Trilateral Contact Group on the implementation of the Minsk agreements” – a document developed not to implement the Minsk agreements, as the representatives of Ukraine state, but to rewrite them. The above document contains 51 paragraphs, 40 of which contradict the Minsk agreements, which is 78% of the document's content.
It is obvious from the draft content that it does not have the goal of peacefully resolving the conflict, but on the contrary, involves a gradual armed seizure of Republics’ territories. It is suggested us to disarm, sign a surrender, let the Ukrainian security forces in, and then, perhaps, hold elections without a permanent law on special status, without changes to the Ukrainian constitution, without any political settlement and without any legislation that ensures the permanent functioning of the special status.
Moreover, this is not the first document of the Ukrainian authorities, which grossly contradicts the Minsk agreements. Over the 6 years since their signing, Ukraine has adopted about 60 normative legal acts that contradict not only the Minsk agreements, but also such fundamental acts of international law as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These documents adopted by Ukraine violate the right to life, the right to health and safe living conditions, the right to liberty and security of person, the right to freedom of movement, the right to a fair trial, the right to an effective remedy, the right to the inviolability of home, the right to private property, the right to language self-determination, the right to education, the right to freedom of economic activity, the right to periodic, fair elections, the right to freedom of thought of conscience and religion, the right to social security.
Some examples of the most striking and cynical such acts of Ukraine:
1. Law of Ukraine of 18.01.2018 No. 2268-VIII “On the specifics of state policy to ensure the state sovereignty of Ukraine in the temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and Lugansk regions.” This Law defines the legal regime for conducting a joint forces operation (JFO) on the territory of certain regions, grants the right to the armed formations of Ukraine to use weapons, armament, military equipment and special means within the framework of this operation; defines the Russian Federation as a party to the conflict; provides grounds for limiting the rights of citizens living in the territory of the JFO.
2. Decree of the President of Ukraine of 14.04.2014 No. 405/2014 “On the decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine of 13.04.2014 “On urgent measures to overcome the terrorist threat and preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine”, which introduced an anti-terrorist operation on our territory.
3. Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine of 07.11.2014 No. 595 “On some issues of financing budgetary institutions, making social payments to the population and providing financial support to individual enterprises and organizations of Donetsk and Lugansk regions” stipulating that all social payments in the territory of the Republics are to be stopped until the return of this territory under the control of the Ukrainian state authorities.
4. Law of Ukraine of 12.08.2014 No. 1630-VII “On Amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On combating terrorism” regarding the preventive detention in the area of the anti-terrorist operation of persons involved in terrorist activities for a period exceeding 72 hours” establishes the possibility of “preventive” detention of citizens without accusation in the area of the anti-terrorist operation for more than 72 hours up to 30 days.
I would like to separately highlight the draft law on internment (forced resettlement) of Russian citizens, submitted by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine for consideration to the Verkhovna Rada. By promoting this bill, the Ukrainian government is actually trying to legalize concentration camps on its territory. If adopted, this law will apply not only to participants in hostilities in Donbass, but also to civilians with Russian citizenship. In this case, the decision on recognizing a person as interned will be made not in court, but by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Moreover, there is no right of appeal!
In order to be justified by world community, Ukraine covers up all these facts for ideas of national security. That is the most cynically. Moreover, the document itself was developed with violation of a number of international law norms. In particular, the bill violates provisions enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention of 12.08.1949 “On the Protection of Civilian Population in Time of War” (Let me remind you, that Ukraine has not officially declared war to someone and has not introduced martial law), contradicts the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, etc.
Due to a fault of Ukraine the peace process on conflict resolving in Donbass remains extremely difficult, and, de facto, blocked. Nevertheless, even here Kiev is trying to distort and misrepresent the absolutely obvious facts. It is actively making attempts through media and media campaigns to shift the responsibility for non-compliance with the Minsk agreements onto the Republics.
We can provide many examples of Kiev's illusory concern for our citizens, which in fact represents either Ukraine's complete indifference to the Donbass inhabitants and an interest only for the territories, or openly aggressive intentions. In any case, all these actions testify to one thing: there is already a huge chasm between Donbass and Ukraine, and the new Ukrainian leader Zelensky, who actively positioned himself as the “president of peace” during election campaign, is not really striving for any peace.
Herewith, it is clear what Zelensky and his team are actually striving for: Ukraine needs the conflict in Donbass as an excuse to remain on the agenda and the centre stage of its “Western partners”. The Ukrainian authorities insist so much on the priority and necessity of regular meetings in the Normandy format for this reason. However, the Normandy format is only a control mechanism that will not help resolve the conflict preludes, namely, Kiev's unwillingness and reluctance to take into account the opinion of Donbass residents. This aspect can be resolved exclusively within the Minsk process, in the course of a direct dialogue between two parties to the conflict – Kiev and the Republics.
At the end of my briefing, I would like to remind you that world history is replete with precedents of conflict settlements, which demonstrate the need for direct dialogue between the parties. And we have repeatedly shown our readiness for it during the negotiations. But the Ukrainian leadership does not have such a readiness and political will. That is why we are also ready for the opposite scenario – the Republics have learned to defend themselves and protect their citizens even better than in 2014 and 2015. We regularly hear from Zelensky and his team about some “plans B”, “plans C” and other ideas, and taking into account aggressive rhetoric in which these statements are voiced, this is clearly not about the peaceful intentions of Kiev. On December 9, 2020, the deadline that Zelensky set aside for following the Minsk agreements ends. Ukraine is already on the verge of officially refusing to comply with the documents approved by the UN Security Council.
And now we have a question specifically for the UN Security Council, as an institution that endorsed the Package of measures, as well as the peace plan for resolving the Donbass conflict enshrined in it: what will be your reaction and whether it will be at all to such an official refusal of Ukraine, which is a UN member, from fulfillment of obligations under the document endorsed by the UN resolution? Can you allow such a situation when Ukraine set its army, tanks, planes, its soldiers, inspired by the methods of ISIS terrorists, against 4.5 million inhabitants of Donbass? Or maybe will you remain an indifferent observers?
Today our meeting is dedicated to the anniversary of the Normandy Format leaders' summit in Paris. From our point of view, it is obvious that Ukraine has not fulfilled a single paragraph of the Minsk agreements and the Common agreed conclusions of the leaders' meeting. Despite all our proposals for their implementation, the representatives of Kiev simply refuse to accept them, work with them and even comment on them. It is impossible to have a sustainable direct dialog between parties, ignoring the second party to the conflict. It is like clapping with one palm. Considering all of the above, the situation in the peace negotiation process is critical. It seems to us that it is the UN Security Council that has the right and all the necessary leverage to hold Ukraine amenability and answerability.
We know how to defend ourselves, but we do not want war. We don't want escalation. We want peace and prosperity for Donbass, the development of its socio-economic potential, equality, observance of all human rights and freedoms, observance and recognition of our civil and political rights, taking into account those global values that are enshrined in key international laws.