Ukraine Live Day 681: Leaders Agree To Extend Minsk Deadline ‘Into 2016’

December 30, 2015
Vladimir Putin, Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel and Petro Poroshenko meeting in Minsk on February 11, 2015. Photo: Nikolay Lazarenko/Kommersant

The Ukrainian, Russian, French and German leaders, known as the Normandy Quartet, have agreed today to extended the deadline for fulfilment of the Minsk agreements into next year.

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

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Ukraine Reports 24 Attacks Over 24 Hours, Mostly ‘Untargeted’

The Ukrainian military has reported 24 attacks over the last 24 hours, with 10 occurring between midnight and 18:00 today.

According to this evening’s report from the ATO Press Centre, Russian-backed fighters used automatic grenade launchers and 82 mm mortars to shell Peski, northwest of Donetsk, where there were also five attacks with small arms and heavy machine guns. Furthermore, Ukrainian troops in neighbouring Opytnoye came under attack.

To the west of Gorlovka, the report claims that Russian-backed fighters used small arms to fire on Ukrainian positions near Novgorodskoye.

Last night, an earlier report claimed, Ukrainian positions outside Novotroitskoye, on the highway between Donetsk and Mariupol, were attacked with heavy machine guns.

There were also “untargeted” attacks with grenade launchers and small arms on Ukrainian positions near Marinka, Opytnoye, Peski, Novgorodskoye and Troitskoye.

Colonel Andriy Lysenko, military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, announced at noon today that there had been no Ukrainian military casualties over the past 24 hours. 

Meanwhile the pro-separatist Donetsk News Agency reported that the heads of separatist-held frontline towns and districts had told the news site that last night passed without any attacks by Ukrainian forces.

— Pierre Vaux

Ukrainian Military Claims DNR Leader Zakharchenko Visited Kominternovo

Anton Mironovich, a Ukrainian military press officer, claims that Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), has visited the village of Kominternovo and vowed to “liberate” more of southeastern Ukraine.

Speaking to the 112 television channel this morning, Mironovich said that Zakharchenko had yesterday visited the village, which was seized by Russian-backed fighters on December 22.

Mironovich said that, according to reports obtained by the Ukrainian military, Zakharchenko had said that his fighters “would continue to liberate their territory.”

Such statements are nothing new from Zakharchenko, but if Mironovich is correctly informed, then their utterance in the first new territory seized by Russian-backed fighters for many months is worrying.

We note that no mention of Zakharchenko’s visit can be found on official or semi-official DNR websites.

The OSCE reported yesterday that while their Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) had not seen any Russian-backed fighters in Kominternovo, bar their DNR escorts, they had seen fresh track marks, indicating the recent presence of armoured vehicles. Furthermore the SMM team was only allowed access to one street in the village when they visited on December 28.

The SMM revisited Kominternove (23km north-east of Mariupol) to follow up on reports about the presence of armed “DPR” members in the village. In Kominternove, the SMM did not observe any armed persons or weaponry, with the exception of the escorting armed “DPR” members*, while the SMM saw multiple fresh caterpillar traces of tracked military vehicles on the main street. The escorting “DPR” members did not allow the SMM to go beyond the main street of the village, citing security reasons*. At a Ukrainian Armed Forces checkpoint at the south-western entrance of the village, the SMM spoke with three civilians coming from Kominternove, who stated that “DPR” members were still in the village and were occupying some abandoned houses. 

This would correspond with claims made by Andriy Biletsky, MP and commander of the Azov Regiment, that 12-15 armoured vehicles, in addition to construction equipment, had moved into the village as soldiers without insignia took over.

— Pierre Vaux
Leaders Agree To Extend Minsk Deadline ‘Into 2016’

The Ukrainian, Russian, French and German leaders, known as the Normandy Quartet, have agreed today to extended the deadline for fulfilment of the Minsk agreements into next year.

The agreement was reached during a telephone conversation between Presidents Petro Poroshenko, Vladimir Putin, François Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The original deadline, set during the second round of Minsk talks in February this year, was to be December 31. The extension of the deadline was widely expected given that several key parts of the Minsk agreement, not least adherence to a ceasefire, appear far from realisation.

Notably, none of the statements released by the leaders’ offices make mention of any new deadline beyond the extension “into 2016.”

The reduction of urgency does little to assuage worries the war, which still sees dozens of daily attacks along the front line, will be allowed to linger as a “frozen conflict,” akin to that seen in Nagorno-Karabakh.

All of the statements released stressed the importance of holding legitimate local elections in separatist-held territories at the end of January next year, with oversight from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

President Poroshenko went further in highlighting the need for the elections to be held in accordance with Ukrainian law, as stipulated in the Minsk agreements, and also once again proposed the introduction of peacekeepers.

From the Ukrainian Presidential Administration’s press release: 

In this context, the President emphasized the need for abolishing fake “elections” scheduled by pro-Russian militants. Once again, he noted that the elections in Donbas should be held with participation of Ukrainian parties, media, Central Election Commission, international observers and in full compliance with the OSCE/ODIHR standards.

With a view to maintain order and security of the electoral process, the Ukrainian President offered to deploy the EU’s special peacekeeping mission in the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy of the European Union. 

None of the other statements discussed peacekeepers.

Poroshenko also called for the release of “all Ukrainian hostages, including those illegally kept in Russia, particularly Nadiya Savchenko and Oleh Sentsov.”

The next meeting of the foreign ministers of the Normandy Quartet will take place in late January or early February. The French and German statements say that the progress of Minsk implementation will be discussed at this meeting.

— Pierre Vaux