Koenders: ‘Situation in Ukraine is still touch and go’

Despite the cease-fire, the situation in eastern Ukraine is still touch and go. ‘We are getting reports of incidents around Debaltseve,’ said foreign minister Bert Koenders. ‘This isn’t entirely unexpected, and fortunately, on the whole, the cease-fire is holding. My hope is that this temporary and relative calm can be converted into a long period of peace.’

The international community needs to do its utmost to ensure that the parties to the conflict honour the cease-fire and their other agreements, Mr Koenders said. ‘Reaching consensus last Thursday in Minsk was a big step forwards. Now it’s time to implement the agreement and make sure it lasts.’ It is very clear in the minister’s view who needs to take what steps to make this happen. ‘Russia too bears significant responsibility in this regard.’

On Monday afternoon Mr Koenders discussed the situation in eastern Ukraine with Astrid Thors, High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE is doing a great deal of work behind the scenes to reduce interethnic tensions. ‘It is vital that minority rights play a central role in the political dialogue and reform process in Ukraine,’ said Mr Koenders after the meeting. ‘This can help avoid conflicts flaring up between different groups in society.’

The minister stressed once more after his talk with Ms Thors the importance of unrestricted access for the OSCE in Ukraine, not only in the east but also in Crimea. ‘The OSCE is playing an absolutely crucial role in monitoring the truce in eastern Ukraine,’ he said. ‘This is partly a reflection of the organisation’s independence. Since the crisis began the OSCE has proved itself indispensable, notably in the period after the disaster with flight MH17.’