OSCE SMM registers a tendency for the sides to re-position closer towards each other  

Kyiv, January 20, 2016. Over the past few months in a number of places, the OSCE SMM registered a tendency for the sides to re-position closer towards each other. That is certainly the case in the western and north-western outskirts of Horlivka, most notably in the small settlement of Zaitseve. “I am not talking about so-called “grey zones”. There is a popular misconception that one side or the other has been filling a vacuum so to speak. This is a myth. There are no and never have been any grey areas, only areas not under the effective control of one side or the other. What is true is that they moved to more forward positions closer to the contact line”, stated Alexander Hug, Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine at the press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. That resulted in movements into Pavlopil and Kominternove, narrowing thus the security zone and meaning that armed groups distrustful and fearful of each other have inched closer together. Last Thursday SMM monitors heard 38 explosions and numerous bursts of small arms and small weapons fire in the wider area.

Mr Hug stated that in other areas of Donbass, namely in and around Horlivka, there was a sharp spike in violence fighting. It was notable that initially small arms were used. Things rapidly escalated with, amongst others, tanks and mortars being used. Their use plainly shows such weapons have not been withdrawn from the contact line.

According to Mr Hug, last week the SMM experienced 21 freedom-of-movement restrictions. All but three imposed by the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) and “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”). Monitors were attempting to verify the withdrawal of heavy weapons in a holding area there by the so-called “LPR” near Myrne and were denied access. Members of the so-called “LPR” prevented the SMM from proceeding through a checkpoint near Diakove on Tuesday, preventing them from reaching Chervonyi Zhovten.

The Principal Deputy Chief Monitor also emphasized the importance to broaden the freedom of movement for civilian population. “I would ask that more crossing points are established, in particular in Luhansk region, and that procedures are streamlined to allow for safer, easier and faster crossing”, he said.

Mr Hug stressed that in Mariinka, where the monitors were facilitating the restoration of critical infrastructure for the civilian population on both sides of the contact line, “somebody fired at them, hitting one of their vehicles with monitors standing exposed just a few metres away”. No one was hurt. It followed another incident the week before in Horlivka in which the SMM members were forced out of their vehicles and put face down on the snow.

Nevertheless, the OSCE SMM continues extending its presence in Donbas. “We just opened three more forward patrol bases in Krasnoarmiisk, Svitlodarsk and Stanytsia Luhanska, and this week the number of monitors reached 679, supported by 291 Ukrainian staff members”, Mr Hug added.