It has been one month since the news of Ukraine’s martial law declaration shook up the entire global community. Many failed to understand its purpose or timing. But former Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine Alexander Hug notices additional security measures in separate Ukrainian regions like Kherson and Sumy.
“For instance, [there were] restrictions on presence in the frontier zone without personal identification documents, restrictions on hunting in nighttime, prohibition on wearing military uniform for persons who are not military personnel,” Hug wrote to Hromadske on December 23.
“I, however, cannot judge whether the introduction of martial law was essential for taking these measures,” he adds.
According to Hug, “the concrete measures to be taken in each of [the 10 affected] regions were identified on the basis of the Model Plan on the implementation of martial law with due regard to the specific situation of each of the regions (e.g. geographic location, infrastructure, resources, etc.).” He adds that the local authorities in the affected regions had to “establish ‘defense councils’ and develop jointly with the military and other defense structures individual plans/roadmaps on implementation of martial law.”
As Ukrainian authorities are about to announce whether they will extend martial law or now, Hromadske publishes the full transcript of Hug’s written responses made in private capacity to Hromadske’s exclusive questions.
How did the situation with the reported Russian military buildup on the borders and in occupied territories look like in the past months/over the summer, according to mission’s information?
Media and analytical reports suggest that the buildup of Russian military equipment near the Ukrainian border is not new. Ukraine has consistently expressed its concerns about this development as far back as 2014. There is no independent verification of the size of the buildup on the Russian territory.
Of equal concern but by far better documented is the buildup, movement, reinforcement, supply and maintenance of weapons and personnel in Donbas. Article 4 of the Minsk Memorandum of 19 September 2014 has foreseen that a 30-kilometer wide safety or security zone should be established, 15 kilometers on each side of the contact line. As the name suggests, this zone should have become a zone free of danger and free of security risks. The opposite happened. It is now arguably the most dangerous area in Ukraine and beyond.
The publicly available daily reports of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) list in detail the facts of observed weapons and personnel on both sides of the contact line. Most concerning is the continued presence of indiscriminate weapons near the contact line in engagement distance, often inside the security zone. Heavy weapons are defined by the Minsk agreements as including but not limited to mortars, tanks, artillery including multiple launch rocket systems.
Each exploding round of a heavy weapon produces a spray of shrapnel and each shrapnel has the potential to maim, kill or destroy. Indiscriminately. These weapons should not be there and should not be used as the sides have agreed to withdraw them beyond engagement distance. More than 3,500 such weapons in violation of agreed withdrawal lines have been observed by the SMM in this year in total, around half of them were observed in areas beyond government control.
How strong was that buildup compared to any of the previous years of the conflict?
In 2017, the OSCE reported over 4,000 heavy weapons in violation of agreed withdrawal lines. Of these weapons, the OSCE reported that 65% were registered in areas not controlled by the government. Even though previously SMM had monitored and reported about indications such as heavy vehicle tracks near the border, SMM was for the first time this summer in a position to observe and even publish footage of multiple convoys entering and leaving Ukraine through the uncontrolled land border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation in Donetsk and Luhansk region.
READ MORE: Martial Law in Ukraine: What Happens Now?
The OSCE made these observations in the middle of the night in areas where there are no official border crossings. These convoys were composed of military type vehicles and contained arms. Since 07 August 2018, at least nine such convoys have been observed by the OSCE. This is thanks to its enhanced technical capabilities that enable night-time observation with long distance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in an area that is otherwise only scarcely monitored. It is worthwhile to note that the OSCE seems not yet to have received the necessary guarantees to establish presences near the unsecured border with the Russian Federation.
How possible - in your opinion and with the information that you’ve received over the past few months before you left your position is the Russian on-the-ground operation against Ukraine?
I do not want to speculate. It is, however, important to note that the weapons, positions and personnel belonging to the armed formations that the OSCE is reporting about are battle ready and arguably battle experienced after almost five years of conflict. Moreover, the close proximity of the Ukraine Armed Forces and the armed formations, increase the possibility of a flare up at any time with no or little notice.
What is more, the convoys that an SMM long-range UAV spotted leaving and entering non-government controlled areas of Ukraine through its unsecured border with the Russian Federation suggest that the armed formations have a sophisticated supply chain. This fact is further underpinned by the number of ceasefire violations recorded by the SMM as there cannot be a steady number of ceasefire violations over four and a half years without a steady supply of ammunition.
The immediate and most serious consequence of these movements and the continued fighting or even of an escalation in violence inside the security zone is the continued death and injury of civilians who live there or who need to cross this zone and contact line to go to work, study, visit friends, or pick up their pensions. Entire districts of Donetsk city like the Trudovski district or the densely populated town of Avdiivka with its southern Stari Avdiivka area on the other side of the line have already become permanent battlegrounds. On both sides of the contact line, unlike the soldiers and armed men fighting out of trenches and armored vehicles, civilians are caught up in the middle and are left exposed to the indiscriminate weapons these men use.
The daily reports of the SMM over the past four and a half years have given strong grounds to believe that when there is a will to cease fire, the guns are silent. I would, therefore, argue that any escalation is a question political considerations (and these may have little to do with what is going on at the contact line) rather than a question of build-up and preparedness. Ending the fighting depends on political will to do so in Moscow but also in Kiev. Once such will has materialized, the military activities will end.
How exactly Ukraine’s military capacities could have changed with the introduction of martial law in terms of preparation for a potential on-the-ground operation by Russia? What has it changed?
I have not analyzed the actions taken under martial law in detail. I understand, however, from open sources that no military administrations were created. The local authorities in the affected regions had to establish “Defense Councils” and to develop jointly with the military and other defense structures individual plans/road maps on implementation of martial law. The concrete measures to be taken in each of such regions were identified on the basis of the Model Plan on the implementation of martial law (approved by the Cabinet of Ministers Resolution no.544 of 22 July 2015) with due regard to the specific situation of each of the regions (e.g. geographic location, infrastructure, resources, etc.).
The texts of the documents have not been made available, however, the Governors of the regions reported on their content in public statements. Common to all plans were the measures aimed at deployment of territorial military brigades, strengthening the security of key objects of infrastructure, enhancing security measures alongside the state border, ensuring public safety and readiness of the civil defense system. In some regions (e.g. Kherson, Sumy) additional measures were introduced, for instance: restrictions on presence in the frontier zone without personal identification documents; restrictions on hunting and night time; prohibition on wearing military uniform for persons, who are not military personnel, etc.
I, however, cannot judge whether the introduction of martial law was essential for taking these measures.
What is there the OSCE SMM can do in the Azov Sea? Have there been any suggestions to broaden up the mission’s mandate in the Azov sea?
The recent developments at sea near the annexed Crimean peninsula represent yet another escalation in the conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Such incidents have the potential to spiral out of control if not contained through dialogue.
The conflict in and around Ukraine cannot be solved militarily. International law, existing agreements as well as international organizations such as the OSCE provide mechanisms and platforms to resolve such a crisis peacefully. Saber-rattling is dangerous and can lead to further escalation.
As for the extension of the SMM’s mandate for it to cover the Azov Sea, it is important to understand that such decision would require a discussion and eventually a consensus based agreement in the OSCE Permanent Council.
It is also important to remember that there is still deadly and destructive violence happening along the contact line in eastern Ukraine and this fact must not be overlooked or forgotten notwithstanding that the conflict is mainly confined to the back pages, largely overlooked and at best an accepted or even tolerated new reality. Measures must be undertaken to ensure that this new abnormal reality is not accepted as the new normal.