September 7, 2015

Once Again on the Formats and Alternatives (in the Context of Ending the War in the Donbas)

Oleksiy Volovych


Discussions on what format of negotiations — the “Geneva” or the “Norman” one — is better to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in the Donbas, have been going on for almost a year. The Geneva format includes the USA, EU, Ukraine and Russia, while the “Norman” one includes Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia. The Geneva format was founded April 17, 2014 at the Geneva meeting of Foreign Ministers of the US, EU, Russia and Ukraine. They agreed on measures to de-escalate the conflict in the Donbas — disarmament of illegal armed groups, amnesty for separatists, beginning of Ukrainian national dialogue on constitutional reform providing for decentralization and giving a temporary special status to the Donbas.

From the very beginning, the “Geneva agreement” on Ukraine were doomed because even during the final press conference in Geneva April 17, 2014, it was observed that Ukraine and the United States' positions on the one hand, and that of Russia's — on the other hand, were absolutely opposite. Ukraine and the United States believed that only separatists and terrorists had to be disarmed. Russia proceeded from the fact that the disarmament process should be started by the “fighters” of the “Right Sector”. Moreover, Moscow demanded that Ukrainian troops should withdraw from the Donbas, which was absolutely unacceptable to Kyiv.

In January 2015, the UN Deputy Secretary General Jeffrey Feldman called on the parties concerned to resume negotiations in the Geneva format. President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko has also repeatedly called for their resumption. Thus, November 5, 2014, P. Poroshenko during his telephone conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry suggested a return to the Geneva format, but John Kerry again insisted on the need to fulfill the first “Minsk Agreements” of September 5, 2014 (“Minsk-1”). The main reason for the termination of the negotiations in the Geneva format was Russia and its puppets, the so-called “DPR”/“LPR”'s destructive position. Thus, due to the quite significant differences in the positions of the parties and the lack of an effective instrument for implementation of the “Geneva Agreements” soon in Donbas there began large-scale military actions, with participation of Russian regular troops, especially in the area of ​​Ilovaysk and Donetsk.

In these circumstances, the European Union hastened to intensify the Norman format of negotiations to resolve the conflict in the Donbas, which includes, as you know, Germany, France, Ukraine and Russiaand which got its name after the first meeting of the heads of the four states June 6, 2014, in the town of Bénouville, in Normandy (France), within the framework of celebration of the 70th anniversary of the opening of a second front in World War II. In agreement with the Council of Europe and the European Union, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande February 6-7, 2015, held talks with the Russian President V. Putin in Moscow and reached an agreement to hold further talks in the Norman format.

February 11-12, 2015, in Minsk there took place the second meeting of the Norman Four, the main result of which was the signing of a second “Minsk Agreement” of 13 items (“Minsk-2”), providing for a set of measures aimed at de-escalation of the armed conflict in the Donbas. If you read this Agreement, you will be struck by the apparent asymmetry of obligations between Kyiv and Moscow. But there is nothing particularly surprising here, because this asymmetry is derived from the asymmetry of potentials of Russia and Ukraine. Of the 13 points of the Agreement, only two points indirectly relate to Russia (namely: Point 9 — on resuming full control of the state border in the conflict zone, and even that only after the local elections in the occupied territories, and Point 10 — on the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, as well as mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under the supervision of the OSCE).

Using the “Minsk Agreements” V. Putin actually shifts onto Ukraine the financing and maintenance of the subsidy and destroyed region, preserving its control over the “special districts” in order to use them for constant destabilization of the political and economic situation in Ukraine. In fact, it is fixed in Point 11 of the second “Minsk Agreement” providing for adoption of “permanent law on the special status of certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, which should be documented in the renewed Constitution of Ukraine. Besides, Point 12 of this Agreement obliges the Ukrainian side to hold local elections in some regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, on the condition of agreeing with the representatives of those districts, that is, with separatist leaders. But this humiliating for us Point of the second “Minsk Agreement” is not being fulfilled. Separatist leaders have already announced that they will hold their own local elections in the “DPR” — October 18, and in the “LPR” — November 1, “in accordance with the “DPR”/“LPR”'s, but not Ukrainian law.

