Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

How Kharkiv Agreements lay groundwork for “Minsk pocket”

This year Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was to have left the Ukrainian Sevastopol. What triggered the scenario of occupation?
27 April, 2017 - 10:45
KYIV. APRIL 27, 2010 / Photo from The Day’s archives

Today’s Russian aggression has causes and history of its own. One of the stages in the systematic effort to occupy Ukrainian territory was the Kharkiv Agreements of 2010. Signed seven years ago on April 21 and ratified on April 27, they provided for extension of the Black Sea Fleet’s stay in Crimea until 2042 in exchange for a 100 dollar discount on natural gas. Incidentally, the previous treaty of 1997 set 2017 as the year when Russia had to withdraw from Sevastopol. However, the things have not turned out like that...

Russia never abandoned its plans to recover Crimea. Back in the early 1990s, there were attempts to capture the region or rather “tests of local conditions” involving the so-called “Don Cossacks,” who were supported and directed by the Black Sea Fleet as they staged actions similar to those that were implemented during the “Russian Spring” of 2014. Thanks to successful and professional measures taken by Yevhen Marchuk-led Security Service of Ukraine, the trouble was then averted. We would also like to recall the famous phrase from the cult Russian film Brother 2 (currently banned in Ukraine), where one of the film’s protagonists, nicknamed “the Tatar,” kills a Ukrainian-descended Chicago gangster and says: “I will make you bastards pay for Sevastopol as well!”

Another telling signal came in 2003 with the Tuzla Island crisis. Russia began to build a dam in the Kerch Strait from the Russian Taman Peninsula to the Ukrainian Island of Tuzla. After a month-long confrontation between the two states, Ukraine managed to stop the Kremlin. However, it was already clear by then that the Budapest Memorandum was not working, as the Russians did not care for the obligations they had assumed to ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

The Kharkiv Agreements came next. It happened just two months after Viktor Yanukovych became president. Having lost to the Orange Revolution in 2004, when the Russians supported Leonid Kuchma’s attempt to make his puppet president, they wasted no time in 2010. They immediately set to work on Sevastopol and imposed on Yanukovych an advantageous deal for themselves.

As a result, when the Kremlin attacked in early 2014, Ukraine faced the abyss. Clan-oligarchic structures that originated under Kuchma had weakened the state so much (of course, the Russians spent years working on it as well) that the nation found itself completely defenseless in security, information, and political areas. Therefore, stopping Russian aggression had to come at a high price paid in tremendous efforts of the public, human lives cut short, and territory lost.


Remarkably, the Party of Regions, Communist Party, and Lytvyn Bloc joined forces to ratify these agreements in the Verkhovna Rada in 2010. Moreover, even some MPs of Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc factions were found among those who voted in favor. A special role was played by the speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, who hid under umbrellas and did everything he could to implement the orders of Yanukovych and Russia with brazen disrespect for the law. Thus, we should ask hard questions of people on the Ukrainian side, as some persons who participated in the ratification still hold seats in the Rada.

The team of the then president of Ukraine and Yanukovych himself called the agreement a victory and blamed everything on Yulia Tymoshenko, who had signed a notoriously bad gas deal in 2009. In fact, almost every government, whether led by Tymoshenko or Yanukovych, gradually capitulated on the national interests of Ukraine for the sake of friendship with the Putin regime, as they understood it. Has this practice disappeared, especially after Russia’s open aggression against our country? We doubt it, given the unfulfilled promises of the current president to close his businesses in the aggressor country (it took him until January 2017 to fulfill them, if they are fulfilled at all). Another revealing fact is that once Russia annexed Crimea, it immediately denounced the Kharkiv Agreements. Meanwhile, Ukraine has still not denounced these agreements.


Maksym ROZUMNYI, head of the Center for Studies of the Russian Federation:

“I think that Yanukovych and Putin, who actually ruled the Russian Federation at the time, had different ideas of the Kharkiv Agreements. Yanukovych thought that it was the beginning of his, so to speak, reign over Ukraine, while Putin, to the contrary, understood that it was the beginning of the dismantling of the Ukrainian statehood. To go in further detail, when Yanukovych was elected president, he of course hoped to get Tymoshenko’s gas agreement canceled, as it was disadvantageous for Ukraine, and to get the country on the path of integration into the Eurasian space. Thus, Yanukovych and his team were to receive all the benefits of this process, usually involving the access to corruption rents, security guarantees against ‘colored’ revolutions, etc. The Russian protectorate had to provide it all. Meanwhile, the Kremlin had at least several scenarios available. One of them, as I said, involved the deconstruction of the statehood, to be followed by abandoning the regime at some later point.

