Strong Diplomatic Push Needed to Help Ease Mounting Tensions in Eastern Ukraine
Tensions in eastern Ukraine are mounting, and the ceasefire, agreed upon by all sides in the Minsk Agreements, is violated frequently.
According to the latest status report of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), about 1,000 ceasefire violations have been recorded during the weekend of 24 and 25 June alone. Furthermore, heavy weapons continue to be stationed along the line of contact, in violation of the Minsk Agreements.
This has dire consequences for the civilian population living in eastern Ukraine. The total number of civilian casualties confirmed by the SMM in 2017 is 285, including 52 fatalities. This is more than twice the number of civilian casualties, compared to the same time period in 2016.
In addition, the safety and security of OSCE monitors is being jeopardized ever more frequently. There are regular reports of OSCE monitors being threatened at gun point, shot at, or denied access. On 23 April, the first fatal incident occurred when an OSCE armoured patrol vehicle apparently hit a landmine in the Luhansk region, killing American paramedic Joseph Stone who was part of the patrol.
A strong diplomatic push by the international community is thus necessary in order to help ease mounting tensions in eastern Ukraine.
The Normandy Format, consisting of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia, held its last meeting at the level of Heads of State in October 2016 in Berlin, and at the level of Foreign Ministers in November 2016 in Minsk. This means that it is high time for another high-level Normandy Format meeting. The upcoming OSCE informal Ministerial Meeting, to be held in Mauerbach, Austria, on 11 July would offer an ideal opportunity to bring together the Normandy Format Foreign Ministers.
Also, the signatories of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum should join such a Normandy Format meeting in Mauerbach. At the 1994 OSCE Budapest Summit, the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK) and the Russian Federation signed a memorandum in which they provided Ukraine with security assurances, while Kyiv agreed to give up its nuclear weapons arsenal. Without changing the existing format, why not also confer with the US and the UK, as well the Austrian Chairmanship?
Members of the OSCE Trilateral Contact Group, under the leadership of Ambassador Martin Sajdik, should also meet with the Normandy Format countries in Mauerbach, and afterwards. Establishing a closer connection between the two formats would be important as the Normandy Format frequently tasks the OSCE with implementing some of its political agreements.
Ultimately it is up to the parties to live up to their commitments. But peer pressure can help to generate political will. Therefore, the informal Ministerial Meeting at Mauerbach could be a good opportunity to give political weight to stabilizing the crisis. It could also send a strong message on the need for accountability – both in terms of ceasefire violations, and incidents against OSCE monitors.
Given the urgency of the situation, the upcoming informal OSCE Ministerial Meeting in Mauerbach should thus be used by the Austrian OSCE Chairmanship to create a space for talks on Ukraine. This is particularly important in order to demonstrate the OSCE’s political backing of the OSCE SMM, which should be enabled to continue its important work in eastern Ukraine.