Alexander Hug: The fact that so many civilians cross the contact line indicates that people on both sides of the contact line don’t believe in this conflict

Author : Olena Holubeva

Respondent : Alexander Hug

Source : 112 Ukraine

OSCE SMM Principal Deputy Chief Monitor Alexander Hug in his interview to told about problems at checkpoints on the crossing line in Donbas and about the situation in Zakarpattia
18:10, 7 May 2018


The anti-terrorist operation is formally coming to the end. How will the OSCE work in Donbas be influenced by the substitution of ATO format with the ‘Joint forces operation’ and expansion of the UAF authorities?

Our tasks are defined by our mandate, which was agreed by consensus decision of all 57 OSCE participating states. To change it another consensus decision by all 57 participating states is needed. Thus within our current mandate, we will continue to do our work on establishing and reporting facts, monitoring and supporting the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as facilitating dialogue on the ground.

We talk to everyone who is willing to talk to us. We talk with civilians on both sides of the contact line, with non-governmental organizations, the authorities of our host country including the Ukrainian Armed Forces as well as with members of the armed formations. Most recently I met, for instance, with the commander of the Operation of Joint Forces, Lieutenant General Naiev. We are ready to continue to fulfill our task of facilitating dialogue providing the relevant platform in this regard. We expect that those participating in this dialogue do so in good faith.

Will the new authorities of the Armed Forces bear any new risks for civilians?

We will be following the developments closely and will report on any changes we see on the ground. It is difficult to make an assessment at this stage and I don’t want to speculate. At this stage I have just one request to the sides: fulfill the obligations taken in accordance with the Minsk agreements.

Would it be incorrect to ask which side fails to fulfill the commitments more than another?

We are not in the business of finger-pointing. Even if I tell you that it is one or the other side, what would it change? What would it actually change? We monitor the situation on the ground and report on the ceasefire and other violations in our public daily reports. On this basis, the sides can make their own conclusions. And most importantly, they would have the possibility to take preventive measures based on our observations to ensure that violations do not repeat. However, the sides have not yet decided to hold those to account who are responsible for the many violations of the Minsk agreements we have documented in the past four years. I know, however, that it is a normal human wish to find out who is wrong and who is right, but it does not help the situation. 

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Sometimes the politicians allege that the SMM employees maintain informal contacts, in particular with the ‘DPR’ and the ‘LPR’ members. How are such relations controlled, are there any rules stipulating how far the monitoring officers may go in their contacts?  

Indeed, Mission members on a regular basis communicate with those in effective control in Donetsk and Luhansk. In accordance with our mandate, we are tasked facilitate dialogue. The only way to do this is to talk to people, otherwise, you can’t facilitate dialogue. As long as this communication is within the framework of our mandate, there is nothing wrong with it. We are ready to listen to all the sides, study the information and decide separately on each case. If there are suggestions or allegations that these contacts go beyond of what is foreseen by the mandate then those claiming such are invited to present their case to us and we will look into it. If we discover that one of our Mission members indeed behaved in an unprofessional or unethical manner, we have mechanisms for dealing with such situations.

What do these notions of ‘unprofessional’ or ‘unethical’ behavior mean?

For example, if during this interview I started finger-pointing or giving you speculative assessments, it would be unprofessional.

Would, for example, drinking alcohol together with the sides’ representatives be considered unprofessional or unethical?

Again, it depends on the particular situation. So I can provide only a general answer.

Let’s talk about the crossing the contact line. Is the Zolote EECP opening still on agenda?

Yes, indeed. It is an issue that affects real people, their daily needs and real life, in which they face real problems. They really suffer because these problems remain unsolved. Ukrainians on both sides of the contact line need to travel across it. This is not only a political issue.

Related: OSCE extends monitoring mission's mandate at Russian border checkpoints

Are additional crossing points, except for Zolote, also necessary?

