Planned inspection of Ukrainian positions by Russian-controlled forces sparks protests
As President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tries to preserve the ceasefire in the east of Ukraine at any cost, the occupation authorities are testing how far they can go in blackmailing him to get as many concessions from Ukraine as possible.
Up until last Sunday, Zelenskyy bragged that no Ukrainian soldier died during the ceasefire regime effective since 27 July in the war-torn Donbas region of Ukraine. On 6 September one serviceman was killed in action and one more was wounded, however, Ukraine wrote off the casualties as caused by “provocative acts” and reaffirmed its commitment to the ceasefire.
A month into the ceasefire, Denis Pushilin, the so-called “head of DNR” (“Donetsk People’s Republic,” the Russian-created quasi-state in the occupied part of Donetsk Oblast), stated that the Ukrainian military advanced in the front and threatened to break the ceasefire by shelling the areas where he believed the advance took place.Instead of dismissing the allegations and calling on to Moscow to calm down its head of the Donetsk occupation administration, Ukraine announced a joint inspection of the area to prove Pushilin wrong. The decision sparked public outrage.
Donetsk occupation administration announces an attack
The inspection story began on 28 August when the “DNR head” threatened to break the ceasefire, demanding the Ukrainian military withdraw “to the positions they held on 22 July 2020.”
He stated that the Ukrainian military advanced their positions near the village of Shumy, the northern suburb of occupied Horlivka city sitting north of the regional capital, Donetsk, and in the disengagement zone near Petrivske village south of Donetsk. Pushilin “gave Kyiv a week” until 3 September to fulfill his demands and threatened to violate the truce and attack the Ukrainian positions that would be specified before the attack so that the military could evacuate.
Meanwhile, the monitors of the OSCE Special Monitoring Group (SMM) confirmed that the Ukrainian positions near Shumy remained unchanged.
The Russian forces violated the ceasefire on 6 September, killing one Ukrainian soldier in Luhansk Oblast and wounding another in a suburb of Donetsk.
At an ad-hoc meeting of TCG that took place on 9 September, Ukraine made a controversial concession and announced a joint inspection of the Shumy area by OSCE representatives with the participation of “representatives of the parties.”
Consent on Shumy inspection
The Presidential Office’s official statement of 9 September announcing the inspection criticized Ukraine’s previous leadership and tried to make sense of the participation of the illegal armed groups in the inspection — a move which wasn’t sanctioned by any previous accords.
“In order to refute the fakes and prevent new provocations, an agreement was reached today within the Trilateral Contact Group on a joint inspection in the area of the settlement of Shumy with the participation of a representative of the OSCE coordinator. Legally, the inspection is conducted not by parties to the military conflict, but by the mediator — OSCE — accompanied by representatives of the parties,” the Presidential Office’s statement reads, where “the parties” imply Ukraine and an occupation administration instead of Russia.
The statement referred to the Joint Center for Control and Coordination of ceasefire issues (JCCC), the bilateral Ukrainian-Russian group established back in 2014 as the mechanism to carry out the inspection and blamed political predecessors of the fact that the JCCC existed.
However, Russia withdrew its representatives from the JCCC back in December 2017 and the occupation administration created their own representation there instead. It became one more link in a long chain of efforts to push Ukraine toward direct negotiations with the occupation administrations instead of Russia, thereby achieving Russia’s strategic aim of presenting the war in Donbas as a purely internal Ukrainian matter. Until now, Ukraine hasn’t ever recognized the replacements for the Russian part of JCCC.
Now, Ukraine’s President’s Office doesn’t see anything wrong in its recognition of the unauthorized group within the JCCC,
“Yes, Russia refused to work within the JCCC… The extremely limited manifestation of the militants’ presence can give nothing to anyone except […] another argument in favor of Ukraine’s rightness,” the statement continues.
Moreover, the Office treats the occupation administration not as Russian puppets to be addressed via their puppet master but rather as independent players,
“People standing with weapons in front of Ukrainian troops in Donbas are an objective fact. [But politicians and society should] ensure that these people never become a political fact. They use hostilities to their advantage. Ukraine will use the truth and the real state of affairs on the delimitation line in order to deprive the invaders of any chance to increase pressure on our state,” the statement goes.
The controversial presidential account caused a furor in Ukrainian social media and activists announced protests against the President’s plans.
Postponing the inspection
The joint inspection of the Ukrainian positions near Shumy was scheduled for 14:00 on 10 September. However, some 20 minutes after the scheduled time, the Office of the President of Ukraine publicized another official statement informing that is was canceled.
The document explained that as of the morning of that day Ukraine received “a number of contradicting demands from them [‘the representatives of illegal armed groups’]” and it led to canceling the inspection “due to the constant changes in the requests of the Russian party.”
Further, it specified that instead of going to inspect the area of Shumy, the occupation administrations selected new settlements for inspection.Generating more controversy, the website Obozrevatel, referring to the letter of Leonid Kravchuk to Heidi Grau, the OSCE representative in TCG, named two more new demands that were not agreed in advance, they were photo and video recording of the inspection and signing a joint protocol. Moreover, the cited document says that the Ukrainian delegation to the TCG proposed to postpone the inspection instead of canceling it.
Moreover, the press service of the Joint Forces Operation (the Ukrainian military-led body that coordinated the activities of the army, police, and special services in the war zone) reported on their Facebook page that at 14:15 “militants” opened aimed fire at the location near Shumy village where the meeting of JCCC and the OSCE was going to take place in order to carry out the inspection.
Ukrainian activists held two protests on 10 September against the participation of the representatives of the occupation administrations in inspections of Ukrainian military positions and against President Zelenskyy’s Donbas policies which, according to the protesters, may lead to Ukraine’s capitulation to Russia.
Most of the activists gathered in front of the President’s Office in Kyiv, another group went to the President’s residence in Koncha Zaspa outside the city.
One of the participants of the protest in Koncha Zaspa, Myroslav Hai, who is a co-coordinator of the Capitulation Resistance Movement, says
“We want the President’s Office to understand that civil society and patriots are an effective safeguard for capitulation, we will not allow them to play a giveaway game with the Kremlin, Putin’s henchmen, to follow Russia’s whims.”
Since 2014, Russia has been forcing Ukraine to recognize the Russian occupation administrations of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent actors and representatives of the local population. Russia demands direct dialog between official Ukraine and Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics.”
The case of the scheduled and postponed inspection of the Ukrainian positions near Shumy that had no premises at all but speculations of the “DNR head,” and the way the inspection was announced shows that the Presidential Office has been moving towards fulfilling these Russian demands.
The armed conflict in Ukraine’s easternmost historical region of the Donbas made up by Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts started in 2014 soon after Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula. Since its beginning, the war claimed more than 13,000 lives and displaced almost 2 million people. Russia keeps denying its involvement in the conflict. The occupied territories of two Ukrainian regions are officially known as ORDLO or Certain Areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.