February 16, 2018 / 3:47 PM / a year ago

INTERVIEW-OSCE calls for effort to jumpstart Ukraine peace process

MUNICH, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Urgent efforts are needed to jumpstart the peace process in eastern Ukraine, the head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said on Friday, warning that continued daily ceasefire violations could spiral out of control.

Thomas Greminger, who took over as secretary general of the OSCE last July, told Reuters he hoped a meeting by top officials from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine later on Friday could help end a “political impasse” on the crisis.

A Russia-backed separatist insurgency led to fighting that has killed 10,000 people since 2014.

While full-scale combat mostly ended in 2015 after France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine sponsored a ceasefire agreement in the Belarus capital Minsk, casulties are still reported on a near daily basis in incidents along the front line.

The OSCE, a European security body tasked with monitoring the agreement, still sees an average of 1,000 ceasefire violations a day, Greminger told Reuters in an interview at the annual Munich Security Conference.

“This has to stop,” Greminger said. “What we desperately need is another political impulse,” he said, adding that it should come from the four countries that sponsored Minsk.

Efforts to push for implementation of the peace deal have stalled amid the ongoing struggle to form a government in Germany after September national elections. But officials from the four countries will meet on Thursday evening on the sidelines of the Munich conference.

“I would look forward to seeing Germany again assuming a leadership role, ideally together with France, and then I think we have a fair chance that the Russian Federation and Ukraine could come along,” Greminger said.

The parties have failed to withdraw heavy military equipment from the lines of conflict as agreed in the ceasefire agreement, he said. There was also a big risk that shelling could inadvertantly result in a catastrophic chemical spill at a water filtration plant near the front, he said.

“The risk is growing that one day you will have an incident that gets out of control,” he said.

Greminger said he worried about a general increase in tensions between Russia and the West in the region, at a time when both have staged snap military exercises.

The OSCE, set up during the Cold War as a forum that would include both sides, is still one of the few bodies which regularly brings Russia together with the United States and its Western allies.

It has initiated a dialogue aimed at lowering military and political risks, which Greminger said could lead to some confidence-building measures in 12-18 months, with an eye to working on conventional arms reduction in 3-5 years.

But the prerequisite was rebuilding trust among the parties, Greminger said. “We need some political leadership ... and we need to do that now because we are on the brink of major conflict,” he said.

Greminger said he hoped Ukraine could agree at Friday’s meeting to some concessions on a dispute over visas that prompted Russian military officers to withdraw from a Ukrainian-Russian ceasefire control group in December. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Peter Graff)

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