Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz visits the Eastern Ukraine. 3-4 January 2017
The conflict in and around Ukraine
During the visit to the border crossing at Pyshevyk, the “Mine Risk Education” project of the International Red Cross in Vinohradne and the meetings with Vadym Sergeyevych, the mayor of Mariupol, as well as SMM monitors at the Mission’s base at Mariupol clearly showed that the situation in eastern Ukraine continues to be characterised by major tensions.
Up to November 2016 the death toll of the conflict in and around Ukraine reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) was around 9,640; more than 20,600 persons were injured. The humanitarian situation is precarious. About 3.1 million people depend on humanitarian assistance, 1.7 million persons are registered as internally displaced persons in the Donbass region.
I am concerned about the high level of violence, the continuing violations of the ceasefire, the lack of progress in disengagement and the impact on the civilian population on both sides of the contact line as well as, and in particular, the very difficult humanitarian Situation, said Foreign Minister Kurz.
"I deliberately chose eastern Ukraine as the destination of my first trip to underscore the importance Austria attaches to the conflict in and around Ukraine. I would like to gain first-hand impressions of the situation before we go to Kiev and Moscow in mid-January. My observations on the ground will enable me to support the work of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine and its staff, who are working in a particularly difficult environment, in the best possible way."
The Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine – SMM
Meeting with staff of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission was especially crucial for Foreign Minister Kurz. Out of a staff of roughly 1,100, 585 work as monitors in eastern Ukraine. The group of monitors also includes 19 Austrians, often working in difficult conditions. The SMM mandate covers a focus on the observation, documentation and verification of adherence to the ceasefire in the security zone agreed under the Minsk Protocol and the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
In view of the current challenges to the SMM – including restricted freedom of movement, a growing number of incidents in which drones were shot down, and the presence of heavy weaponry as well as lacking opportunities to verify weapon withdrawal due to a lack of cooperation on the part of the parties to the conflict – result in Mission staff being confronted with a precarious security situation on a daily basis.
"I have assured Ambassador Apakan and Ambassador Verba of our fullest support. Austria backs the expeditious and complete implementation of the Minsk Agreements. This includes safeguarding the unrestricted freedom of movement for Mission staff in the entire deployment area. However, the security and safety of SMM personnel will invariably be the top priority," Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said at the meeting with members of the Special Monitoring Mission.
Austrian humanitarian assistance on the ground
On the second day of his official trip to Ukraine, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz visit a water treatment plant in Mariupol run by the International Red Cross with the support of Austria. The plant supplies more than 400,000 people in the region with clean water. Meeting with the Secretary General of the foreign aid organisation of Caritas, Christoph Schweifer, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz promised financial support for health care and food supply on the ground, to be provided through the Austrian Development Agency (ADA). Since 2014 Austria has made available humanitarian assistance for eastern Ukraine worth a total of 3.8 million euros.
By way of conclusion, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said: "Next week, I will inform the OSCEparticipating states in Vienna about my visit. In this context, I will express our readiness to enable substantial progress in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and offer our good offices as a bridge-builder for the year 2017."