Day 707: Kiev And Separatists On Collision Course Over Local Election Plans

January 25, 2016
Memorial service in Mariupol yesterday on the anniversary of the Grad bombardment that killed 30 and wounded more than 100 last year. Photo: @UACrisis

President Poroshenko and DNR leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko have reiterated their positions on holding local elections in the occupied territories. There seems little sign of a possible compromise.

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.

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Kuchma Says He Thinks Many Ukrainians Captured By Separatists Are Already Dead

Leonid Kuchma, the former President of Ukraine, has told that he thinks that many Ukrainians recorded as captured by Russian-backed fighters in the Donbass are now dead.

Asked by Segodnya why the latest attempts at a prisoner exchange deal had fallen through, Kuchma, who represents Kiev at the trilateral Contact Group talks, said that the separatists appeared to be using negotiations to stall and buy time.

During the last round of talks, the a figure of 133 Ukrainian prisoners was reached:

“133 people. We say: can you at least tell us if you have these people or not? They’re not saying. I think that many of the people from our side are no more.”

— Pierre Vaux

Rada Speaker Groysman Opposes Referendum On Special Status Amendments

Volodymyr Groysman, the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, has told Interfax-Ukraine that he is opposed to holding a referendum on the ‘special status’ law for the occupied regions of the Donbass.

Yesterday the prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said that he wanted to put the necessary constitutional amendments to the country in a referendum.

Groysman suggested that any regional autonomy legislation should be part of the wider federalisation programme and not a one-off act for the occupied territories.

Interfax-Ukraine reports:

“I consider it as an idea: I heard it yesterday from the Prime Minister on television. I believe that such a mechanism as a referendum can always be used but all that concerns, in particular, the question of specific aspects of Donbas, the status of Donbas, shouldn’t be decided by a referendum. Because I think that there might be no single region or a part of a region given any special status in a unitary country,” Groysman told a briefing in Kyiv on Monday in response to a question from Interfax-Ukraine.

A sociological survey may be conducted to learn how people actually regard this matter, he said.

The very mechanics of such a referendum are hard to envisage, given that Kiev currently lacks any ability to oversee and regulate such a vote in the areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

If the referendum went ahead without the participation of citizens in the occupied territories, then it would become problematic with regards to the Minsk peace plan. 

But seeing as President Poroshenko insists that the amendments would only be passed after a full ceasefire has come into effect, the debate on the matter is unlikely to come to a head for some time, as there is no sign right now of any end to the fighting. 

— Pierre Vaux

Council Of Europe To Assess Human Rights Situation In Crimea For First Time In Over A Year

Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, has announced that a delegation will be sent to the Crimean peninsula to assess the human rights situation there. TASS reports:

“The mission will be conducted with full independence and will not deal with any issue related to the territorial status of Crimea,” Jagland said.

“More than 2.5 million people live in Crimea, they are all covered by the European Convention on Human Rights and should be able to benefit from it,” he said, adding that, however, “for more than a year, no delegation from an international organization has been able to go there.”

RFE/RL adds that there are allegations that the human-rights situation on the illegally-annexed peninsula is decaying:

Since Russia’s land grab, fundamental freedoms have “deteriorated radically” for many in Crimea, especially for pro-Ukrainian activists, journalists, and the Crimean Tatar community.

That was the finding of a report issued in September 2015 by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.

James Miller

Kiev And Separatists On Collision Course Over Local Election Plans

While the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, claimed that the Minsk agreements could be implemented within the “next months” on Friday, statements made yesterday by the Ukrainian and separatist leaders indicated that local elections in the occupied areas of the Donbass are a far-away prospect.

Aleksandr Zakharchenko, leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), reiterated his position that any local elections in separatist-controlled territory must take place under DNR, not Ukrainian law.

“Whether Ukraine likes it or not, we are fulfilling the Minsk agreements and according to these agreements, we must hold elections. But we will hold them in accordance with the laws of the Republic and on our land.”

Zakharchenko went on to say that no Ukrainian parties who have supported the government’s military campaign to hold onto the Donetsk and Lugansk regions will be allowed to participate in such elections.

It should be pointed out that the second Minsk agreement, signed in February, 2015, does stipulate that local elections in the occupied territories must be carried out in accordance with Ukrainian law.  

None of this is new from Zakharchenko, but it came on the same evening that President Poroshenko not only said that the elections had to be held under Ukrainian law, but said that the results of ‘elections’ held under separatist rule in November, 2014, would be annulled.

Poroshenko insisted that security during the elections would need to be secured by either European Union or OSCE missions.

The prospect of an OSCE police mission, as suggested by Poroshenko, is not unprecedented. In response to the violent inter-ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan in 2010, the OSCE dispatched a policing mission as part of the Community Security Initiative.

The OSCE police advisers who set up communications systems and mobile police reception centres were, however, unarmed.  

Regarding an EU mission, President Poroshenko referred to a motion passed by a plenary session of the European Parliament on January 21, in which support was given for the deployment of a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) team.

From the text of the motion:

[The European Parliament]

33.  Calls on the Member States to keep the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission fully manned and fully operational; notes the calls by the Ukrainian Government for an extended international peacekeeping force along the Ukraine-Russia border and in the Luhansk and Donetsk districts; agrees that, once the situation permits and as part of the full implementation of the Minsk Agreement, an EU-led CSDP mission should be offered for deployment to the parties in the conflict, to assist in tasks such as demining, assisting with preparations for local elections and securing free access for humanitarian aid organisations; 

Given the tasks mentioned here, such as demining, this indicates that military personnel would form part of such a team.

The key hurdle to overcome before any of this could be implemented is to achieve and effective ceasefire in the region.

So far, there is little sign of this.

According to this morning’s ATO Press Centre report from the Ukrainian military, Russian-backed fighters conducted 29 attacks over the last 24 hours.

The deputy commander of the armed forces of the DNR, Eduard Basurin, claims meanwhile that Ukrainian forces fired on separatist-held territory 160 times over the same period.

According to Basurin, one civilian was killed and two wounded in addition to three DNR fighters. 

— Pierre Vaux