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Alexander Hug
Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine

June 2017

Author: Lyubomir Dankov

Alexander Hug - Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. The Donbass conflict.

It has been a long time after Minsk agreements that the positional combats in Donbass haven’t ceased yet, there are recurring serious amplifications of the conflict and it seems never ending. What are the main reasons for this?

The OSCE Special monitoring mission in its over 1,000 published daily reports has indeed established the fact that the fighting in the eastern part of the country continues. These facts are made public every day in three languages – in Russian, Ukrainian and English on the website accessible for all, including participating States and the signatories of the Minsk agreements. There has been improvement on the ground since the signing of these agreements, and also these improvements have been reflected in our reports: some weapons have been withdrawn; there had been some easing of the fighting. However, ultimately a solution to the conflict depends on the political will of the signatories. It is the sides themselves, not the Minsk agreements, which will succeed or fail. .

Which of the parties seems more inclined towards ending the conflict and which of them is making the most provocations?

This is a question that we have been asked many times and it is a question that is almost impossible to answer. The OSCE Special monitoring mission establishes however that the sides on both sides of the contact line violate their agreements, their promises, they keep weapons in areas where they shouldn’t be, they continue to fire – some call it “returning fire” – it is nonetheless firing, which is specifically mentioned as one of the key corner stones of the agreement. Ceasing fire, withdrawing the heavy weapons, disengaging and taking care of the local population – these would be key measures required to end the fighting. Once again, ultimately this fighting will only end if there is political will to do so and it is not the failure of the agreements if this will does not materialize; it is the failure of the signatories. The OSCE Special Monitoring mission will continue to document whether they continue to violate agreements or succeed in living up to their commitments.

Your opinion on what is necessary for ceasing the conflict?

First of all, and I repeat here, what is required is political will to implement the agreements that have been signed on the dotted line in Minsk a long time ago. These measures have been agreed and are clear to everyone. It starts with ceasing fire, it continues with the withdrawal of heavy weapons and it moves to disengagement of the forces where they are too close to each other. , All these measures will help to protect the most vulnerable part of society in this conflict which are the civilians that continue to live in and around the areas where fighting continues now for the third year.

How do you estimate the Donbass conflict: is it anti-terrorist operation, Russian military aggression against Ukraine, civil war, or else?

It is an armed conflict that the Mission has been documenting from its start till now. It has been continuing for far too long. The Mission itself has been operating for the fourth year now, and the conflict continues for over three years now. It is time that the sides make clear that they can and will implement their agreements they signed.

Considering the beginning of the conflict, would you provide us with generalized information about the crimes performed by both sides, namely use of illegal weapons and unprovoked fire on civilian objects?

The conflict has evolved over time. It was very unpredictable, fluid and there was no contact line in the early days of the armed conflict in 2014. It has then moved towards rather static exchange of fire along the contact line; while we still see forward moves by both sides.

What is most worrying is that the hot spots, where we see almost 90% of the fighting, are in or around built-up areas – large population centers such as Donetsk city, Avdiivka, Horlivka.Numerous villages along the contact line are also in the center of these hot spots. These villages are not just at the contact line itself but they are also being used. We see military hardware in built-up areas, and this is why they attract retaliatory fire and it is unavoidable that civilian buildings are damaged or destroyed and civilians themselves get injured and killed. In this conflict the indiscriminant weapons are mostly used and civilians pay the highest price. We have confirmed this year alone over 260 civilian casualties.

Does the OSCE mission in Ukraine have enough opportunities and support to determine a precise picture of violations of the agreements? When shelling happen, do you know who fired first, what type of weapon was used, was the shooter provoked, exactly where the shooters were positioned, who started to move in the gray zone to the other side, etc. ?

It is the will of the sides to let us do our job. We have a clear mandate, which is that we have access to any area of Ukraine. This has also been read, written and agreed in the Minsk agreements – there are clear responsibilities of the signatories to enable the Mission to do its job. Because they failed to do that, the OCSE Special Monitoring Mission doesn’t see all the violations that are taking place and. There is only one reason why the sides do not allow us to access certain areas: it is because they do not want us to register the violations they commit in these areas where restrictions do take place. Detecting violations and reporting violations is communicating uncomfortable truths –. Where we see a gun fired, when we do see the direction of the projectile, where our cameras register an exchange – a frantic exchange – all of that will be documented. Where we don’t see it, we do not speculate, but there is a sufficient number of cases where we have a very clear indication who is the culprit of the violation. I have just referred to all those violations where we see weapons in areas where they shouldn’t’ be. It is very clear in which areas these weapons are and it is very clear who controls the area where these weapons are, therefore there is no doubt who is the violator in these cases. It equally applies to almost all violations where restrictions of our freedom of movement take place, and also it is absolutely clear which of the signatories is to blame. What we require is action – measurable action – to implement these agreements and to ensure that our mandate, agreed by 57 participating States, including Ukraine and the Russian Federation, is fully respected.

There are claims for both sides in the armed conflict that they deliberately fired on civilian objects – residential and public places within their territories in order to blame the other side. Are these assertions serious or part of propaganda war? Did you observe such incidents?

As I have mentioned before, the vast majority of the fighting does take place in built up areas, positions are built in towns, villages, at the borders of towns and borders of villages. This military hardware attracts counter fire and retaliatory fire, and – unavoidably – in its exchange, the buildings nearby will be targeted and will be affected, civilians will get injured and will be killed. The vast majority of the civilian casualties that we have been registering have been killed or injured by shrapnel, meaning by the use of weapons that should have long been withdrawn. It is the task of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to establish the facts. Reports we publish every day contribute to an objective picture in order to counter the vast amount of information that is subjective and does not reflect the facts on the ground. This is our contribution to finding a solution to the conflict. Based on our information, decision makers can make important and difficult decisions.