February 16, 2018 / 5:47 PM / 9 months ago

OSCE calls for effort to jumpstart Ukraine peace process

MUNICH (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.

FILE PHOTO - Thomas Greminger, the secretary general of the OSCE, attends a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia November 3, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Thomas Greminger, who took over as secretary general of the OSCE in July, told Reuters he hoped a planned meeting by top officials from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference 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, casualties 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.

Officials from the four countries cancelled a meeting that had been due to take place Friday evening in Munich, citing scheduling conflicts, but said they were trying to find another time to meet before the annual security event ends.

“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.

“BRINK OF MAJOR CONFLICT”

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 inadvertently 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.

Later, in a fiery speech to the conference, Ukraine’s President Pedro Poroshenko urged delegates to push for United Nations peacekeepers to be deployed across the entire region controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

“There is a chance for Moscow to show the sense of compromise and agree to U.N. peacekeepers throughout the whole territory of Donbass including the uncontrolled part of Ukraine on the Russian border,” he said.

Greminger said discussions about a U.N. peacekeeping force could represent a first step toward a “face-saving move” to end the fighting in the Donbass region. He said one option might be a joint OSCE-UN peacekeeping force.

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 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 and Andrew Heavens

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