“Remarkably, the Kharkiv Agreements have been denounced by Russia, not Ukraine. This topic is going nowhere in Ukraine. People are afraid to touch it because of a lot of nuances in the international legal framework. Thus, the Ukrainian side is afraid of losing some legal clues to the recovery of Crimea. That is, they want to maintain the treaties governing the Ukrainian-Russian relations as they are. This cause can be identified, in addition to negligence and lack of a consistent policy.

“I do not think the opposition could have effectively prevented the ratification of the Kharkiv Agreements then. The year 2010 was the year of revenge. At that time, the president’s team included experienced lawyers, security officials, and ‘bouncers.’ Yanukovych was able to use this whole resource and did use it, in addition to him deploying effective techniques of making decisions and forcing them through the Verkhovna Rada. He had a diverse toolkit for manipulating events. The opposition was, of course, in a period of poorly organized retreat. In the footsteps of their retreat, Russia hurried to force the Kharkiv Agreements through, given their status as the most sensitive topic for the Ukrainian society.”


Mykhailo POZHYVANOV, MP of the 2nd and 4th through 6th convocations of the Verkhovna Rada:

“The signing of the Kharkiv Agreements was a link in the Russian occupation of Ukrainian Crimea. Had the government stuck to a clear position based on the principles of the Constitution, which stated that the Russian fleet had to leave Crimea in 2017, the Kremlin would not go to conflict. Russia would be then thinking about how to build a new base in Novorossiysk or elsewhere. However, when they got their lease extended until 2042, and then the Euromaidan forced Yanukovych to flee, all this led to the annexation of the peninsula. They were then just afraid that the Kharkiv Agreements might be terminated by the Ukrainian side and therefore hurried to enact a radical solution. I think Russia would have still tried to find some way to preserve its influence in Crimea, through intimidation, bribery, blackmail, you name it. Russia would have tried to bribe us as well. It perhaps would pay adequately for its presence in Crimea too.

“Of course, the opposition tried to stop the ratification of the agreements and we all remember what events unfolded in the Verkhovna Rada then, with burning smoke bombs and flying eggs. However, the opposition was not strong enough to prevent it. One of the reasons for it was that people who are forced to leave the government and go into opposition are not always ready for it, as they are used to be in the government, not outside it. Those people who have a lot of money and are greatly influenced by the government, they support the government of the day. Such people have always been many. Accordingly, the opposition unity was shaken to some extent, which resulted in the abovementioned outcome.”


Oleksandr KIKHTENKO, Commander of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine (2005-10):

“I think that the signing of the Kharkiv Agreements in 2010 eliminated our chances to get the agreement on the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s stay in Crimea renegotiated. Moreover, we perhaps should have even terminated it altogether. However, we were actually trapped, because the Kharkiv Agreements provided for a huge extension of the Russian military bases’ stay in the peninsula. Had Ukraine prevented that, Russia would have fewer opportunities for occupying Ukrainian territory in the future. Unfortunately, we often squander historical opportunities that would be advantageous for the nation. It was so under the previous regime, it is going on under the present one. The specific case is in the past, but we have to finally draw the right conclusions.”

“Unfortunately, in many respects, I see that even today not all people have realized our key miscalculations. For Russia, Ukraine has turned out to be a convenient testing ground for working out various kinds of provocations, which it was making and is making into effective tools of its policy. It was this way then, and it continues today. Moreover, various areas are targeted by these provocations. The Kremlin uses our political miscalculations and weaknesses as well as certain strains of the public mood. For example, Russia was working out ways to use so-called ‘titushky,’ or hired thugs, in Ukraine as early as the late 2000s. It should be understood that ‘titushky’ are not always just pro-Russian. Right-wing and ostensibly pro-Ukrainian forces play into the hands of the Kremlin often enough as well. These people may even believe that they really only want the best for Ukraine, but are actually involved in the Kremlin’s provocative designs. That is, the scenario of occupation has many elements, and we are very vulnerable.

“To counter it, we need to develop our own Special Operations Forces. We know that the security services of Russia, and in particular their Special Operations Forces, have reached a new stage of development, and they are improving their system of influencing other countries. Ukraine, as I said, is their major testing ground. Of course, much depends on the central government. For example, the government of 2010, on the one hand, had a lot of leverage domestically, but on the other, was dependent on Russia. It was very difficult to prevent the ratification of the Kharkiv Agreements for reasons including the society itself not realizing yet the magnitude of danger that these agreements presented.”

This year Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was to have left the Ukrainian Sevastopol. What triggered the scenario of occupation?