28 Nov 2017 19:33

Kyiv says Russia blocking progress in TCG's talks on Donbas, except prisoner swap

KYIV. Nov 28 (Interfax) - The Contact Group on Uktaine may reach an agreement on the exchange of captives, Ukraine's envoy to the TCG's security subgroup, Yevhen Marchuk, said.

"I can say that it has been very clear for the past ten or eleven rounds that the Russian side was ordered to block progress as much as possible. As for the exchange of captives, it's the only thing where there are all indications of a positive outcome, because agreements were reached at the top level," Marchuk told Interfax in Kyiv on Tuesday.

The Ukrainian side's proposals to monitor the places where withdrawn weapons are concentrated and to establish OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) posts on the section of the Russian-Ukrainian border outside Kyiv's control have already been rejected, he said.

"The first issue will be the comprehensive ceasefire. The second one is the disengagement of forces and hardware and determination of new areas, because three areas have already been determined [...] The third issue will be the defense of civilian infrastructure facilities, and the fourth will be mine action," Marchuk said in comments on the contact group's upcoming meeting on Wednesday.

An agreement on the repair of the bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River near the populated locality of Stanytsia Luhanska was reached with great difficulty, he said. "The bridge is very important for civilians, and the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] is ready to make a large financial contribution to its repair [...] However, following the repair of the bridge, there could be a military threat, as even tanks could cross the bridge. We agreed that there will be an insert in the middle, several dozen meters long, made of wood," Marchuk said.

He believes that direct talks with representatives of "certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions" are impossible and does not think that the issue of the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping mission to Donbas can be resolved promptly.

"Direct negotiations are impossible, because that is what Russia wants. They will be glad to accept this under the aegis of it being an internal conflict," Marchuk said.

The militants are not the ones who make decisions, he said.

"If we perceive them as a full-fledged counterpart, it will give Russia a reason to say that this is an internal civil conflict in Ukraine; however, we should not exclude them from the negotiating process," Marchuk said.

He expressed concern that UN peacekeeping forces' deployment to Donbas is not possible in the near future. "I don't see this issue being resolved promptly," Marchuk said.