Let me explain. We have always understood and accepted that the Ukrainian authorities have to check and record who and what travels across the contact line. However, in doing so the freedom of movement of Ukrainians who travel across the contact line should not be unnecessarily restricted. Now there are only five entry-exit checkpoints (EECPs). There are hundreds of thousands of people who live on both sides of the contact line. They want and need to go to the other side on a more or less regular basis. Up to 40,000 Ukrainians travel across that line every day. This leads to incredibly long waiting times. People have to queue for hours, if not days. Furthermore, the areas adjacent to the contact line remain dangerous. Combat activities near the EECPs are still ongoing, and civilians using them risk their lives. Not to mention the fact that all the areas near EECPs are infested with mines and unexploded ordnance.

What should be done in this situation? More EECPs need to be opened. The existing ones should be operated 24/7. The procedures should be such that the waiting times are reduced to the absolute minimum. A safety zone should be created around EECPs: military positions should be removed and areas should be de-mined. All EECPs must be equipped with shelters, toilets and other infrastructure necessary for people.


Are not the conditions good enough now?

No. I would not say that the existing conditions are sufficient because the danger exists. Going from one side to the other takes a long time. To get to the EECPs civilians have to make huge detours and pay for bus tickets or taxis. It actually prevents many people from traveling across the contact line. And here I would like to be clear: one should cherish the fact that so many Ukrainians travel across the contact line. It is positive because it shows that people do not believe in the contact line as a natural divide. In the eyes of the people that contact line is out of place as is the conflict.

Related: OSCE urges parties to Donbas conflict to provide security guarantees

Are sanitary conditions at the crossing points also unsatisfactory?

These also need improvement. I have been at all EECPs and I passed by the toilets at many of them. It is unbearable how it smells in those places. It’s not human. 

Like at Chonhar?

At Chonhar there are at least no combat activities.

Each time after the Donetsk Filtration Station is damaged, the headlines are: “The water supplies in Avdiivka are sufficient for only four… three… days”. Is it possible to provide uninterrupted water supply which would not depend on the DFS?

The responsibility for providing water and ensuring uninterrupted functioning of the DFS as well as safe access to it by its employees rests entirely with the sides.

If the sides fulfill their commitments according to the Minsk agreements, there will be no threat to the normal functioning of the infrastructure facilities, including the DFS. But if they do not disengage, if they do not remove their heavy weapons, it will happen again and again. The SMM, especially during the past weeks, has been facilitating local windows of silence to which the sides did not adhere to. These windows of silence monitored closely by the SMM with mirror patrols on both sides of the contact line, has made it possible for the employees to return to the station, but it is only a question of time until something happens again. The DFS supplies water to over 300,000 people on both sides of the contact line. So rather than finding an alternative source of supply, the sides should simply implement their commitments.

The sides should support the people, whom they claim to protect. They know where the station is, they know how many people depend on it, they know that the great number of its employees are females, and how sensitive the infrastructure facilities are, and what measures they have to take for the DFS’s protection. So they simply need to implement these measures. Just their will is needed for that and then the situation will be stabilized. And if they do not implement them, the situation will repeat itself and the water supply remains at risk.

You mentioned that ‘Any road across the contact line should be opened. Any road, including the one in Shchastia. No agreements contain a regulation stipulating that the roads should be closed. It is initiated at the local level.’ Could you please explain what it means? Do the civilians have a right to cross anywhere they want to?

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Civilians have a right to move freely. It is not an absolute right. It can be limited. But such limitations should be necessary and proportional. For example, forcing people to wait in a dangerous area up to one day is certainly not proportional. As I said before, more EECPs should be opened at the contact line and they should be safe and effortless to cross.


Let’s change geography and move to Zakarpattia. The SMM has been operating in that region. Is there really a “tension”, the Hungarian government mentions, observed at the level of regular Zakarpattia citizens, but not in the political spheres?