Most foreign and Ukrainian politicians, political analysts and experts point out that the “Minsk Agreements” cannot be implemented in the Norman Format due to the destructive position of Moscow, which gives fighters, terrorists and separatists a military, financial and political support. During the so-called “truce” between February and August, nearly 500 Ukrainian military servicemen and volunteers were killed and at least 2750 were injured. But, nevertheless, the President P. Poroshenko has to admit that there is no alternative to the Norman Format. Sadly, but it is true. Our Western partners did not even try to use the alternative format of negotiations, which would have defended national interests of Ukraine better (for example, as it happened the last time in the Balkans — under the auspices of the UN and the EU). True, recently the newly elected President of Poland, Andrzej Duda (who believes that the USA, the EU and Poland, as a neighbor and a strategic partner of Ukraine, of course, must participate in multilateral talks on the situation around Ukraine) has put forward some alternative.

Andrzej DudaIn my opinion, A. Duda's idea of widening the Norman Format is fully justified and we should only be grateful to him for that. But it seems that the newly elected President of Poland still lacks political capital to implement such a large-scale initiative. During the meeting August 24 in Berlin, both, A. Merkel, and P. Poroshenko unanimously rejected the proposal to expand or replace the Norman Format, recognizing it quite effective. What are we talking about, if even the Foreign Minister of Poland Grzegorz Shetyna allowed himself to make an unprecedented in its content remark to his new President, claiming that the latter “...should weigh every word when he proposes to change the Norman Format of peace talks in Europe. This format must be maintained, because it has no alternative”. It should be noted that earlier, at the stage of the Minsk-1, G. Shetyna spoke for Poland's participation in the peace negotiations, but soon changed his position, saying “... the Minsk-2 made it possible to contain the violence”. What prevails here: deceit, misunderstanding of the depth of the problem or political ambitions? It is not excluded that the “inconsistency of positions between A. Duda and G. Shetyna” can only be explained by their belonging to different political forces, which are the opponents on the eve of the parliamentary elections in Poland in October this year.

Grzegorz ShetynaOn the eve of his visit to Berlin August 28, 2015, in an interview with the German edition Bild, A. Duda spoke high of Merkel's role in resolving of the conflict in Ukraine: “I think that Chancellor A. Merkel takes a firm position with regard to Russia. I wish the whole Europe supported her position. The change of A. Duda's rhetoric about the role of the Federal Republic of Germany is a clear illustration of his different status at the beginning of the year and today. As President, he has to correct something in his pre-election declarations.

I think there is no great difference between the two negotiating formats (the “Geneva” and the “Norman”) at all.

Firstly, let us remember that A. Merkel and F. Hollande are negotiating in the Norman Format under the mandate of the European Union. Secondly, they constantly consult with US President Barack Obama and keep him informed about the negotiations. Thirdly, Russia's undeclared war against Ukraine continues in the Donbas, where Moscow is using terrorists and separatists, as well as its regular troops. Like in any war, the opponents stop fighting, not because they have come to their senses or to reason, but because fighting is becoming unprofitable, dangerous or too expensive due to lack of resources. The Russian aggression can be stopped only by the Ukrainian people and its Army with the active and effective support from the international community.

August 20, 2015, during a meeting with community leaders, P. Poroshenko expressed the view that there was no need to enlarge the Norman Format, arguing that Russia could use this and withdraw entirely from any negotiation process. Therefore, we must do everything in order not to let Putin break this negotiation process (in the Norman Format), despite the fact that Ukraine has agreed to a lot of heavy and even quite humiliating concessions to Putin at the conclusion of the second “Minsk Agreement” (“Minsk-2”).

