Berlin Talks Yield A Little More Detail On Proposals, But Fighting Rages On With Military And Civilian Casualties

October 20, 2016
Photo via @thebankova

Ukraine Day 976: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.

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


An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlin’s Dirty War in Ukraine


Peskov: Putin Agreed “In Principle” To Armed OSCE Police Mission In Donbass

Russia’s Interfax news agency reports that Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary has told reporters that Putin did, in fact, agree to the to deployment of an armed OSCE police mission to to the Donbass.

The mission would be deployed to ensure security during local elections in the occupied areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. However Ukraine has to pass a law formulating the special status of these areas in order for such a process to begin. This proposal has met significant opposition in Ukraine as it is regarded in some quarters as capitulation to Russian demands. Furthermore, the Russia-backed separatist leaderships have repeatedly vowed to ban most Ukrainian political parties from taking part in such elections, which would be a violation of the Minsk agreements.

Peskov said today that Putin had agreed to the deployment of such a mission “in principle.” 

— Pierre Vaux

Berlin Talks Yield A Little More Detail On Proposals, But Fighting Rages On With Military And Civilian Casualties

Ukraine peace talks productive, but real action remains less likely

Last night’s meeting of the Normandy 4 — Ukrainian, Russian, German and French leaders in Berlin —  has at the least yielded some clarification of their official positions regarding the Minsk peace process, but the gulf between words and action remains vast, as fighting continues in the Donbass.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed that the talks had brought an agreement on the deployment of an armed OSCE police mission to the Donbass:

“We have also agreed that nobody will hinder the OSCE’s activity in order to ensure preparations to the future local elections when security conditions will allow doing that. We will try to introduce the armed, we call it police, OSCE mission that will guarantee security of elections and transitional period

I can point out that the Russian side has also supported the necessity of introduction of the OSCE armed police mission.”

But when asked, during a joint press conference with President Francois Hollande, if such a mission had been agreed upon, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that, while such a deployment had long been discussed, this could not come to pass before Ukraine passed a law approving local elections in the occupied territories of the Donbass.

Merkel’s words suggested that Ukraine would only regain full control of the border with Russia in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions at the end of the Minsk process, or at least after the implementation of a local election law. 

Hollande added that it had been established at the meeting that the successive stages of the Minsk agreement must be respected. 

Meanwhile President Vladimir Putin made no specific mention of such an OSCE policing mission in his official statement following the talks. Nor was there any mention of this from President Hollande.

Neither did Putin confirm what the other three leaders said regarding the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) being granted access to the entire border area in order to monitor movement of troops and weaponry into Ukraine from Russia.

Putin only said that Russia had “confirmed our readiness to expand the OSCE mission in the disengagement zone and in locations where heavy equipment is stored.”

Notably, Poroshenko said that the Ukrainian delegation had insisted that Debaltsevo be added to the list of three proposed demilitarized zones in the Donbass.

The President noted that the parties had agreed to establish permanent strongholds of the OSCE SMM in three areas in Zolote, Petrovske and Stanytsia Luhanska after the completion of separation of forces. Then we will begin negotiations to determine the next four places for separation.

“The Ukrainian party insisted that Debaltseve must be among these four places, because we must ensure demilitarization of that area. Under the memorandum of September 19 that area was controlled by Ukrainian military on February 12,” Petro Poroshenko said.

Of the three proposed zones, only Petrovskoye has seen simultaneous withdrawal by both sides take place so far.

Debaltsevo was held by Ukrainian forces at the time of the signatures of the first and second Minsk agreements, but was captured by the Russian army days after Minsk II in February last year.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, said this afternoon that Russia “absolutely disagreed” with the demilitarization of Debaltsevo, and that the topic had “remained out of the equation.”

So far then, it seems that all that has emerged from the meeting is a reaffirmation of the Minsk process – not a single element of which has been realized in the more than 20 months that have gone by since Minsk II.

In addition, the Russian delegation publicly flouted European sanctions by bringing Vladislav Surkov, one of Putin’s chief advisers and a key organizer of separatist proxies in the Donbass, to attend the meeting at Putin’s side. 

Surkov has been barred entry to the European Union since March, 2014, for his role in the annexation of Crimea.

In September this year, Time reported that Surkov had violated his travel ban to visit Mount Athos in Greece – a claim the Kremlin denies.

Surkov can be seen here, seated between Putin and the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Nevertheless, German officials were rather more optimistic sounding this morning than had been expected, given the fact that leaders had carefully downplayed the likelihood of any real progress before the talks.

Deutsche Welle reports:

“The efforts toward a peaceful solution of the Ukraine conflict have been given an important new impulse,” Franz Josef Jung – the deputy parliamentary chairman of the conservative CDU – told Deutsche Welle. “It’s important now that the foreign ministers of the four nations agree in November on a concrete timetable for implementing the Minsk II peace accords. Most of agreements reached thus far have not been implemented because the parties in the conflict – the Ukrainian separatists and Russia – have lacked the will to do so.”

In early-morning interviews with German television and radio, the government’s Russia commissioner Gernot Erler of the Social Democrats said that the “more had come out” of the meeting than expected and that “very important” progress had been made toward implementing the Minsk II peace accords aimed at ending the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Meanwhile, in the Donbass…

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense announced today that three Ukrainian soldiers were wounded yesterday.

Ministry spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko told reporters today that all the casualties were the result of enemy shelling – two in Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk, and another in Vodyanoye, east of Mariupol.

According to this morning’s ATO Press Center report, Russia-backed forces conducted 30 attacks yesterday.

The military claims that Ukrainian positions near Vodyanoye were shelled with 152 and 122 mm artillery, while those in Avdeyevka and Krasnogorovka, west of Donetsk, were hit with 82 and 120 mm mortars.

Furthermore, the military also reported mortar shelling in Stanitsa Luganskaya, one of the three proposed demilitarized zones.

The Lugansk Regional Administration reported that one civilian was wounded as a result of last night’s shelling, and that the town was shelled again today, at 10:30 am, with 82 mm mortars.

— Pierre Vaux