by Miceál O’Hurley
DUBLIN — Ms. Olena Shaloput,Charge d`Affaires, Embassy of Ukraine to Ireland, delivered testimony to Dail Eireann before a Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence of the Oireachtas on Thursday, 3 December 2020. The hearing was Chaired by Charlie Flanagan, Teachta Dála (Laois Offaly). Flanagan previously served as the Minister for Justice and prior to that, visited Ukraine as the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Due to Covid-19, the format for the Committee Hearing was both in-person and attendance via remote access.
The following is the Statement provided by Ms. Shaloput to the Committee:
Statement by Ms. Olena Shaloput, Charge d`Affaires of Ukraine in Ireland at the session of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defenсe of the Oireachtas
(Dublin, 3 December 2020)
Dear members of the Oireachtas,
I wish to start with the words of appreciation to the distinguished members of the Oireachtas for inviting me to today`s session of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defenсe and giving an opportunity to update you on the current situation in Ukraine.
We highly appreciate the level of cooperation between our countries which is successfully progressing.
Ireland has always been a reliable partner of Ukraine on bilateral level as well as within the international organisations. We successfully cooperate on a number of UN resolutions, including on Human Rights in Crimea and the security situation in the Black and Azov seas. There is no doubt that Ireland would support Ukraine in the UN Security Council, to where Ireland was elected for the next two-year period.
Bilateral trade turnover has been continuously growing during previous years and reached more than 700 million Euro in 2019. However, we believe that we have greater potential in this field, and it is diverse.
Expected opening of the Irish Embassy in Kyiv will open new opportunities, will further promote bilateral trade and cooperation in economic, scientific and other sectors.
Launching direct flight from Dublin to Kyiv in May last year contributed to widening people-to-people contacts which serves best to strengthen friendship between the two countries.
Since 2017 Ukrainian citizens enjoy visa-free travel almost to all EU countries, and we reckon that Ireland will join the list of these countries by abolishing visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals.
We are also looking forward to the appointment of a new Convenor of the Parliamentary Friendship Group to intensify our interparliamentary communication.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I will update you on Ukraine today with focus on the situation in Donbas and Crimea which hurts the most since 2014 when Russia illegally occupied Crimea and then unleashed its aggression in Donbas.
The Kremlin has always been considering democratic and independent pro-European Ukraine as a threat to its dominance in the region and its authoritarian rule.
Military aggression is just one element of the Russian hybrid warfare against Ukraine. Russia also conducts a propaganda campaign based on disinformation, trade and economic warfare; launched energy blockade and carries out cyber-attacks. Blaming the other side for its own crimes, Russia at the same time strongly denies the very fact of war against Ukraine despite large scope of irrefutable evidence.
As of today, Russia continues to illegally occupy Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the city of Sevastopol, and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions — in total 7,2% of the territory of Ukraine.
Russian aggression against Ukraine has left about 14 000 people killed and up to 25 000 wounded. During the entire conflict period, from 14 April 2014 to 30 September 2020, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded a total of 3,070 conflict-related civilian deaths. The number of injured civilians is estimated to exceed 7,000.
We also remember with deep sorrow 298 passengers of MH17 flight, including one Irish national, killed as a result of terrorist attack on 17 July 2014, when the plane was shot down by the Russian servicemen using BUK missile system.
More than 1.5 mln residents of Donbas have been internally displaced and more 45 000 were forced to flee Crimea.
Economy of Donbas has been completely destroyed. Equipment of many important industrial facilities was dismantled and transported to Russia. Situation with flooded mines threatens environmental disaster. Russian authorities do not allow access of experts for assessing the threats and seeking ways to mend the situation. A 410 km long section of the Ukrainian-Russian state border remains out of control by Ukraine.
Russia keeps issuing hundreds of thousands of its passports to Ukrainian citizens living in the occupied areas, flagrantly breaching Ukraine’s sovereignty and undermining the prospects of future reintegration.
At present, the situation in Donbas remains volatile. On 22nd July 2020 additional measures to consolidate cease fire were agreed within the Trilateral Contact Group after which the overall security situation on the ground defused to a large extent. However, the Russian armed formations continue to violate the ceasefire regime on a regular basis firing upon positions of the Ukrainian armed forces using sniper weapons, grenade launchers etc.
Most recently, on 24th November 2020, another Ukrainian serviceman was killed by sniper fire near Avdiivka.
The OSCE SMM reports on a regular basis about the presence of the Russian tanks, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), electronic warfare systems. Cases of distant mining and sniper fire at Ukrainian Army positions continue to be registered.
On 8 November 2020, the SMM spotted, for the first time, the newest advanced Russian electronic warfare system Navodchik-2 near Luhansk city with three boxes for storing and transporting of the UAV. Despite numerous calls, the Russian Side failed to provide any credible information on how these weapons and military equipment find their way to Ukraine.
The OSCE SMM reports on a regular basis on incidents when movement of its monitors was restricted, including access to the non-government controlled section of the Ukrainian-Russian border. At the same time, illegal clandestine crossing of this section of the border by the so-called Russian humanitarian convoys transporting weapon and military equipment and ammunition to Donbas has become usual and systematic since long ago.
I mentioned only several facts testifying to the Russian military presence in Donbas.
Situation around Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) is alarming as its productive and result-oriented work has remained blocked already for several months. After the ceasefire agreement was reached the TCG failed to ensure further tangible results on security, political and humanitarian tracks.
