​Ceasefire violations on decline in E. Ukraine – OSCE

RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy
The number of ceasefire violations in war-torn eastern Ukraine is dropping, said OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine spokesman Michael Bociurkiw. He added that observers can’t confirm the withdrawal of heavy armaments by the conflicting sides.

During a briefing in Kiev, Bociurkiw stressed that there is progress in the fulfillment of the Minsk deal between Ukrainian government and the militias in Donetsk and Lugansk Regions.

“We registered several violations over the last 24 hours, but there were fewer of them than last week. And this is a positive sign,” he said. The OSCE official said that the strategically important Donetsk airport was the site of such violations on Tuesday.

In its daily report on March 3, the Special Monitoring Mission said that around 40 explosions, allegedly caused by munitions, were fired from Grad multiple rocket launchers in the airport area.

Kiev and the militias have been fighting for the airport since the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict in April last year, with anti-government forces announcing that they had obtained control over the facility in mid-January.

Both sides claim that they have been pulling back heavy weapons in accordance with the Minsk deal, but Bociurkiw stressed that the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe)“is not yet in the position to provide verification of withdrawals.”

The observers need to have a full picture of the pullout, but not the fragmented information they are getting from the sides so far, he explained.

OSCE comments about the lack of data on the heavy weaponry withdrawal surprised the Lugansk militias.

“When we were withdrawing the heavy weaponry – and we have already done it in accord with the Minsk truce, unlike the Ukrainian forces – OSCE representatives wereobservingthe process and saw it,” the deputy police chief of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic, Vitaly Kiselev, told RIA-Novosti.

The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic spokesman, Eduard Basurin, also stressed that the militias have relocated their heavy weapons that its projectile “physically” won’t be able to reach the positions of the Kiev troops.

Withdrawal of heavy weaponry is a mandatory step set out by the Minsk ceasefire agreements signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk on February 12.

Under the deal, both sides must pull their heavy weapons back from the demarcation line to form a buffer zone of 50 to 140km, depending on the type of weapon.

READ MORE: Ukraine replenishes Donbass tank supplies amid ceasefire

The latest special OSCE monitoring mission statement published on Tuesday described the situation in Donetsk and Lugansk regions as “relatively calm” with some instances of “distant shelling and gunfire” heard by the observers.

However, Ukrainian authorities recently declared they are sending fresh supplies of tanks to the war-torn eastern areas.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Russia that any serious violation of the current ceasefire in east Ukraine, would lead to more EU sanctions against Moscow.

“So far we've got a fragile ceasefire which needs to be stabilized,” Merkel was cited by Reuters as saying. “But if the Minsk agreement is seriously violated, European leaders and the (European) Commission stand ready to prepare and impose further sanctions.”

Russian presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, stated that any sanctions are a “double-edged sword.”

“Of course, it causes discomfort of the Russia, but it also harms businesses, and the economy of the countries that play these games sanctions,” said Peskov.

Despite failing to provide any significant proof, the West keeps blaming Russia for supporting the eastern Ukraine rebels with weaponry and even manpower – accusations repeatedly denied by Moscow.

The country's conflict began in April 2014, after Kiev sent its military to the southeastern regions which refused to recognize the new coup-imposed authorities in the capital.

Nearly a year of fighting has resulted in the deaths of over 6,000 people, the UN Human Rights Office said on Monday.