16:55 11.03.2019

Greminger: Let us focus on making our utmost to create an environment that will allow free and fair elections

6 min read
Greminger: Let us focus on making our utmost to create an environment that will allow free and fair elections

Exclusive interview with OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger for the Interfax-Ukraine news agency

Talking about the upcoming presidential election in Ukraine, what kind of information are you gathering, do you have any reason already to worry?

Of course, we follow what is happening with interest. For a time being, the most important OSCE engagement regarding the elections is observation operation. This is a top priority. We want to contribute from our side to the maximum extent possible that these elections are going to be free and fair.

And so far?

 You have to talk to our long-term observers. I’m not in a position to give an assessment at this point in time.

Talking about short-term observation mission if Russians, who are a part of the observation mission, will be not allowed to enter into the country, what could be the consequences?

 I share ODIHR (the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) Director’s regret and also concerned because not following strictly the observation methodology is never a good thing. But I think we will do our best under the given circumstances. Of course, there will be one participating state (member of the OSCE, Russia) that will particularly criticize the fact that there are no Russian observers present. For the time being, I would not further comment on this. A lot has been said, and now let us focus on making our utmost to create an environment that will allow free and fair elections.

Talking about Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) and Minsk group (platform for negotiation to resolve the situation in Donbass with participation of the representatives of Ukraine, OSCE and Russia), can we expect any changes within your staff?

The SMM to Ukraine will continue its important work in margin the conflict, in preventing that ceasefire violation spin out of control and in assuring that we need to do all this urgent repair works on the civilian infrastructure in the area of the line of contact. An Thanks to the support and facilitating work of SMM last year, it has been more than a thousand windows of silence that allowed repairing water, electricity, and gas infrastructure. We are talking about several millions of people who are depend on it.

We have currently around 800 monitors, entire operation more than 1300 staff. By far, it is our biggest operation. It is our flagship operation and we will continue these efforts. The Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) that is the platform where all signatories of the Minsk agreement meet in Minks on weekly bases. I hope that we will manage again to create more enabling for dialog environment. It is very important to establishing a cease-fire. It will solve the most structural issues, such as withdrawal of heavy weapons, separation of forces and means in areas we have agreed upon, creation of a protective zone around civilian infrastructure, creation of safer corridors at checkpoints.

The title of your recent interview for German newspaper was “there is no will for a peace”. Can you, please, elaborate on it? What do you mean?

 You see, there are Minsk agreements…

 …which do not work

Because there is no will to implement measures of the Minsk agreement.

From all sides?

 From all signatories there is no sufficient will to implement the different types of measures - security related measures, politically related measures. Normandy Four (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia) for a while managed to give an impulse to this implementation but not anymore. I think there is a lack of agreement among Normandy Four. We observe a standstill in the implementing, and all sides blame each other in a lack of progress. They need to start to rebuild some trust and confidence by implementing very concrete confidence building measures along of the line of contact. Obviously, at some point there also need for a progress when it comes to political aspects of Minsk agreements.

 Do you have an understanding for yourself what is the reason for not having the will for peace?

There is a profound gap of confidence between Ukraine and Russia. I think, as long as there is no improvement in bilateral relations it will be very, very difficult to make progress on implementing Minsk, to tackle other issues related to Kerch Strait, to the Sea of Azov. I think we as a multilateral organization can offer our tools, our facilitation services but as long as there is no will to improve, to enter into a genuine dialog among the leadership of two countries, I think it will remain very difficult.

Try to repair and to rebuild what was destroyed in terms of confidence. My advice will be: why don’t you start by sorting out the situation in the Donbass because there we have a blueprint and this is Minsk agreement?

I know it is a demanding blueprint but we have something and for this, there is a need for a genuine commitment by the political leadership to reengage in genuine dialog.   

 What do you think about the UN peacekeeping mission for Ukraine?

 If peace operation would help to overcome this impasse and implement Minsk agreement I will be all for. The OSCE has been an organization that reacted very positively when this idea came out. However, what we see right now is that there is no common understanding of what such an operation would be in terms of size, scope, mandate. One thing I would like to underline is that such an operation still have to implement what we have and that is Minsk agreements. A peace operation would not do something different but that. I’m afraid as long as there is no appetite for implementing Minsk we will also not get to a common understanding of what such operation could look like.

But again, from an OSCE prospective we all for, we would be happy to contribute, we have put an idea of a joint mission on the table, UN-OSCE led joint operations. But for the time being, we are miles away from a common understanding. If you will create a common understanding it will be doable.

 What could be from your point of view the possible way to solve crises with Hungary created by the law on education, and what can be your recommendation regarding draft law on language – what do not to do or to do to avoid other possible problems.

 Talk to linguistic minorities have a close dialog with all stakeholders, majority and minority. I came from Swiss, a country with four national languages. I think it is all about dialog and respect. Don’t rush. Dialog, respect – that is what I would call for. This would also facilitate a lot with Hungary.