Experts: Minsk agreement paused

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While the world’s attention was focused on the attacks on Sinai, Paris and downing of Russian SU-24 bomber, the situation in Donbass again threatens to escalate into active hostilities

At the end of 2015 implementation of the Minsk Agreement should have entered a decisive phase. During September and October 2015 there was a sharp decline in the number of attacks and the parties of the conflict has finally started to discuss at the negotiating table concrete measures to stabilize the situation. However, meeting of “Norman Quartet” in Paris October 2, 2015 meaning the removal of light and heavy weapons from the boundary line was never fully completed. Instead, since the beginning of November resumed local clashes between the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) and the pro-Russian separatists. In a special report of the monitoring mission (SMM) of the OSCE in Ukraine from November 17, 2015 stated: “Neither the members of the “DPR”, nor any members of the “LPR” have not yet provided inventory lists of designated heavy weapons or information on the whereabouts of certain permanent storage of such weapons to SMM under request of 16 October. Management information such as the APU is not yet provided”.

According to the October agreements in Paris removal of arms from the contact line should be concluded by November 12, 2015. After that parties to the conflict are obliged to proceed to the most important process – the implementation of the items on a political settlement, which, in particular, provide for the holding of local elections in some regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. However, the intensification of hostilities gives a clear signal – Russia and Ukraine failed to overcome political differences. The reasons can be identified as multiple.

First, participants in the talks in Minsk: the delegation of Ukraine and the Russian Federation (represents the position of the separatists) through the mediation of OSCE is that they can not reach agreement on the key parameters of the future elections. So, Russia is blocking the proposal for the participation of Ukrainian political parties and insists on the use of the majority system. Ukrainian delegation is required to ensure the smooth operation of all, including the media for its coverage of the electoral campaign and the election process. Some speculation continues as to who is entitled to vote. Separatists are interested in the introduction of restrictive two-year (or even a decade) qualifications “residence”, although it is not clear how it will be confirmed. The Ukrainian side insists on the right to vote for displaced persons, the total official number which only on the Ukrainian territory is about 1.6 million. In this situation, the preparation of the elections will be extremely difficult from an organizational point of view the question and threatens with new conflicts in mutual distrust of the parties.

Secondly, there is the unresolved question of amending the Constitution of Ukraine – to grant special status to certain regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Kyiv sees this provision in the final points of the Basic Law, and considering it as a stand-alone elements of the administration of these territories. Representatives of the “DPR” and “LPR” are afraid that eventually this rule and the law may be repealed, and insist on changes to the basic text of the Constitution. The ambitions of the separatists applied to carry out certain functions of foreign policy, which also complicates the negotiation process. Also, problems may occur in the Ukrainian parliament. The adoption of amendments to the Constitution, a minimum of 300 votes that the current configuration of Ukrainian legislative assembly can lead to a parliamentary crisis.

The third stumbling block is the question of amnesty for members of the “DPR” and “LPR”. The Ukrainian side insists on the use of fixed practices amnesty legislation through the courts. At the same time the separatists say they want an immediate amnesty for all those involved in the well-known events in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions since April 2014

However, the most problematic point in Minsk Agreement on the return portion of the border to Ukraine with Russian Federation, which is now controlled by “DPR” and “LPR”. By the beginning of November 2015, even the OSCE monitoring mission had access to only some of the checkpoints on the part of the Russian-Ukrainian border, and only accompanied by pro-Russian separatists.

Thus, Minsk Agreement came to a very dangerous point. On the one hand, reached truce agreement, gives hope for resolving of the conflict in Donbass. On the other hand, the existing contradictions indicate that we can not exclude further outbreaks of escalation and resumption of full-scale hostilities in case of failure of the implementation of the agreements reached.

We have asked Russian and Ukrainian political scientists of international affairs with questions about their vision for the future of the Minsk process and the prospects for resolving the conflict in the Donbas.

Andrei Serenko, a leading expert of the Center for the Study of Modern Afghanistan:

“Hot” phase of the conflict is finished. However, I would not hurry to talk about its complete cessation. Rather, it is necessary to talk about “strategic pause”. While the war in the Donbass does not need any official Kiev or Moscow. President Poroshenko is now interested in weakening of the ultranationalist radicals and the “party of the war”. Since it is a war in Donbass strengthens radicals Poroshenko now in need of a sustainable peace in the region. Moscow is entirely occupied in Syria and just not ready to successfully manipulate the armed conflict in the south-east of Ukraine. Opinion of formal leaders of so-called “DPR” and “LPR” values ​​in this matter has not. With regard to the Minsk Agreement, it is unlikely that Kiev and Moscow will fulfill them with enthusiasm. With far more passion they continue to accuse each other of trying to disrupt the Minsk-2. Eventually, though, “creaking”, Minsk agreements will be carried out – mainly because of the hard external pressure (Kyiv and Moscow today is not profitable once again upset their allies in the West).

It is obvious that one of the main reasons for the termination of the “hot phase” of the armed conflict in the Donbas is Russia’s entry into the Syrian war. However, this does not mean that if Moscow slip out of Syria, it will immediately begin to warm Donbass war. Most likely, Russia and controlled by her so-called leaders “DPR” and “LPR” will not be the first to start fighting in the Donbass. But this does not mean that they will not take advantage of a puncture of the Ukrainian side, that if for some reason one of the first open fire on positions of militants of “DPR” – “LPR”. For Kyiv, it would be a mistake to assume that involved in Syria Russia will not react to sudden Ukrainian military activity on Donbas.

