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Has Russia laid landmines in Crimea?

Action on Armed Violence is a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmine (ICBL) and sits on the governance board of the coalition.

 The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is deeply concerned by reports of Russian use of landmines in Crimea, Ukraine. 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.

“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,” said ICBL Director Kasia Derlicka-Rosenbauer.

Most of the world’s nations have banned any use of antipersonnel mines as parties to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. In recent years, the only government forces laying new mines have been in Syria, Myanmar, and Libya (under Gaddafi).

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 1997 Mine Ban Treaty prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines and requires their clearance and victim assistance. A total of 161 countries are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, including Ukraine.

The Russian Federation has not joined the Mine Ban Treaty. According to Landmine Monitor, Russia has expressed support for the treaty’s humanitarian objectives, but it has not joined due to its views on the military utility of the weapons. While Russia has many millions of antipersonnel mines in stockpiles, the last known Russian use of antipersonnel mines was in Chechnya in 2006. Russia is party to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) and its Amended Protocol II on landmines, which requires that antipersonnel mines be used in fenced, monitored and marked areas.

Responsibility for clearing any mines is on the government controlling the territory where the mines are located. Ukraine signed the Mine Ban Treaty on 24 February 1999 and ratified on 27 December 2005, becoming a State Party on 1 June 2006. Ukraine has not enacted national legislation, including penal sanctions, to enforce the prohibitions of the Mine Ban Treaty domestically. Ukraine has destroyed significant quantities of stockpiled antipersonnel mines inherited from the break-up of the Soviet Union. However it has yet to complete destruction of its remaining stockpile.