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Contact Group intensifies efforts shortly before Paris summit

September 23, 2015, 2:58 UTC+3 MINSK
According to Ukrainian representative Leonid Kuchma’s spokeswoman Darya Olifer, the political subgroup will stay in Minsk and resume its meeting Wednesday
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MINSK, September 23. /TASS/. The proposal by the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics (DPR and LPR) on holding local elections in Donbass on February 21, 2016, withdrawal of armaments with calibers of less than 100 millimeters and delivery of humanitarian cargoes to the conflict zone on Tuesday became the key topics of a regular meeting of the Contact Group in Minsk.

The talks lasted seven hours, but failed to lead to results on key issues of the agenda. In this situation, LPR plenipotentiary representative at the talks Vladislav Deinego said the Group will again gather in Minsk September 29, that is three days prior to the announced summit of the Normandy Four, to be held October 2 in Paris.

February 21 elections

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Representative in Ukraine Martin Sajdik said that in the political subgroup of the Contact Group, the discussion mainly concerned local elections due February 21.

It became clear that despite that offer, elections will nevertheless be held in the DPR on October 18, and in the LPR on November 1, Sajdik said. He said the viewpoint was voiced that it was out of line with the Minsk Agreements. He expressed deep disappointment with such developments.

According to Ukrainian representative Leonid Kuchma’s spokeswoman Darya Olifer, the political subgroup will stay in Minsk and resume its meeting Wednesday.

The LPR’s Deinego said Tuesday morning that the self-proclaimed republics are taking to Minsk a coordinated plan-schedule of the terms for implementation of the political points of the Minsk Agreements, which envisions elections in Donbass on February 21, 2016.

"In order to put the process into motion, we have prepared a plan-schedule with suitable terms of implementation for each point of the political part of the Package of Measures," he said. "The plan has been prepared proceeding from the current legislation of Ukraine and regulations of the Verkhovna Rada, as well as norms of the OSCE ODIHR."

He said in case the plan is implemented, the sides will be able to fully ensure implementation of political points of the Package of Measures regarding amendments to Ukraine’s constitution, envisioning fixation of the permanent nature of the special status for certain districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, adoption of the law on local elections, amnesty for Donbass events participants and lifting economic blockade.

In turn, DPR plenipotentiary representative Denis Pushilin explained that the February elections in Donbass will become the second stage of the election process. "The date of holding the first stage of elections, which includes the heads of cities and districts, remain unchanged - October 18 and November 1," he said.

Seven hours of discussion

The security subgroup again failed to reach agreement on withdrawal of artillery with the calibers less than 100 millimeters, mortars with calibers up to 120 mm and tanks.

Sajdik said the group will continue consultations throughout next week.

In that connection, he noted that in the opinion of the sides, confidentiality of the meeting is important for the talks to have a stable nature.

According to a source of the LuganskInformCenter news agency, "the key contradiction is the schedule of armaments pullback." "Ukraine is refusing to withdraw armaments simultaneously with the troops of the [self-proclaimed] republics," he said.

The source said the security subgroup will possibly hold a new meeting in Minsk on September 28, and then the Contact Group will be able to gather to initial the document September 29.

"It is important to do that [initial the document] before the meeting of the Normandy Four in Paris," he said.

Work to initial the document on armaments withdrawal has been on for four months. But, according to the representatives of the DPR and LPR, the initialing of the deal has been disrupted by Kiev all the time. Deinego said the problems were in particular caused by different opinions of the sides regarding pullback of armaments from the so-called problem areas, including Popasnaya, Bakhmutka, Schastye.

Agreement was not reached either at the latest meeting of the security subgroup on September 15. "There appeared a few more viewpoints on that document - several variants," Deinego said, noting that on September 22 the sides will return to discussion of the issue.

Meanwhile, the parties to the intra-Ukrainian conflict in Donbass have observed the ceasefire more or less effectively. As a result of an agreement reached at the previous meeting of the Contact Group on August 26, a ceasefire regime has been observed in general at the disengagement line since September 1.

Infrastructural projects

A number of specific agreements were reached Tuesday in Minsk on restoration of Donbass infrastructure.

Sajdik said that the project to restore mines will kick off in early October, and experts will visit relevant sites to restore water supplies to Karbonit and Donetsk.

The OSCE special representative also said the sides also agreed in principle to increase the number of banking services points and streamline pension award procedures.

He separately mentioned possibilities to deliver humanitarian cargoes to the region. He also noted with satisfaction the activity of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Donbass.

New contact - September 25

The Contact Group on settlement of the situation in east Ukraine will resume its work on September 25 - the day when a video conference has been scheduled, Olifer said.

"The video conference will take place with participation of representatives of separate districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions," she said. "The agenda includes the entire range of the Minsk Agreements, in particular issues of security and cessation of fire."

Developments in Ukraine

After a coup occurred in Ukraine in February 2014, mass protests soon erupted in Ukraine’s southeast, where local residents, mostly Russian speakers, did not recognize the coup-imposed authorities, formed militias and started fighting for their rights.

In response, Kiev in April 2014 announced the start of "an antiterrorism operation" in east Ukraine, which involved the Armed Forces, the Interior Ministry’s National Guard and volunteer battalions made up of Euromaidan activists, many of whom hold far-right and neo-Nazi views.

Ukrainian troops have been engaged in fierce fighting with local militias during Kiev’s punitive operation, underway since mid-April 2014, against the breakaway territories - the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics constituting parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine.

Massive shelling of residential neighborhoods, including with the use of aviation, has killed thousands and led to a humanitarian disaster in the area.

Kiev has regularly violated the ceasefire regime imposed as part of the Package of Measures on implementation of the September 2014 Minsk Agreements.

The Package (Minsk-2) was signed on February 12, 2015 in the Belarusian capital Minsk by participants of the Contact Group on settlement in Donbass.

The Package, earlier agreed with the leaders of the Normandy Four (Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine) envisioned an overwhelming cessation of fire and withdrawal of heavy armaments to create a security area in the region at least 50 kilometers wide.

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