Kiev trying to invalidate weapons withdraw plan, undermine Minsk deal – militia officials

Ukrainian armed forces take their position near Debaltsevo, eastern Ukraine (Reuters / Gleb Garanich)
​Kiev is trying to invalidate the plan of heavy weaponry withdrawal from the demarcation line in eastern Ukraine, thus undermining the Minsk peace deal, Donbass officials claim. An OSCE top official says Kiev is not pulling away its artillery.

According to the peace deal, heavy weapons must be withdrawn from the agreed demarcation line starting February 22. But Donetsk representative Denis Pushilin and Lugansk representative Vladislav Deynego have claimed in a joint statement that Kiev is “attempting to invalidate the plan.”

The Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which has a monitoring mission in the conflict area, said Kiev has so far failed to begin moving its weapons from the demarcation line.

“Ukrainian military forces keep silent for the moment being. They don’t pull out their heavy weaponry and say that a pause is needed. That is what really triggers certain concern of the OSCE, as this pause may last indefinitely,” said the Russian ambassador to the organization, Andrey Kelin.

Kiev selectively follows the Minsk deal, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Andrey Purgin, told Rossyia 24 TV channel on Wednesday. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN humanitarian mission in Donbass are trying to achieve the cancelation of Kiev’s “blockade” of the eastern regions, he added.

READ MORE: OSCE mission gets access to Debaltsevo in E. Ukraine, Kiev and militia swap prisoners

“Given the fact that we withdrew nearly 400 units of heavy equipment [from the demarcation line], we don’t want to return them to their positions,” Pushilin and Deynego said, expressing hope that the Thursday meeting of the contact group “will help avoid making such mistakes.”

Pushilin also said they are being “forced to address the Ukrainian party, as well as the guarantors of the peace process – Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, President Putin – to urge them to prevent a failure of peace intentions.”

Pushilin and Deynego also expressed hope that Ukraine will comply with the signed document and start the pull-back of artillery.

The Russian ambassador to the OSCE, Andrey Kelin, added that Kiev has not yet given a promise to draw back its artillery. On the other hand, it has been more than two days since the militia said they are ready "to grant access for the mission to the locations where guarded weapons would be stored,” he said.

The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, Ilkka Kanerva, said the rebels have denied “unlimited access” in eastern Ukraine to the OSCE’s monitoring mission.

In turn, the militia said they have sent an inventory to the OSCE – and that the observers are rejecting invitations to witness the actual movements of the weapons.

READ MORE: OSCE neglects its mandate in Ukraine – Moscow

“We believe the OSCE's role is crucial. Once again, we confirm that we are interested in OSCE presence at all weapons-withdrawal events. The OSCE must be present to monitor the withdrawal of the weapons by both sides," rebel spokesman Eduard Basurin said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Purgin told Rossyia-24 that the “OSCE is denying to record the pull-back of our weapons.”

He also noted that the humanitarian situation in Donbass has worsened since the ceasefire started and that the region is “close to a catastrophe,” as Kiev has imposed a blockade.

The members of the Trilateral Contact Group – Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE – have seen a decrease in the intensity of heavy shelling, according to the press secretary of Ukraine’s ex-president, Leonid Kuchma, who represents Kiev in the peace negotiations.

Peace in Ukraine is “fragile” but it’s in place, said the OSCE's chairperson, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, while speaking at a Helsinki Commission hearing at US Congress on Wednesday.

Kiev asking for more guns

Following the agreement for weapons withdrawal, Ukraine continued appealing to other countries for more weapons.

The first deputy chairman of Ukraine’s parliament, Andrey Parubiy, passed down a list of weapons that Kiev wants from the US during his meeting with Republican Senator John McCain in Washington on Tuesday. “Some of the weapons are non-lethal. For example, radars and UAVs (drones), radio communications, and interference suppression devices,” said Paruiby. “The lethal weapons include, primarily, anti-missile systems, including Javelin (anti-tank missiles).”

Parubiy clarified that US President Barack Obama has already seen the list, adding that US commitment to send weapons could encourage other countries to follow suit. Moreover, during his visit to Ottawa, Parubiy stressed that Canada could help influence Washington's decision. “Canada is kind of the authoritative voice that can push [for] that. It can influence the US decision.”

Also, former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili – who recently became an adviser to Ukrainian President Poroshenko – is currently on a working trip to Washington, with the mission to persuade the US to supply Kiev with arms.

[N]ever have so many [US] lawmakers agreed to meet with me, even when I was president,” Saakashvili posted on Facebook, describing his trip. “Thirty-four meetings in three days.”

Meanwhile, the US defense undersecretary for policy, Christine Wormuth, said at a Congress hearing on Wednesday that stiffer Russia sanctions might “potentially be more effective and have fewer downsides” than arming Ukraine.