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Minsk process for Ukrainian reconciliation still works — OSCE envoy

"I cannot, in any way, accept the point of view that the Minsk agreements are not being implemented and the Minsk process is not working," Martin Sajdik said
OSCE special representative, Martin Sajdik  AP Photo/Sergei Grits
OSCE special representative, Martin Sajdik
© AP Photo/Sergei Grits

KIEV, February 13. /TASS/. The Minsk process for Ukrainian reconciliation remains a working mechanism that helps to solve numerous issues of peace settlement in eastern Ukraine, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group Martin Sajdik has told TASS in an interview.

"During my tenure as the special representative of the OSCE chairperson-in-office, I became deeply convinced that there is simply no alternative to the Minsk agreements for peaceful settlement in eastern Ukraine. And I cannot, in any way, accept the point of view that the Minsk agreements are not being implemented and the Minsk process is not working," he said.

"During negotiations within the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk, we were able to come to terms on many issues mentioned in the Minsk Agreements," Sajdik added. "As part of implementing the September 19, 2014 and the February 12, 2015 Minsk Agreements, the Trilateral Contact Group has made a number of decisions that helped in establishing a ceasefire."

According to the OCE envoy, the Trilateral Contact Group has also approved a number of other documents, including on withdrawal of heavy weaponry (dated September 29, 2015); two agreements dated March 2, 2016 - on removal of mines and on prohibition on military training with the use of combat weapons along the line of contact; and the Framework Decision on disengagement of forces and hardware, dated September 20, 2016 and prepared by the Working Group on security, led by Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine Ambassador Ertugrul Apakan

"As a result of all those efforts, we were able to significantly reduce the number of civilian casualties in the zone of conflict at present. Thanks to the group’s effort, we were also able to manage the flows of civilians crossing the line of contact, and their average number has risen to 27,000 a day," Sajdik said.

"Among the political issues up for discussion, we addressed in detail the modalities of holding local elections in the certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and the issues of amnesty. Huge achievements were made in the humanitarian sphere. For example, we prepared a large-scale prisoner swap late last year. Although it was not conducted under the all-for-all formula, as envisaged by the Minsk agreements, we still continue to actively work in this direction," the OSCE special representative said.

"As far as economic issues are concerned, we successfully cope with the matter of ensuring that the civilian population in the zone of conflict has all proper living conditions, such as water, electricity and heat supplies," the diplomat continued.

He expressed his "deep gratitude" to heads of the Ukrainian and Russian delegations to the Trilateral Contact Group, Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine and Boris Gryzlov of Russia, "for close cooperation in search for solutions."

"I would like to assure you: the Minsk process is working," the OSCE diplomat said. "But, to my regret, there are still incidents and insufficient implementation of the Minsk process decisions, caused by the lack of political will among the sides. Besides, to my deep regret, OSCE SMM monitors still have to overcome obstacles that hinder their access for efficient monitoring and verification of the ceasefire regime and withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the zone of conflict, primarily in separate areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions."

"I also regret that we are still unable to hold the previously agreed withdrawal of forces and hardware near Stanitsa Luganskaya," Sajdik added.

The OSCE official said he welcomed other formats of talks on Ukrainian reconciliation, including the Normandy Four and the Russia-US consultations between Russian Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov and US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker.

"This incredibly difficult life of the people of Donbass makes the above-mentioned efforts a matter of extreme urgency," Sajdik said.

Peace settlement of the conflict in Donbass rests on the Package of Measures, known as Minsk-2, that was signed by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine comprising senior representatives from Russia, Ukraine and the European security watchdog OSCE on February 12, 2015, after marathon 16-hour talks between the leaders of the Normandy Four nations, namely Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine. The 13-point document envisages a ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and people’s militias in the self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Lugansk and subsequent withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of engagement. The deal also lays out a roadmap for a lasting settlement in Ukraine, including local elections and a constitutional reform to give more autonomy to the war-torn eastern regions.

These agreements were initially planned to be implemented by the end of 2015, but have not been fulfilled until now. The Ukrainian side has been dodging implementation of the package’s political provisions citing security problems as a reason. Ukraine has failed to carry out a constitutional reform, to enforce a law on the region’s special status and to pass a law on elections in Donbass. Instead, it insists on regaining control over the border with Russia, which is to take place only after the elections, as is envisaged by the Minsk agreements. Moreover, the Ukrainian side is continuing economic blockade of Donbass. In the recent months, Kiev has been pushing the idea of deployment a United Nations armed mission in Donbass in an apparent bid to find a pretext to waive its liabilities under the Minsk agreements.