posted on Thu 26 Feb 2015 6:36 PM
Briefing on Minsk Agreement Implementation in Ukraine

Tomorrow (27 February), the Security Council may hold a public meeting on Ukraine possibly followed by an informal interactive dialogue session. The Chief Monitor of the Special OSCE Monitoring Mission, Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan (Turkey), and the Chair of the OSCE’s Trilateral Contact Group, Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini (Switzerland), are expected to brief the Council by video teleconference. (The Trilateral Contact Group is made up of Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE.)

The meeting seems to have been initiated by the P3 in order to get an update on the implementation of the Minsk Agreement. The Council seems to be generally supportive of the role of the OSCE in Ukraine and most Council members are likely to reiterate their support during the meeting. However, it seems there were some members, including Russia, who initially felt that in terms of timing and usefulness, it would be better to have this meeting at a later date. It seems they also advocated having an informal meeting, but this was met with resistance from members who preferred to have only the public session. At press time it was still unclear if there would be an informal interactive dialogue session following the briefing.

The Council last met on Ukraine on 17 February, when it unanimously adopted a Russian-drafted resolution endorsing the package of measures for the implementation of the Minsk agreements signed on 12 February by the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. Just prior to the resolution’s adoption, Council members agreed on a press statement (SC/11784) reinforcing the role of the OSCE regarding the implementation of the commitments made in the Minsk Agreement and calling on all parties to facilitate access to the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to verify compliance with the Minsk Agreement.

The two briefers are expected to focus on the implementation of the provisions of the Minsk Agreement. The main provisions of this agreement include: immediate bilateral ceasefire (effective 15 February), withdrawal of heavy weapons (to be completed within 14 days after the ceasefire), prisoner exchange, withdrawal of all foreign armed groups, weapons and mercenaries, constitutional reform aimed at decentralisation of Ukraine, and restoration of the control of the Ukraine-Russia border to Ukraine by the end of 2015 (pending fulfillment of certain conditions regarding special status of Donetsk and Lugansk).

Apakan is likely to elaborate on two of the most immediate provisions mandated by the Agreement: the 15 February ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons. As the SMM is tasked with the monitoring and verification of these two provisions, Council members are likely to be looking for more information from Apakan on the OSCE’s role in monitoring the implementation of the ceasefire and weapons withdrawal as well as the ability of the SMM to carry out its mandate.

One area that might be covered during the briefing is violations of the ceasefire. Soon after it was supposed to come into effect on 15 February, the ceasefire was violated with heavy fighting for the control of the town of Debaltseve. The Ukrainian army was forced to withdraw its forces and give up control of the town to pro-Russian rebels on 19 February. Sporadic fighting in eastern Ukraine has continued after 15 February, constantly jeopardising the ceasefire and threatening the collapse of the Minsk Agreement. However, there are signs that the ceasefire is now in place. The Ukrainian army reported today that it has not suffered any casualties in the past 48 hours and that it had begun the process of heavy weapons withdrawal. Rebels have also reported that their forces have also started heavy weapons withdrawal.

However, at press time, the OSCE had not been able to confirm the pull back of heavy weapons from the frontlines. In addition, the SMM has reported that its ability to carry out its mandate has been impaired by restricted access and security considerations. It seems that neither the Ukrainian army nor the rebel forces have disclosed the locations of the designated sites for the weapons withdrawal or provided detailed plans about it to the SMM.

On the diplomatic front, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine met in Paris on 24 February with the aim of following up on the implementation of the package of measures of the Minsk Agreement. After the meeting, they called for strict implementation of all provisions of the Agreement and called on all parties to ensure full access for OSCE monitors. The ministers also called on the Trilateral Contact Group to establish working groups to initiate the political process as stipulated by the Agreement. In addition, the ministers also asked for a reinforcement and extension of the SMM, which is set to expire on 20 March.

Though the ceasefire and withdrawal of weapons are immediate priorities, Council members are likely to be interested in getting more information from Tagliavini on the activities of the Trilateral Contact Group. The activities of the Group are likely to intensify as the process moves towards implementation of the political aspects of the Minsk Agreement, such as constitutional reform and elections in Donetsk and Lugansk.