08 April 2014

(8 April, 2014) The ICBL calls on Russia and Ukraine, as well as States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, to make further efforts to clarify the situation, in order to make a definitive determination about whether antipersonnel mines have been used.

As of now, there has not yet been confirmation of use of antipersonnel mines in Crimea, while indicators point more toward use of antivehicle mines. Ukraine has accused Russian forces of laying antipersonnel mines, but has not been able to identify the types or provide photographic or other tangible evidence. Russia has denied use of antipersonnel mines, indicating only trip-flares (also known as signal mines) have been used.

On 8 March 2014 a photographer for the Russian investigative publication “Novaya Gazeta,” Evgeny Feldman, visited a checkpoint established by Russian military forces near the town of Chongar, a few kilometers north of the Crimean peninsula in Kherson Province in Ukraine. Near a Russian military encampment Feldman photographed an apparent minefield laid near a road leading into the Crimean peninsula and close to the villages of Chongar and Nikolaevka. The photographs show a line of mounds of earth in a field and “Danger Mines” warning signs. “Haaretz” reported that “Russian combat engineers were seen placing mines in the land bridge connecting the peninsula to the mainland.”

On 10 March, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) expressed deep concern at reports of Russian use of landmines in Ukraine and called on Russia to confirm or deny the allegations. It said that local inhabitants had informed the ICBL’s Ukrainian partners that Russian Special Forces troops operating in Kherson Province had laid new minefields, but it was not possible to determine the veracity of those reports, including if the mines laid were antipersonnel or antivehicle mines or both.

A freelance photojournalist, George Henton, shared a series of photos with Human Rights Watch he took the day that the area near Chongar area was marked with Danger Mines signs next to holes dug apparently for fence posts to demarcate the new border. The photos show at least five men holding Ukrainian flags in an area marked as mined. The photos show a stake-mounted, tripwire-initiated flare in the ground, also called a “signal mine” in Russian. Another photo shows one of the men handling a trip-flare or signal mine. These devices are used to alert troops when an area has been entered by illuminating it for a short period of time, as the flares burn harmlessly. Such devices are not covered by the Mine Ban Treaty. None of the men who entered the area marked as mined were injured by antipersonnel mines and none saw any antivehicle mines in the field.

On 19 March, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported that it had attempted to verify media reports of suspected new mined areas in the Crimean Peninsula laid by Russian troops or pro-Russian paramilitary units. The OSCE stated that the “exact nature of these landmines is unknown, although their location suggests that they are anti-vehicles landmines.” According to the OSCE, the “pattern of the minefields – as observed so far – suggests that they are not protected by anti-personnel mines, as is common practice.” Referring to the photographs by Feldman and other media of the marked field, the OSCE said, “Whether mines were actually laid cannot be conclusively stated, based on these pictures. At this stage, the combination of warning signs and holes appears more as a political signal than operational readiness activities.”

On 1 April at a meeting of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva, Ukraine made a statement that alleged Russian use of TM-62 antivehicle mines and unidentified antipersonnel mines in Kherson Province just north of Crimea. It said the mine-laying was witnessed by Ukraine Ministry of Defense officials and by OSCE military observers. The Ukraine statement included a quote from a resident of Kherson Province, stating that “fields on the border with the Crimea [are] mined. Some farmers say that there are flares, others that there are real mines. But out on the field all [are] afraid. My friend refused to sow wheat. This year it will stand [as an] empty field….” In a subsequent meeting with the ICBL, Ukraine said they could not provide any more information about the landmines it believes were laid in Kherson Province. A 31 March letter received by an ICBL member from a Ukrainian diplomatic representative stated that the minefield in Kherson Province contains antivehicle mines, and that antipersonnel mines “cannot be excluded.”

At the CCW meeting in Geneva on 1 April, Russia denied Ukraine's statement that Russian armed forces had laid landmines in Kherson Province and said “the Self Defense forces of Crimea, before the referendum, placed the minefields with relevant markings, around Chongar.” Russia said “they placed only signal mines and put proper signage around the fields.” In a meeting with the ICBL, the Russian delegation said that the Ukraine “self‐defense forces” used “signal” mines and not “combat” mines. They indicated “combat” mines—presumably antipersonnel and antivehicle—were not used as it was considered unnecessary and because the Chongar area in Kherson Province is “densely populated” and “friendly” towards Russia. The delegation said that the signal mines are “not military means and are not prohibited.” The delegation said the fact that the Russian Ministry of Defense had not ordered clearance of the area indicated that are no real minefields in place. The delegation said it did not know what would be done with the fences, signs, holes, and signal mines, stating it will depend on how the situation develops.

At the CCW meeting on 1 April several nations expressed concern at the reported landmine use in Ukraine. Canada said it was “deeply concerned by what we regard as credible reports of use of mines by Russia on Ukrainian territory, especially antipersonnel mines” and called on Russia to remove any landmines emplaced in the Crimea. The US said it was aware of reports of emplacement of antipersonnel and antivehicle mines in Crimea and called on Russia to abide by the CCW’s Amended Protocol II on landmines. Norway also expressed concern at the placement of mines in Crimea, in particular antipersonnel mines, and called on those responsible to clarify on the steps taken in compliance with the CCW Amended Protocol II on landmines.

Russia is not a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, but it has ratified the CCW Amended Protocol II on landmines, which requires that antipersonnel mines be used in fenced, monitored and marked areas. In addition Poland expressed concerns over the reports of use of mines in Ukraine.

Responsibility for clearing any mines is on the government controlling the territory where the mines are located. Amended Protocol II defines a “minefield" as a defined area in which mines have been emplaced and "mined area" is an area which is dangerous due to the presence of mines. " The term "minefield" includes phony minefields, which means an area free of mines that simulates a minefield.

On 8 April an ICBL representative received a formal letter from a Ukrainian diplomatic representative which states the following: “Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense officially confirms that Russian forces laid minefields on Ukraine’s territory, at he entry of Crimea, around the Chongar village. The minefields consist of Russian antivehicle mines TM-62 and of antipersonnel mines. The type of the antipersonnel mines needs to be yet identified. All minefields are marked with ‘Mines’ signs.”

Ukraine signed the Mine Ban Treaty on 24 February 1999 and ratified on 27 December 2005, becoming a State Party on 1 June 2006.

There have been other reports of landmine use in Crimea. On 7 March, Ukrainian media reported that Russian military had mined areas around the main gas line into Crimea, but this allegation has not been independently verified. Russia denied the allegation at CCW on 1 April.

Additionally, Russian forces were photographed with soviet produced TM-62 antivehicle mines as they surrounded and blockaded a Ukrainian naval infantry base in Feodosia city in Crimea. However in the meeting with ICBL on 1 April Russia said its military experts were not familiar with the antivehicle mine TM-62.