As you know, the Special Monitoring Mission does not make assessments but we monitor the events and everything we observe is reflected in our daily reports on the OSCE’s official website in three languages (English, Ukrainian, Russian). The readers make their own conclusions based on this information. The Mission has been intensively patrolling in Zakarpattia, and everything we have managed to record is published. The Ivano-Frankivsk monitoring team played a leading role in this work. According to the information obtained from this team, the general situation in the region is calm. If the situation in Zakarpattia changes, we will of course report on that.

So, don’t you have any concerns at the present time?

As I mentioned before, in general, we observe that the situation in the region is calm. We do not draw any conclusions, but if the situation changes and we establish any facts, we will report them. I would like to underline that our task is to report what we see, but not to express our opinion. There are enough rumors and speculations swirling around the situation in Zakarpattia and we do not want to contribute to these. We do not speculate. We establish the facts and report them.

Do you plan to increase the number of monitoring officers in Zakarpattia?

Our monitoring officers are based in Ivano-Frankivsk. They go and patrol Zakarpattia from there. As for now, we do not see the need to increase the number of monitoring officers in our Ivano-Frankivsk monitoring team. 

Recently the OSCE stated that it is not going to open an office in Uzhhorod. Is it enough to have just the office in Ivano-Frankivsk to see the whole picture of the events in Zakarpattia?

The way we do our work is stipulated in our mandate. 57 OSCE participating states have agreed consensually on this mandate. This includes Ukraine, all the countries around Ukraine as well as many others. And this mandate says that the Mission shall be deployed to Kyiv, Odessa, Lviv, Kherson, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipro, Chernivtsi and Luhansk. Now the SMM monitoring officers based in Ivano-Frankivsk provide us with the information on the situation in Zakarpattia. This operational posture has proved to be successful.

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Please explain us the mechanism of the Mission deployment to any region?

To introduce a field operation, and the SMM is a field operation, a consensus decision should be made by the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, where all 57 participating states are presented. Such a decision should be approved during the plenary meeting. The 57 participating states hold regular consultations, in the course of which their delegations may raise some issue for discussion. That was the case with the SMM. Ukraine requested the Permanent Council to deploy the field operation, the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, to reduce tensions and foster peace, stability, and security; and to monitor and support the implementation of all OSCE principles and commitments. It was on 21 March 2014, when the Permanent Council agreed to this. And as soon as such a decision is taken it becomes politically binding for all 57 participating states.  

Why did the Mission start monitoring activities in Zakarpattia as far as I understand, initially the SMM started operating because of the conflict in the East?

In accordance with its mandate, the Mission was deployed to these 10 cities I have mentioned above. So, it was before the armed conflict started. Many people forget that, but it is important. So this is a good question. I would like to stress that the area of our operation is the whole Ukraine, but not certain regions. So, the patrols were in Zakarpattia on a regular basis from the very beginning of the Mission’s work. Depending on the situation, there could be more or fewer patrols, and this is how it will be also in the future.

At the level of facts, have you fixed any conflict situations between the Ukrainian population and the Hungarians?

As I mentioned before, in general, the situation is calm. If we observe any changes in the situation, we will reflect it in the SMM reports available on the official website.

Do the OSCE mission members talk to Hungarian population on the situation? What do they really want from Kyiv? Which problems do they mention?

Of course, our task involves talking to everyone on the ground. In accordance with our mandate and in order to fulfill our tasks the SMM establishes regular contact with regional authorities, civil society, journalists and the local population in Zakarpattia as well as in other regions. The facts we establish are included in our reports. As I have mentioned before we observe generally a calm situation in Zakarpattia region.

Interviewed by Olena Holubieva


Alexander Hug is the Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) since the inception of the SMM. Before his appointment, Alexander Hug was a Section Head and a Senior Adviser to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. Mr. Hug, a trained lawyer, served as an Officer in the Swiss Army, including a stint as regional commander of the Swiss Headquarters Support Unit for the OSCE in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has also worked for the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH -, and the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX - He is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at the Fribourg University with a Master I degree on Law (LL.M) in 2000, then in 2005, he graduated the Faculty of Criminal Law and Human Rights at the King's College, with a Master II degree on Law (LL.M).

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