Despite the fact, that Putin's puppet-separatists were trying to disrupt the “Minsk Agreements” by not stopping for a single day attacks on positions of the Ukrainian army and the National Guard, Ukraine has fully fulfilled its obligations. August 24, 2015, before flying to Berlin, P. Poroshenko stated that Ukraine “... has fulfilled its key provisions of the Peace Agreements, and now Ukraine, our European partners and the whole world expect the same from the Russian side”. Of course, we can't hope for something positive from Putin, but if he does not take a more or less adequate step in response, he will be even more discredited in the eyes of the international community, which won't be slow to impose new sanctions on Russia. It would be desirable for Ukraine not to delay the use of sensitive sanctions against Russia.

The imposed on us “hybrid warfare”, in which we have to actually fight against Putin's Russia, is not being conducted with the help of military equipment and weapons alone. Our great advantage over the enemy in this war is that the entire civilized world supports us. Perhaps not so and not to the extent as we would like it to, but we are very much grateful for the support anyway. With the help of this support, we will be able to win. Realizing this, Putin will continue doing everything to embroil us with our European partners and the United States. To do this, he uses the internal front — the “fifth column in Ukraine”, which carries out acts of sabotage, armed provocations and clashes in order to destabilize the situation in the country and rekindle the flame of civil war.

The “Hybrid war” — is first a war of nerves, endurance, intelligence and diplomacy, but our Armed Forces must constantly increase their combat power. To perform this task, September 2, at the meeting of the National Security and Defence Council there was adopted and proposed for approval to the President P. Poroshenko a new draft Military Doctrine of Ukraine. The draft Doctrine recognizes the Russian Federation a military adversary of Ukraine; determines conditions of liberation of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine; confirms the abandoning of the non-alignment policy and resumption of the strategic course of Euro-Atlantic integration; takes into account the growth of the role of information and psychological operations; points out the need to improve the system of mobilization readiness, and a substantial increase in the professional component of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations.

In his speech at the meeting of the NSDC, President P. Poroshenko pointed out that “... all the latest military threats and challenges to Ukraine, sadly, are now associated with Russia, and sadly, they all are long-term ones.” P. Poroshenko insists on introducing in the final version of the Military Doctrine of Ukraine the tasks to achieve membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The President has set a task by 2020 to have ensured full compatibility of Ukrainian Armed Forces with relevant forces of NATO member countries. Besides, according to the President, the new edition of the Military Doctrine of Ukraine sets the task to redeploy military units and to create a proper military infrastructure in the eastern and southern regions of our State.

As is known, on August 31, 2015, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine by 265 votes of People's Deputies adopted on first reading amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine on the decentralization of power. This vote was an extremely dramatic and even tragic, if we take into consideration the fact that around the Verkhovna Rada during the confrontation of aggressive protesters and units of the National Guard, three servicemen of the National Guard were killed and more than a hundred were wounded. 3 out of 5 factions of the Coalition (“Batkivshchyna”(“Motherland”), “Lyashko's Radical Party” and “Samopomich”) did not vote for those amendments. O. Lyashko announced about his faction's withdrawal from the Parliamentary Coalition. The “Opposition bloc's” voting for the changes in the Constitution means only that members of this faction have their own vision of these changes, which do not coincide with the vision of Deputies from “Petro Poroshenko's Bloc” and “The People's Front”.

Unfortunately, the amendments to the Constitution, proposed by the President, almost had not been properly discussed in the session hall of the Verkhovna Rada on the day of voting or earlier. But the representatives of these three factions accused P. Poroshenko and 265 deputies of betraying the national interests of Ukraine. Most of all, they were outraged by and protested against the granting of “special status” to the occupied territories of Donbas. But the question arises — did they not know that the relevant law on this status (№1680-VII) was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada back September 16, 2014? Why did it take them the whole year to put the question of the cancellation of the law or its revision? It is easy to shout “treason” from the tribune. Then why not offer an alternative? Unfortunately, instead of wise alternative proposals we heard only empty populist slogans.

