On February 28, in Minsk, a regular meeting of the Contact Group on the peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Donbass was held. The agenda included issues of compliance with the ceasefire, the implementation of the agreement on the disengagement of forces and facilities, the preparation of the process of exchanging prisoners, as well as the discussion of political and economic issues.
Particular attention during the meeting today was paid to the issue of restoring communication between the Ukrainian mobile operator Vodafone, the signal of which disappeared in the DPR territory on January 11 as a result of an accident. According to the Chairman of the DPR People’s Council, the Permanent Representative of the DPR at the talks of the Contact Group in Minsk, Denis Pushilin, the absence of direct dialogue between specialists caused a lot of unreliable interpretations about this issue, but thanks to its discussion in the economic subgroup, it is now possible to talk about the probability of Vodafone’s signal restoration soon.
“The situation with Vodafone as part of the discussion in the subgroup on economic issues in Minsk allows us to talk about the hope of restoring communication in the foreseeable future. Today, the Contact Group members were able to hear the positions of a Vodafone representative, as well as a representative of the DPR Ministry of Communications.
The DPR managed to raise the issues bothering the residents of the Republic, such as the work of emergency numbers 101, 102, 103, 104, the ability to call the landline numbers. In addition, the issues of servicing equipment, upgrading the technical base, and paying for electricity were discussed after the connection would have been restored.
The discussion also concerned changes in tariffs that took place just before the disconnection of communications in January, which, together with the systematic, sequential destruction by the AFU of all seven lines of communication between Ukraine and the Republic, makes us think about the deliberate actions and the continued strengthening of the Donbass blockade.
It should be noted that the absence of a direct dialogue between specialists complicated the process of recovery and generated a lot of unreliable interpretations about this problem,” Denis Pushilin said.
As a source at the peace talks reports from Minsk, the negotiators from the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics continued insisting on the need to exchange prisoners according to the formula “all for all” without dividing into categories those that are subject to or not subject to release. According to the source, the humanitarian subgroup is constantly working on clarifying the lists of prisoners, and the only thing that prevents the final exchange of all identified prisoners held in places of deprivation of liberty on the Ukrainian side on all identified prisoners held on the territory of the Republic is the lack of political will from the official Kiev.
The source added that, within the framework of the meeting, the representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic again raised the issue of Ukraine’s non-payment of social benefits, in particular pensions, to citizens who live in the DPR territory.
“While 690 000 pensioners living in the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic have not been receiving pensions from Ukraine for the fourth year, the Ukrainian side itself is concerned only with problems that can bring financial benefits (such as Lugansk paying for consumed water, returning enterprises that were transferred under external management back under Ukrainian jurisdiction, flooding of mines located on the territory of Ukraine and others).
Unfortunately, this position of the Ukrainian side has not been surprising for a long time neither among the other negotiators or coordinators. And, nevertheless, the representatives of the Republic stressed the importance of considering this issue for the peaceful population of the Donbass and insisted on the need to pay special attention to this issue. The interests of Ukrainian business should not be higher than the lives of thousands of innocent old people,” the source said.
In addition, the source said that during the meeting the representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic insisted on the need to investigate the shelling of the Dokuchayevsky field ambulance and to punish those responsible for the death of the three people who were in it.
“Since the last meeting (February 14) of the negotiators in Minsk, Ukraine’s Armed Forces have violated the ceasefire regime 131 times, five infrastructure facilities were damaged, as well as 30 residential buildings, two cars were destroyed and another one was damaged, four people were killed.
Particularly outrageous was the shooting by the Ukrainian security forces of the ambulance car, for the passage of which to the contact line for the evacuation of a wounded soldier security guarantees from Ukraine had been previously received. As a result of this cynical bombardment, three people were killed. During today’s meeting, the negotiators insisted on the need to investigate this egregious case and punish the perpetrators of the deaths of people.
The disengagement of forces and facilities in the third pilot section in Stanitsa Luganskaya, and then along the entire contact line, can lead to reducing shelling and clashes between the sides. This position was expressed by DPR envoy of Denis Pushilin.
Realization of this one point, for which there were no fewer than 16 periods of “silence regime” from December 26 (2017 – editorial note), opens the possibility for discussion of new disengagement sites, first of all paying attention to ensuring the safety of crucial infrastructure facilities.
The next date for the disengagement of forces and facilities is indicated, but taking into account Ukraine’s attitude towards fulfilling its obligations, there is very little hope for realization of the withdrawal,” the source concluded.