Donbas is doomed to decades of disorder, both political and socio-economic. And if peace in the region remain strong. The armed conflict 2014-2015,. in the south-eastern Ukraine today makes it impossible to political dialogue between Kyiv and  Donbass. Both sides may now shoot or to remain silent. Communicate with each other directly, without intermediaries, Kiev and Donbass could not. And it is not just the fault of Kiev that it refuses to recognize the so-called “DPR” and “LPR” as a party of a dialogue. The unrecognized republics also have no desire to enter into a political dialogue with the authorities of Ukraine, the topic is unpopular in public opinion (mass casualties and destruction in the Donbas region emotionally contribute to the emergence of desire to talk with the enemy).

Today we need to prepare for a very long sullen silence of Kyiv and Donbas. There is nothing strange: even in South Ossetia after the war 08.08.08 killed far fewer people, and destruction can not be compared with Donbass, there is still no political dialogue between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali. So, in the south-eastern Ukraine, soon began a sincere political dialogue between Kyiv and the Donbas not worth waiting for – if we are talking about the discussion of the theme of reconciliation, rather than the formal participation of the so-called “DPR-LPR” in diplomatic and political activities.

It seems to me that an important role in the acceleration of the political dialogue between Kyiv and Donbas and, perhaps in the very start of the process is not a quick reconciliation should play the Orthodox Church. Representatives of the Orthodox parishes in Kyiv and Donbas, and may become the “channel of communication”, which in the long term able to transform into a “corridor of confidence.” And this process should start with a general service in Kyiv, Donetsk and Luhansk in the memory of all the Orthodox, who died on the Donbass war – without a separation of military and civilian, separatists and “dill”.

Today the return of the Ukrainian authorities, political parties, political associations in Donbas is excluded. But in the long run perhaps the signing of inter-party agreements between, for example, the Opposition Bloc (Ukraine) and one of the Donbass parties. Legitimization of power in Donbas today can not occur through penetration into the region of Ukrainian political parties or officials – this is not possible and will not be accepted by the local population. Most likely, the Donbas go the way of Transdniestria, where legitimacy was provided by a long peace, a few cycles of the local elections and the Russian military-political support (resource of influence).

An indispensable condition for the legitimacy of the local government in Donbas – a way out of the international isolation of Russia. Silent, “humble” recognition of the authorities of Transdniestria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the world was a concession to Russia, there are a few who would spoil relations with. Donbas – a different case. The relations of the world (primarily the EU and the United States) and Moscow are already spoiled, so go to it to make concessions – through a tacit acceptance of Donbas local government – no one wants. And so the “tacit acceptance” Donbas outside world is no longer held.

As soon as Moscow itself ceases to be an irritant to the European Union on the Ukrainian question as soon as she slips out of international isolation, then we can talk about the recognition of local authorities in the Donbas. In any case, Zakharchenko and Plotnytskiy and their current teams could not provide such legitimacy in a state of withdrawal and replacement of Donbass administrations people not involved personally in the fighting – an indispensable condition for the launch of legitimation processes.

Yuriy Temirov, Ph.D., associate professor of Donetsk National University:

The conflict is not over, but its military component, seems to have become a subsidiary with respect to the political and diplomatic. The resumption of large-scale military action is considered unlikely. Most likely the threat of renewed will be actively used by Moscow to put pressure on the West. The sides are ready to implement the Minsk agreements in their own interpretation, which means that the format of the implementation of these agreements have not yet fully defined. Ukrainian authorities need to make the most of the forward is not very broad field of possibilities, which is still preserved.

Apparently, the Kremlin expected, including (though not primarily) the positive impact of the Syrian operations to strengthen its position in the Ukrainian question. However, certain symptoms have the opposite effect. In Putin’s adventures it is very important to mobilize public opinion. Now Russians attention switches to Syria, and therefore weakens a very important internal resource of the Russian intervention in the Donbas. Inside, not only in the sense of “in-Russian,” but in the sense of sympathy of the population of the occupied territories, including those who are Russian mercenaries there. The Kremlin is clearly overestimates its economic and military capabilities that soon enough will not lead to the strengthening of Russian influence and authority, and to weaken it, that will have an impact on its capacity to influence the situation in the Donbas.

The possibility that Kyiv will recognize current  party of power in “republics” as a part of dialogue, unfortunately, can not be excluded. It will have extremely negative consequences, primarily for domestic political situation in Ukraine. In Kyiv, for some reason persistently ignored, I hope unintentionally, a counterargument, as recognition of pro-Ukrainian association party dialogue forces.

The revival of the Ukrainian authorities in fact, not the formal features, is only possible if the system “reconstruction of Donbas”, which necessarily involves “deseparatization ‘ of the region (similar to the denazification of Germany), including the use of measures such as the restriction of civil rights for participation in the anti-Ukrainian (anti-government) activities. This is in addition to the active separatists, whose activities fall under the criminal punishment.

Editors’ of “Labyrinths of War”, Kiev-Moscow

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