‘Little time for hardware withdrawal in E.Ukraine’ – Russia’s OSCE rep

RIA Novosti / John Trast
Both sides of the Ukraine conflict were given little time to withdraw their weapons, Andrey Kelin, Russia’s representative to the OSCE, said. Despite their fulfillment of the Minsk agreements, there is significant mistrust between the parties, he added.

The both parties have begun the withdrawal of military hardware, OSCE observers confirmed on Friday. Another confirmation regarding the actions of Kiev troops came from anti-government forces leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko.

However, there are still reports of shelling – for instance at the Donetsk airport. OSCE monitors visited the site on Friday. Both parties are blaming each other and various uncontrolled groups for the ceasefire violations.

RIA Novosti / Michail Voskresensky

The “in general” lasting truce enabled the head of OSCE special Monitoring Mission, Ertugrul Apakan, to report to the Security Council that both sides of the conflict are fulfilling the Minsk agreements. The Friday discussions – the first meeting of the Security Council since the signing of the Minsk agreements on February 17 – were held behind closed doors.

However, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, said after the meeting that the US and UK were trying to involve the OSCE in missions not covered by the mandate. Churkin accused the two countries of trying to rewrite the Minsk deal and "lecture the OSCE on what to do."

RT invited Andrey Kelin, Russia’s permanent representative to the OSCE, to discuss the situation.

RT:The chief of the OSCE’s Ukraine team has just been speaking within the last hour to the UN Security Council. He reiterated that the team welcomes the withdrawal, but went on to say...that he can’t get full confirmation of the final destination of both sides of artillery. So what's the problem?

Andrey Kelin: Well, that is true. And I fully sympathize with his position. This situation, it is still a post-war situation, I cannot even call it a post-war situation, the conflict is still hot and mistrust is very big. And you can imagine the issue of verification of withdrawal; that is something that should be carefully discussed and carefully approached. I also recall that in the plan that was designed earlier in September, the earliest plan gave quite a lot of time for withdrawal and verification – a month. And after that, the situation of verification could have been established. Now what we are seeing right now it is the initial stage of withdrawal in the agreements of Feburary 12. This period has been shortened to two weeks actually, so this will continue. Now we are seeing they are withdrawing beyond a certain line of limit, but as for the verification I think it will be the next stage.

RT:Anti-government forces say they‘ve withdrawn most of their hardware, but they’re saying Kiev’s only taking about 20 percent. Kiev, in turn, says the same thing back. As you see it, who’s telling the truth?

AK.: I will not make any opinion of that until it will be said by the OSCE observers...I know that yesterday and today they are following the columns. And yesterday evening they started to follow the columns of withdrawal also by the government forces. So I think in the coming hours we will see a report on the activities of OSCE observers. So far, it is not yet published but my prime information is that they are satisfied with what is happening, with the level of access, with the itineraries and data. Data has been provided primarily by the DPR and LPR, and this is important.

RIA Novosti / Michail Voskresensky

RT:And how broad of an access do the OSCE observers have, to check what is really going on?

AK.: And again we are coming back to the war situation which, I hope, ended just two days ago. Although we still see occasional shelling by both parties, one is trying to shell the other. We can make a [verdict] that shelling is less and less and last night was nearly peaceful. At least, we can say people start to go once again to work, schools and so on. As for the question that you asked, the issue of mistrust, of course it is present and we should talk about it; how to reach the end state of withdrawal and the even more difficult issue – how to start a settlement? The political discussion, since this political discussion is supposed to start 14 days after the start of withdrawal.

RT:Are things progressing in the right direction generally, based on what you've seen?

AK.: I hope very much that they are progressing, and it is not only my opinion but this is also an opinion of the OSCE, of the observers, and they are now completing point number one of the agreement of the February 12. So they will come to point number two and then will be the even more difficult point number three. As I said, the initial discussions on the future status of the LPR and DNR [that are] supposed to be fixed in the laws by the Verkhovna Rada.