It's no secret that the Ukrainian society has ambiguous attitude to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. Some people point out undue loyalty of monitors towards terrorists and not always comprehensive and objective assessment of the situation in eastern Ukraine amid Russian aggression. The role of Russian monitors as part of the OSCE SMM (39 Russians out of 1,143 monitors) also raises concerns.
Instead, the SMM has a clear mandate, which does not imply that the unarmed civilian observers should be a shield between the Russian terrorist forces and Ukrainian soldiers.
Former Swiss army officer, now a seasoned diplomat, Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine Alexander Hug has dedicated much of his professional career to building up a dialogue between the parties to conflict.
Mr. Hug tells about the peculiarities of the Mission’s activity amid difficult conditions in eastern Ukraine in an exclusive interview with Ukrinform correspondent in Brussels.
THOSE THAT DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE VIOLATIONS OF MINSK AGREEMENTS WILL FIND THEY ARE NO LONGER PART OF PEACEFUL SOLUTION
- Mr. Hug how do you assess the effectiveness and objectiveness of OSCE SMM activities in such complex environment in eastern Ukraine?
- The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission is a source of impartial and objective information that delivers facts on a regular basis on what is happening on the ground. In this regard last year we have issued more than three hundred daily reports and several spot reports and conducted around twenty seven thousand patrols, on both sides of the contact line. While the SMM is ready to patrol anytime and anywhere, the sides refuse to grant safe, secure and unimpeded access to the Mission. As a result, we don’t see everything and we don’t hear everything. The restrictions are imposed on us on both sides of the contact line and are more aggressive, intrusive and intimidating in area that is not controlled by the Government. What we see is probably just the tip of the iceberg and that gives an indication of the reality that there is on the ground.
What we also do that is facilitating dialogue on the ground. And the most recent example is the dialogue that has been facilitated to enable the repair of infrastructure in the wider Avdiivka area. Where we have day and nights for over week try to get the sides to agree on localized ceasefire to enable the reconnection of electricity that would supply Avdiivka, the coke plant as well as the Donetsk water filtration station which deliver water to both sides of the contact line. And at the end twenty two thousands inhabitants of Avdiivka and some four hundred thousand people on both sides of the contact line have been benefitting from this dialogue. But we conduct also dialogue in the Trilateral contact group format as well elsewhere on the ground. And we invite everyone to participate in this dialogue. But we also expect everyone to participate in good faith in this dialogue and everyone generates the will to create agreements and to more importantly, implement agreements.
- Does the Mission face any pressure or aggressive actions on the ground from the sides of conflict?
- Yes, the OSCE SMM is facing movement restrictions and they are reflected every day in our reports. Just to give you an example in the period between from 13 to 19 February we have been subjected to 33 denials of access, 27 of which happening in areas which are not controlled by the Government. Sometimes these restrictions come in the form of the use of force and threat. And they also impede not just our staff, but also our use of technology. And one of such incident occurred last Friday, when our patrol was approached by armed men, who fired in their direction. They also took our UAV. All of that violence against our monitors is documented in our report and the most severe cases also generate spot reports. Such was the case last Friday, when we issued a specific report on that incident.
The problem is that the sides hardly every take action based on our reports. If they would address the Minsk violations we observe, including those that involve violence against our monitors, the situation would be much improved. Anyone who is serious about Minsk needs to demonstrate in their words and actions that they do not tolerate Minsk violations and that they would deal with violators. Those that are unable or unwilling to acknowledge or address violations of the Minsk agreements will find that they are no longer part of a peaceful solution.
NO ALTERNATIVE TO MINSK AGREEMENTS
- Last year at the European Parliament you said that some points of Minsk agreements were secret and it would be a reason that has created contradictory situations for OSCE monitors on the ground. How can you comment this problem today?
- Well, there are some public and some nonpublic parts of the agreements. We continue to monitor the situation on the ground. We will continue to observe the reality on the ground. It is for others then to make an assessment whether our observations still meet the agreements that have been reached between the sides.
- Russia and even some European politicians demand that Ukraine to fully implement a political part of Minsk agreements. How do you see the possibility to deliver it without implementation of “Minsk 2” security arrangements?
Our reports provide an objective picture. This objective information should be used by the sides to make these important decisions. It’s not for the SMM to make these decisions or assessments; it’s up to the sides to make them. The sides need to implement what they have signed. What is needed now is that the sides accept reality, accept that they violate Minsk, accept the objectivity of our reports. The denial of the truth will not lead anywhere. And they need to implement of course most and foremost the ceasefire which depends on the withdrawal of weapons and disengagement. As long as the implementation of all what has been agreed has not been achieved, it will be very difficult to say whether or not Minsk has been agreed in the end. The SMM will continue to support this process and provide objective information in this regard. We, the 57 OSCE participating States, the international community and most importantly Ukrainians on both sides of the contact line expect that the sides act upon our reports. Now.
- Following the previous question, would it be possible to hold now local elections at some territories of Donetsk and Lugansk regions under the OSCE standards?
- Well, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission I represent – the OSCE SMM – is mandated to monitor and report on the security situation and to facilitate dialogue, and does not monitor any election process. Political questions, such as elections, are discussed in the Trilateral contact group, and more precisely in its working group on political issues. And the SMM as such provides objective information on the security situation in eastern Ukraine, including in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, upon which others can draw conclusions and make decisions.
- Regarding the initiative of the OSCE armed mission deployment in Eastern Ukraine what is your opinion on it?
- It is important to know that the SMM is not steering this process. This is the process to be discussed in the Permanent council in Vienna where all 57 participating States need to reach consensus on a decision and then agree to implement such a decision. Unless such a decision is made, it will be difficult to assess what impact it has or whether it is visible not to implement because there has no decision been made in this regard. Currently the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission is an unarmed civilian observer mission, and it will stay so until the OSCE participating States decide otherwise.
- Do you believe that “Minsk 2” agreements are possible to implement?
- Well, I believe there is no alternative at the moment, and therefore, yes, I believe they can be implemented because the sides have agreed to those. The SMM’s task is to document whether they do so or not, but at the moment it should be clear to anyone that the conflict can only be solved through a dialogue. And the Minsk process provides different platforms of the dialogue, and the SMM contributes in facilitating dialogue. And once again, we invite everyone to participate in the dialogue that we facilitate, and that they participate in good faith, and that they generate the political will to create new agreements, and also generate political will to implement these agreements. Ultimately, the implementation of the Minsk agreements will depend on the level of political commitment and the amount of political capital invested into this process.
Andriy Lavreniuk, Brussels