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'The Ukrainian Side Understands It Is Part Of The Conflict — Russian Side Does Not': Borys Kremenetskiy

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Tanya Bednarczyk, 7:13AM 01/18/2017
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Major General Borys Kremenetsky, head of the Ukrainian side of the Joint Coordination Center for Ceasefire Monitoring describes the ceasefire situation in Ukraine’s East as “stable and under control;”

“I am not going to say that the Ukrainian side is violating.   First of all, the Ukrainian side doesn't use weapons, which are prohibited by the Minsk agreement. But at the same time, every commander on the contact line can decide how to respond and the level of response should be adequate to the level of attack, especially when it comes to the danger or life of our soldiers, of our citizens or danger to attack new territories;”

“The main problem is that in the joint center, the Ukrainian side clearly understands that we are a side of the conflict and that we believe that Russia is a side of the conflict as well. But the Russian side never recognizes itself. They reject that they are a side of the conflict, they reject all accusation that they support and supply representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk areas with weapons, mercenaries, and ammunition;”

Major General Kremenetsky believes that that conflict can be solved only once a ceasefire is in place and a comprehensive approach--including diplomatic, political, economic and military means--should be used towards a solution.

Major General, thanks for being with us.  You are the head of the Ukrainian side of the Joint Coordination Center for Ceasefire Monitoring. At this stage, we are hearing different kinds of news reading OSCE reports and others. Winter 2016:  How can we describe the situation with the ceasefire and the violation of the ceasefire on the frontline?

I would describe it as a stable and under control with some intention to escalation or de-escalation, depending on political events, negotiations, Minsk meetings and so on.

What does it mean and what damage is done? How can we describe it for civilians and for the military?

I can tell you just a few figures that during November, around 300 tons different ammunitions were shot down on Ukrainian positions and Ukrainian villages and cities where Ukrainian people live. We documented a lot of damage to infrastructure as well, which also influenced the humanitarian situation in the area. So every day we understand that there are supplies going from Russia--so Russia-Ukraine border--which is not under control now. It’s around 400 kilometers of non-controlled border.  Daily, we have a few Ukrainian soldiers wounded, sometimes killed-in-action. But the most dangerous fact happened yesterday when one civilian was killed and one civilian was injured during the shooting which happened at the checkpoint border cross point on the contact line in Myorsk-Zaytseva. So we have some Ukrainian soldiers wounded.

There are cases that the Ukrainian side is answering to the Russian side. What would you say about that? That both sides--to different levels and to different extents-- are violating the ceasefire?

I am not going to say that the Ukrainian side is violating.   First of all, the Ukrainian side doesn't use weapons, which are prohibited by the Minsk agreement. But at the same time, every commander on the contact line can decide how to respond and the level of response should be adequate to the level of attack, especially when it comes to the danger or life of our soldiers, of our citizens or danger to attack new territories.

So with what kind of weapon does the Ukrainian army use in that case?

In response, we use adequate weapons.

Which is probably very confusing and complex for some of our viewers but still if you can explain.

Mostly we use weapons, which are not prohibited by Minsk. So we don't use heavy artillery systems but we use small arms, light weapons, automatic grenade launchers…

Is there any, like one single day within this long-term, where we can say that that day was peaceful?

Yes, I remember during my two times of deployment in the area--I remember few such days.  The end of August 2015 and beginning of September 2015 and one day this year, the 1st of September. This day we did not notice any ceasefire violations.

So in which areas is it probably the most dangerous for the people to live and in which are the hot spots?

The main hot spots—they are the same during the last two years.  First of all, it’s Mariupol area, Shyrokyne, Bezimenne areas. Then Avdiivka, Yasynuvata, Mariinka, Krasnohorivka, Majorsk-Zaytseve.

Are there many people living in those areas and do you know if they’re still there?

Well if you take Majorsk-Zaytseve, close to that area we have Toretsk which is around 50,000 and over the last couple of weeks we have had a problem with water supply over there. When the water pipe was damaged and the water pipe was located in the gray zone, it took us around a week to receive security guarantees from the Russian side to make some restoration works there. So it's 50,000 only in Toretsk but this area, as you may know, is densely populated. Of course, many people left the area but still a lot of people are there.

If we speak about the withdrawal of heavy weapons and weapons, what are the major tasks at this stage?  How successful or unsuccessful is this part of the Minsk negotiations?

Every day we have some shootings with prohibited weapons. It means that these weapons are not withdrawn, at least many of them, and we rely on OSCE patrols to verify this. On a daily basis, we provide the OSCE with specific coordinates and specific areas where our intelligence found not withdrawn weapons.

Today there are a lot of people in Ukraine and not just in Ukraine who dismiss the idea of the Minsk agreement as something which is not workable--which couldn't be reached. You are working on the place and that's somebody who sees what's happening on the ground. What would you say about that, that it's not working?

