The situation in the conflict area

The Nasha Gazeta newspaper of Lugansk city council had alleged that the situation along the “contact line” – the divide between government controlled Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists – remains critical because Ukrainian military commanders are undermining newly elected President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. 

The press service of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic has stated that President Zelenskiy issued ceasefire orders but that these are being sabotaged by the commander of the Joint Forces Operation, General Alexander Syrskiy. 

The Nasha Gazeta report stated: “The chief commander of Sever (Northern) group of troops held a closed meeting at which arrangements were being made to continue performing combat missions. According to our insider, UAF [Ukrainian Armed Forces] General Oleg Mikats, “General Syrskiy gave the order not to listen to this clown (referring to Zelenskiy) and keep on performing combat missions in order to demonstrate success in the area of the activities of joint forces.”

On 2 June 2019 the press service of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic appeared to confirm this report, quoting an official representative who blamed the increase in violations of the Minsk Agreements on General Syrskiy. 

According to the representative, “The commanding officers of the brigades in the zone of the Joint Operations led by Syrskiy are beyond any control and they keep following orders of the previous government… Zelenskiy as t new commander-in-chief is not an authority with these war criminals” (Telegram channel t.me/dnronline).

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission reports on civilian casualties in Horlivka (non-government-controlled), where a woman and child were injured and residential houses were damaged both in Horlivka and Yasynuvata due to shelling on 27 May.

The Nasha Gazeta of Lugansk city administration reports that a woman was wounded in shelling of Donetskiy village in the Lugansk region (non-government-controlled). The SMM also reported on another civilian casualty at Donetskiy village (non-government-controlled, 49km west of Luhansk)

Attitude to Minsk Agreements. 

On 30 May 2019 a petition was to handed over President Zelenskiy to stop the war and fully implement the Minsk Agreements. The petition was initiated by Mikola Isaev, one of the liquidators of the Chernobyl catastrophe. 

On 5 June the OSCE Minsk Group met in Belarus, the first time after the presidential election in Ukraine and after a month and a half break. Leonid Kuchma returned as the head of the Ukrainian delegation in Minsk. The sides discussed the release of prisoners and the implementation of the ceasefire. 

The representatives of the self-proclaimed entities  have offered to lift the current economic blockade from the occupied Donbas. Russia has supported thus. Besides, Leonid Kuchma offered to amend Minsk agreements, adding the provision, under which there will be no return fire in case of an attack. 

Martin Sajdik, the OSCE Special Representative to the Minsk Group, was quoted by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency: “As for the economy-related discussion in the Minsk group, I’d like to mark that yesterday, responding to the question of reporters about lifting the so-called blockade, I touched upon just one aspect of the very complex and complicated issue about lifting the trade limitations and restoring the economic ties of Ukraine with the temporarily uncontrolled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Actually, during the discussion in the Trilateral Contact Group, the issue (…) was brought up by the representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and basically supported by the Russian side’. 

According to Sajdik, the lifting of the blockade could become the “great breakthrough”. Besides, Sajdik pointed out that imposing the blockade on the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk became the reason for “breaking the relations” in spring 2017.

All the developments in Minsk of 5 June, especially concerning lifting the blockade and introducing the official ban on return fire caused an outrage among troops and some Ukrainian political circles. Yury Lutsenko, the chief prosecutor of Ukraine, announced on 7 June that he has registered three criminal pre-trial investigations ( on preparations for financing terrorism, obstructing the activities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in a special period, and high treason) after appeals to prohibit return fire in Donbas, and resume trade with the area in Ukraine’s east, which is not controlled by Kiev. 

At a joint press conference with the French president Macron, 17 June, President Zelenskiy stated that Ukraine is not ready to start direct talks to the self-proclaimed entities in the east of the country but is ready to continue the Minsk Process. French President Macron assured that France “appreciates the ambition of Ukrainian president to end 5-year conflict. He also stated that “the new summit talks could be possible in Paris under the so-called Normandy format grouping himself, the Ukrainian president, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel”. 

Military experts: Ukraine had no authority to use army 

In the trial on Volodymyr Zamana, ex-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces headquarters charged with high treason, there appeared the experts’ conclusion  that Ukraine had no authority to engage the army in the armed conflict in the east of Ukraine. 

The conclusion of the military experts were announced at a press conference in Kiev on May 28th, 2019. According to Oleg Zhivotov, the lawyer of Colonel General Zamana, “It is not possible to refute the conclusions of the experts nor denounce it as the expertise is accepted by the court or withdraw it from the case. All our attempts to explain the judges that we are making the file in the International Court of Justice against us by our own hands, have been ignored”. 

The conclusion of the AFU usage in Donbass to be illegal was made by experts of the Prosecutor’s General office of Ukraine. Oleg Zhivotov said: “For the first time in the history of Ukraine, in this case I do not know whom the experts and the prosecutors work for. For the first time, experts have established that, according to Article 17 of the Ukrainian Constitution, the armed forces cannot be used in any conflict inside the country. They are intended only for repelling external aggression”. 

Volodymyr  Zamana was arrested in February 2019 on charges of deliberate destruction of the army during the period from 2011 to 2013. Zamana has accused the post-Maidan political leadership of Ukraine of deliberately “letting Crimea go” to Russia as part of the strategy to wage a war on Russia. 

Zamana said that in spring 2014 he was ready to head the UAF and, furthermore, to launch a counter operation in the Crimea to unblock military units but he was never authorised to do it. 

He has also said that his arrest is the reaction to his public statements on “the true circumstances of the annexation of the Crimea”: “If I kept my mouth shut, there would not have been any arrest”.  

Zamana resigned from the position of the head of the UAF Headquarters in 2014. His deputy, Yury Dumanskiy, followed him, stating that he was against “engaging the military in a civil conflict”.