We have had many false-starts, dashed hopes and broken promises over the past two and half years.
For the long-suffering people of Donbas, scepticism is therefore not an unnatural reaction. Many initiatives have been taken and yet the violence has continued.
Despite this, I welcome what happened in Minsk on Wednesday. There, a framework agreement on disengagement of forces and hardware from three pilot areas, namely Petrivske, Zolote and Stanytsia Luhanska, was signed.
The sides had already recognized the fundamental need to separate armed forces and formations. They already understood that proximity fuelled and made it difficult to prevent cross-contact line violent engagement. They understood that there needed to be sufficient distance between the sides on the ground so as to prevent the first shot that generally triggered wider violence. They have for some time now understood that there must be disengagement.
Let me be clear on one thing. Wednesday’s agreement was signed by the sides. Not the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. Like with all previous agreements, the sides are responsible for implementation. Only the sides can withdraw weapons. Only the sides can de-mine. Only the sides can ensure freedom of movement for the OSCE SMM. And ultimately, only the sides can disengage. Implementation of this agreement is the responsibility of the sides.
The role of the OSCE SMM is clear. The OSCE SMM will monitor the process of disengagement and will verify compliance. While one side may not like the SMM watching their every move, they can be assured we are doing the same on the opposite side of the contact line. Each side therefore knows what the other is doing.
There is no room for confusion, misunderstanding, paranoia or unfounded fears. Such a regime ultimately instils confidence and trust, and in turn leads to greater compliance.
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission is an unarmed civilian mission. Our monitors can only verify implementation of this agreement if the sides allow them to. Without verification, this agreement will not work. On the very day the framework agreement was signed, SMM patrols were prevented from moving freely in Petrivske and Zolote – two of the three pilot disengagement areas.
[Picture of CP]
This is what they faced near Zolote.
These concrete blocks must be removed immediately.
Just beyond this obstacle, the road is heavily mined.
These mines – and all others on and alongside access roads in and around these three pilot areas must be removed immediately.
Armed forces and formations on the ground close to these areas must be notified immediately that there should be no restrictions on the movement of SMM patrols.
Only then can we verify that the sides have actually pulled back weapons and personnel from these areas.
With access, we can monitor. Through monitoring we can verify. With verification, there is trust, and with trust, there is complete compliance and full disengagement.
What happened last week on the ground in Donbas underlines the urgent need for the sides to implement this agreement.
As you can see, violence levels are still lower than they had been prior to the 1 September recommitment to the ceasefire.
This chart, however, also demonstrates the wildly fluctuating levels of violence on a daily basis.
Last week, for instance, saw an increase in violence on the previous week, mainly because Horlivka and the Svitlodarsk-Debaltseve road re-emerged as violent hotspots.
For the previous two weeks, these areas had been almost calm.
And within the main hotspot – the Yasynuvata-Avdiivka-Donetsk airport triangle – the daily fluctuations have been particularly pronounced.
On Saturday, for instance, our monitors in so-called “DPR”-controlled Yasynuvata heard at least 150 explosions, as well as numerous heavy-machine-gun bursts and over a hundred small-arms shots. Between 12:55 and 13:35, the violence reached a crescendo. An exchange of continuous overlapping fire and explosions was so intense that our monitors were unable to count the ceasefire violations.
And yet, on Tuesday in Yasynuvata between 10:07 and 15:32, our monitors heard just one explosion.
This volatility proves two things in my mind.
Firstly, the sides can stop fighting. Command-and-control mechanisms on both sides are sufficiently strong to ensure the necessary discipline.
And secondly, the resumption of violence is liable at any moment.
There are many factors at play, some of which perhaps you and I will never be aware of.
But I know one thing for sure. Where the sides have re-positioned themselves closer to one another, there has invariably been escalation.
We saw it in the Pavlopil-Oktiabr-Pikuzy triangle, in the Zaitseve area north of Horlivka, in Yasynuvata-Avdiivka, in the Berezove-Olenivka-Dokuchaievsk area and around the Stanytsia Luhanska bridge.
What happened on Wednesday in Minsk, I hope, is just the start of a wider process.
If the sides faithfully implement this agreement, then disengagement can be extended to other areas, in particular to all the hotspots I just mentioned.
There are many uncertainties. Not least of which is the willingness of the sides to act on what they have agreed.
But one thing is certain.
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission stands ready to play its part. We have the resources, the expertise and the political backing of 57 sovereign States.
We are already on the ground. Our monitors are watching and listening. We will report what we observe. We will verify compliance. We will instil trust, whose absence has allowed this conflict to fester for far too long.
All that remains is for the sides to do their part.
Give us the access we need and disengage your forces and hardware now.
I hope with immediate implementation, I can stand here next week and report that these three areas have been devoid of violence.
If the political hindrances stalling the signing of this agreement could be overcome, then there is no reason to expect that the physical hindrances on the ground cannot be overcome, too.
I know it’s possible if the sides do what they have agreed to do.
This week, the world celebrated International Peace Day.
It is entirely appropriate that this framework agreement on disengagement of forces and hardware was signed the same week.
Its implementation will be a concrete step on the road to peace.
All that remains now is for the sides to implement it. We will be there.
As usual at the end of my statement, I would like to inform you about the latest Mission numbers. As of today, the Mission has 707 Monitors (of whom 583 are deployed in the east). In addition, there are 317 Ukrainian colleagues and 93 other international staff working for the SMM.