Geneva group fears Russians using landmines in Crimea

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Russian soldiers are reported by different groups of witnesses to be laying landmines in Ukraine, says Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

The group says it is “deeply concerned” and it calls on Russia “to confirm or deny the landmine use allegations and, if confirmed, halt any use of antipersonnel mines immediately, explain the steps that it has taken to inform and protect the local civilian population and remove any antipersonnel mines that may have been laid, ICBL says in a statement issued 11 March.

‘The reports of landmine use by Russia in Ukraine are highly disturbing. Russia should respond immediately to these reports and clarify whether it laid any mines, and what type – antipersonnel or antivehicle,’ says ICBL Director Kasia Derlicka-Rosenbauer.

The group provides information about its sources:

“On the morning of Saturday, 8 March, Evgeny Feldman, a staff photographer for the Russian investigative publication Novaya Gazeta, visited Russian military installations 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.

According to Feldman, rumors appeared on Friday, 7 March of ‘Russian-flagged soldiers digging hollows for border columns’ at the location. Haaretz reported that ‘Russian combat engineers were seen placing mines in the land bridge connecting the peninsula to the mainland.’

Members of the local population have informed Ukrainian partners of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines that Russian Special Forces troops operating in Kherson Province have laid new minefields, but it is not possible to determine the veracity of those reports, including if they were antipersonnel or antivehicle mines.

On Friday 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.”

The last known Russian use of antipersonnel mines was in Chechnya in 2006, according to ICBL.

Ukraine is a party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, along with 160 other countries, but the Russian Federation is not. Landmine Monitor reports that “mines have been used extensively in the two major conflicts in Chechnya. Estimates of the number vary greatly because there has been no effort to comprehensively assess the scope or impact of the problem.” It also points out that while Russia continues to clear ordnance left over from the second world war from its territory, it “has shown little commitment to clearing mines and ERW [explosive remnants of war] from Chechnya.”