Well in my current capacity I work as a tool of the Minsk Agreement so the main task of the Joint Ceasefire Control and Coordination Center was to implement Minsk Agreement and this was the main task and my job, which I was doing.  So I'm not in a position to criticize it or to be in favor of the Minsk Agreement. I'm not commenting on them. I'm just trying to implement them. Of course, many people can criticize or can say they appreciate them or whatever. But we have them and we have to implement.

Do you think there is another way to deal with that, and that another tool could be used at this stage of the conflict?

In my mind, any tool we use, the point number one will be ceasefire or Minsk Agreement--call it whatever. But to solve the conflict, if we look at history, every conflict or solution of the conflict should start with a ceasefire. We don't have a ceasefire yet now so any tool we can invent will start from the ceasefire. I believe that the solution to this conflict should be a comprehensive approach: diplomatic, political, economic and then military. So it should be a comprehensive approach.

There is the Russian General in place and it works we reported about that  but what kind of communication is that?

Well indeed in Soledar we have the Joint Center headquarters where we have a Russian General, a Ukrainian General and of course a Russian team and a Ukrainian team.  We have a situation room where we have 24/7, three Russian and three Ukrainian officers and they try to solve this ceasefire violations. The main problem is that in the joint center, the Ukrainian side clearly understands that we are a side of the conflict and that we believe that Russia is a side of the conflict as well. But the Russian side never recognizes itself. They reject that they are a side of the conflict, they reject all accusation that they support and supply representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk areas with weapons, mercenaries, and ammunition.  So they always reject this so we tried to find a solution to stop ceasefire violations and we interact particularly in this area without any political discussions. If we go into a political discussion we become very emotional, non-diplomatic as well.  But we have a clear task: to monitor ceasefire violations to report about this and to take measures to stop them. We are talking to the Russian side.

And at this stage, what are the major tasks at this moment? Because of course, it’s a ceasefire, of course, it’s withdrawal but if you meet for instance with the OSCE or with somebody else, is there a task for day 1, 2, 3.

Of course, crisis management is a joint venture. We work very close with OSCE and we conduct daily briefings in the center where we believe OSCE sees what's going on and we coordinate our activities especially. For example, when we need to do some restoration or innovation works. Still, there’s a lot of unsolved problems, which can create humanitarian or ecological…

What are they for instance?

For example, there are still three places where the situation is not solved from a humanitarian or an ecological point. It’s an agricultural factory, which produces pork.  There’s a lot of waste, which should be disposed of but a lot of areas are mined so mine clearance should be done.  For this we need for our engineers to do de-mining, we need security guarantees from the other side. Unfortunately, during the last few months, we cannot receive this security guarantee.  Another area it's one chemical factory in Novohorodskaya. There is also the danger of poisoning soil and water with some chemicals and we need to do some restoration works over there. Unfortunately, we still didn't receive security guarantees. And the sad one is a gas pipe and a gas pumping station in Krasnohorivka, Mariinka area because people are now suffering without heating and it's wintertime. We still, during the last three months, cannot receive security guarantees from the Russian side and without any explanation. So these are three main problematic areas from a humanitarian point. But of course, in an area we have a lot of problems and every day we have damage to some infrastructure we try to coordinate with Russian side and with OSCE, sometimes the Red Cross is involved as well just to provide ceasefire or security guarantees on this particular area to make some works.

Soon we have Christmas and New Year holidays. What are the concerns? Because people would travel more, people would like to meet their families…

It is very difficult to predict because many activities of the other side are absolutely unpredictable. And even when we have an agreement to stop fire, sometimes it doesn't happen. So it will be very difficult for me to predict but the Ukrainian side will try to talk again, at least during the Christmas holidays to give people an opportunity to travel to see their relatives.  With this, we also maybe improve the work of checkpoints, border crossing, contact line crossing points and more people maybe can travel.

And we're talking a lot about how the OSCE mission could be modified.  There are talks about the possibility of the police mission or other things. How do you think it could work?

As we say, the military's biggest room in the Armed Forces is room for improvement.   The OSCE and the Special OSCE Monitoring Mission is very important for crisis management in the area.  Of course, we would like to have them more, to have them working 24/7. Unfortunately, they have their mandate. Due to security reasons, patrols work only during daytime, but also there is another area where we can improve. First of all, to increase the usage of some technical means of observation like cameras. At this moment we have cameras in Shyrokyne, Avdiivka, Luhansk, Petrivske.  But also it is possible to increase this technical means to observe and to inform the public about what's going on and who's really violating the ceasefire. You know talking about some another type of mission, this issue's more in the political area. I believe that with the political view, everything can be real.

Hromadske’s Nataliya Gumenyuk spoke to Borys Kremenetsky, Ukraine’s Deputy Head of Military Cooperation and Peacekeeping Operations on December 15th, 2016 in Kyiv.

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