Since summer 2020, we have seen deliberate efforts by the Russian side to obstruct TCG’s activities and even delay the application of the already agreed arrangements, in particular:
– the updated plan on demining activities in the 19 agreed areas, which has a clear humanitarian nature. It covers the areas around the existing entry-exit checkpoints and other critical civilian infrastructure;
– disengagement of forces and hardware in 4 additional areas;
– mutual exchange of lists of identified detainees as a necessary stage before a next mutual release of detainees.
The latest several TCG sessions were simply a disaster. No new decisions were finalized, while old arrangements seem to have been questioned by the Russian side.
In line with the agreements reached within the TCG Working Group on humanitarian issues, the Ukrainian side opened on 10th November 2020 two new entry-exit crossing points Zolote and Shchastia in the Luhansk region. However afterwards the passage of people and vehicles was practically blocked by the occupation administration.
It has been already 4 months that the TCG Working Group on political issues could not renew deliberations on proposals submitted by Ukraine to ensure implementation of the relevant provisions of the Minsk agreements relating to legal aspects of the special order of local self-government in the certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and incorporation of so called Steinmeier’s formula into the Ukrainian legislation.
Paradoxically, however these are exactly the documents Russia was regularly insisting on before.
We are also deeply alarmed by the almost complete lack of access of international humanitarian organisations and the ICRC to the Ukrainian prisoners of war who remain in detention in the occupied Donbas.
As you may see Russia continues standing firmly on protracting the peace process under various pretexts.
In order to make Russia to listen to and hear a message about the unacceptability of its course aimed at widening zones of instability at the European continent, sanctions should be preserved and expanded.
Now a brief overview of the situation around Crimea.
Crimea has become a territory of fear where the occupying authorities act by repressive measures, resorting to systematic and large-scale violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Alarming human rights situation in occupied Crimea was condemned by a number of UN Resolutions, and I would like to thank Ireland for its strong support and co-sponsorship of these documents.
The most recent report of the UN Secretary-General on human rights in Crimea published on 8 October 2020 gives us an impartial and alarming picture on the dire human rights situation in the peninsula.
According to the report, the Russian occupation regime in Crimea flagrantly violates human rights ignoring all its international obligations. Numerous cases of torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and enforced disappearances in Crimea were reported. About 100 Ukrainian citizens are constantly behind bars for political reasons.
UN Secretary-General urged the occupation authorities to ensure freedoms of opinion and expression and the right to freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, thought, conscience, and religion without discrimination on any grounds. He underlined the need to ensure education in the Ukrainian language, and to lift restrictions imposed on the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the ban on the Mejlis.
Education in Ukrainian is available only to 0,2% of schoolchildren in Crimea. Since 2014, the number of children who study Ukrainian decreased 54 times.
A recent example of an attempt by Russia to suppress religious freedoms of those with a voice against the attempted annexation and to eradicate everything Ukrainian in Crimea was a so-called “court ruling” by the occupation administration which ordered the demolition of Ukrainian Orthodox Church temple in Yevpatoria city.
The Russian Federation also continues illegal conscription activities in Crimea, denies property rights of former owners depriving them of their titles under the pretext of “nationalization”.
In breach of international humanitarian law more than 25 thousand persons from among the population protected by Geneva IV Convention were drafted to serve in the Russian military, another 2500 are to be drafted by the end of the year.
Militarization of Crimea is another deeply alarming trend which is seriously threatening to overall global security after Russia occupied the peninsula and got the capacities for storage and deployment of nuclear weapons.
One of several facilities used by the former Soviet Union to store nuclear weapons in Crimea, is the so-called “Feodosia-13” facility which was in use until 1996 and afterwards dismantled. At present Russia started carrying out specific works at the facility.
Balaklava is another facility where the Russian submarines are, currently, illegally stationed, and additional tunnels for submarines were constructed.
Eventual deployment of nuclear weapons by Russia on the territory of the temporarily occupied Crimea would pose a real threat to a global security and put in danger the whole Non-Proliferation Treaty regime.
In the last 3 years Russia enhanced its army in Crimea with long-ranged missile systems C-400, war ships and submarines equipped with cruise missiles “Kalibr”.
To revert the trend, we need to act in a coordinated way.
With this aim Ukraine recently proposed to establish the Crimean Platform – a new international format of cooperation aimed at de-occupation of Crimea.
Some partners – the EU, US, Canada already spoke up in support of this initiative. UK, Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Estonia said they are ready to participate in Platform’s activities.
The Crimean Platform also envisages interparliamentary dimension of interaction.
We look forward to other states joining this group in the nearest future. In the mid-term we plan to focus the Platform’s work on the following issues:
– closing of the loopholes for sanctions circumvention,
– elaboration of mechanisms for swift response to violations of international law by the Russian Federation,
– launching the Forum on security in the Black, Azov, and Mediterranean seas regions.
Problems related to freedom of navigation, human rights violations, economic and environmental consequences of the Russian occupation of Crimea will also remain in our focus.
Dear members of the Oireachtas, Despite all the challenges Ukraine is currently facing, we have to ensure irreversible progress of national reforms on the way to Euro-Atlantic integration.
On 1st December 2020, the European Union published annual Report that outlines Ukraine’s implementation of reforms under the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement over the past year.
The High Representative/Vice-President, Mr. Josep Borrell, noted that despite Russia’s destabilising actions, conflict in the east and the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Ukraine had continued to make progress on its reform path.
Thank you.[End of Prepared Statement]
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