The voted on August 31 in the first reading amendments to the Constitution should be finally adopted at the end of the year on the condition that they get votes of 300 Deputies. If that happens, it will be the second dramatic vote, since each Deputy is aware that this is a forced vote, which means a choice between a bad peace and a good war. A large-scale war by default can't be good for us, because hundreds of thousands of our citizens would fall in it, and the whole country would turn into ruins.

So, if the amendment to the Constitution are adopted, the conflict in the occupied districts of Donbas will “get frozen” for as long as Putin is in power. Although we cannot exclude that after him, even a worse Ukrainophobe may come to power. There is, of course, quite a faint hope that the Russians will finally see into what a desperate situation Putin is driving them, satisfying his imperial ambitions.

Putin cannot afford a large-scale intervention against Ukraine - he does not have enough money for the maintenance of the occupied territories. Besides, it would cause an avalanche of international sanctions and would result in complete international isolation of Russia in the world. Putin can't quickly strangle Ukraine economically, because the West will not allow him to. It remains only to “freeze” the conflict, but it also needs resources. And because for Russia even this is too expensive (to keep the conflict in the Donbas in the “frozen” state is the same as to maintain 10 Trans-Dniesters or Abkhazias along with South Ossetia), the RF will try to do everything “to shift the expenses” on maintaining of the occupied territories of Donbas onto Ukraine.

Unfortunately, we have to accept the fact that we will not manage to conduct the local elections in the occupied areas of the Donbas according to the Ukrainian Law, and the initiative will belong to criminals-separatists, allowing Putin at any time to “unfreeze” the conflict in order to exhaust and destabilize Ukraine. The above-mentioned Law № 1680-VII says that the President is obliged to grant amnesty to all separatists-fighters. But the unrighteous criminal authorities will not stay long, because they are inherently destructive and anti-national.

As a result of the introduction of “special status”, the occupied areas of Donbas, in fact, will be transformed into an autonomous quasi-state entity which will have its legislation, prosecutor's office, his militia armed groups, as well as the right to enter into bilateral agreements with Russia, and, if desired — to declare the referendum to join Russia. In fact, it will be Russia's enclave in our territory. The occupied areas will become a “black hole”, which will absorb a significant portion of the budget. Tens of billions of hryvnias per year will have to be spent to restore the destroyed infrastructure of the Donbas (most of the objects of which have been taken away to Russia) that has remained under the control of the criminal separatist authorities. But we have to go for it, because hundreds of thousands of our compatriots who want to live in Ukraine, are living and suffering in those occupied districts. We cannot leave them to their fate.

All this, unfortunately, will be like that. But in this situation we have the “bad peace”, through which hundreds of thousands of our compatriots will be alive, hundreds of thousands of children will not become orphans and their mothers — widows. The President, the Government and the Verkhovna Rada must do everything for the cancer metastasis of separatism in the occupied areas of Donbas not to cover the whole Ukraine. And for that the enclave should be completely isolated.

As the People's Deputy Irina Lutsenko says, “... difficult decisions in difficult times are always taken with great difficulty. Taking responsibility, carrying out unpopular reforms is very difficult. It is easy to stand aside and just criticize, not offering any working healthy alternative”.

To win the “hybrid war” with Putin's Russia, we have to consolidate, to get united, to fight back irresponsible politicians-demagogues, sowing poisonous grains of discord and chaos. That is, we must be realistic about the situation in which our state is.

Today, in the situation of war, to open an internal front, to gather crowds of irresponsible aggressive people in the squares, to hysterically defame the government and to seek to replace it — is a crime against Ukraine, a favor to Putin. If someone does not agree with the actions of the government, then let he/she in a civilized manner offer an acceptable better alternative.

By default, there is no ideal government. Therefore, controlling the actions of the current government, each of us in his/her place should specifically do something for our Ukraine to survive in the hour of trial.


Together we will win!

Glory to Ukraine! Glory to heroes!