Concerns over military escalation in Ukraine
By Olena Galushka
Since February 2014, multiple acts of Russian aggression against Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the inviolability of its territory and frontiers have transformed the security situation in Europe and beyond.
The hybrid war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine has taken over nine thousand lives so far, according to UN statistics, and led to mass political imprisonment of Ukrainian citizens and gross violations of human rights.
The security situation in the conflict-affected areas of Donbas in east Ukraine remains extremely tense with armed provocations by Russian-backed separatists registered on a daily basis. Their continued use of heavy weapons blatantly violates the Minsk agreements under which they should have been withdrawn. Intensified hostilities against Ukrainian forces led to tragic consequences on July 19 when – on one day alone – Ukraine lost seven soldiers as a result of enemy attacks, while 14 were seriously injured.
This sharp escalation of attacks is taking place along with ongoing massive supplies of military equipment, weapons and ammunition as well as mercenaries and regular troops to Donbas by the Russian Federation.
Since the beginning of July alone, 19 trains loaded with military hardware from Russia have crossed the uncontrolled section of the Ukraine-Russia border. These include 19 T-72 tanks, three MLRS ‘Grad’, two self-propelled artillery systems, 11 armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.
In its latest status reports, the OSCE special monitoring mission has observed a high level of ceasefire violations in the Donetsk region with violence focused around hotspots in the Avdiivka-Yasynuvata area, northern Donetsk city, Horlivka and areas around Shyrokyne. The mission also observed the presence of weapons in violation of withdrawal lines, quite often near residential areas.
Russian-backed terrorist forces are also regularly impeding the OSCE mission’s access to monitoring areas that are currently not controlled by Ukraine, including the uncontrolled section of the Ukrainian-Russian border. Thus, the issue of the uncontrolled border remains critical for the prospects of peaceful resolution in Donbas. It must be resolved to pave the way for de-escalation.
It is clear that the Russian side’s insistence that the unrest is an “internal conflict” within Ukraine is only an attempt to divert attention from the true role of Russia as the party of the conflict.
Such rhetoric is confirmed by the position of Russian delegation at the negotiations in Minsk, where it tries to act as an observer and advocate of illegal armed groups in Donbas instead of forcing them to fully implement the Minsk agreements.
The lack of any positive developments in the peace process is forcing Ukraine to take decisive steps to prevent the ignition of large-scale hostilities. Following the meeting of the military cabinet of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, its secretary declared that if the situation in Donbas escalates, the council will consider declaring a state of military emergency in Ukraine to protect its territorial integrity and the security of its citizens.
Ukraine demands Russia show its readiness to provide peace in eastern Ukraine, and, as a party to the Minsk agreements, to immediately fulfil its obligations to withdraw its troops, mercenaries and weapons from Donbas, to halt the illegal flow of arms and military equipment to militants and end restrictions on the work of the OSCE’s special monitoring mission.
So far, the Russian Federation has shown no respect towards the application of the universal principle of peaceful settlement of disputes. Neither can one be sure about Russia’s intentions to implement the Minsk agreements in an approved manner.
Under these circumstances, Ukraine appeals to the international community to increase diplomatic pressure on the Kremlin to stop further escalation of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and prevent a situation that will have catastrophic consequences for security and stability in Europe.
Olena Galushka is the charge d’affairs at the Ukrainian embassy in Cyprus