The so-called school truce is not being observed by Russian military and Russian-controlled thugs in the Donbas (it had to start on August 25). The parties had agreed on it at the last meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk. The Ukrainian side is still suffering casualties. The information and analysis center of the National Security and Defense Council informed the public that during the past 24 hours, the pro-Russian militants in the Donetsk area shelled Zaitseve as well as the section of the front between Avdiivka and Shakhta Butivka, using, among other weapons, 120-millimeter mortars. Near Mariupol, the enemy’s armed provocations took place on the Chermalyk-Shirokine section of the front. The situation was tensest in Hnutove and Vodiane. Near Luhansk, the enemy fired grenade launchers at Malynove.
Therefore, we have a stable tense situation which the Kremlin has created and continues to support in a semi-hot condition. Just this, in fact, was recently stated by US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker in an interview with the Financial Times given following a meeting with the Russian president’s assistant Vladislav Surkov. According to Volker, Russia seems to be prepared to “live with” the status quo of the armed conflict in the Donbas. He also stressed: “There is a cost to Russia internationally being in the Donbas, the sanctions as well as politically. And frankly that situation is going to get worse over time, not better… A situation where Russia is going to be frozen out of diplomatic relationships, of economic relationships, because of this, is certainly not something that Russia would want. I think they have got to make their own choice, their own calculations.”
What is the way out of the situation where the Kremlin is purposefully destabilizing the situation in the east of Ukraine, occupying part of our territory and conducting hostilities against the Ukrainian Armed Forces? Simply put, how to force Russia to finally leave Ukraine alone and evacuate the territories it captured (parts of the Donbas and Crimea)? The activity of the US special representative for Ukraine negotiations, who held a number of meetings in our country, including at the frontlines, then visited European capitals, and also held talks with Vladimir Putin’s assistant, has sent positive signals. It is especially so since Volker called a spade a spade by stating that the situation in the Donbas is a war that Russia effectively started. Just a few days ago, the American visited Ukraine once more.
Kyiv, August 24, 2017. James Mattis, chief of the Pentagon: “Russia committed itself to refrain from using force against Ukraine and making threats of the use of nuclear weapons, as well as to respect the territorial integrity of other nations. Unfortunately, Russia is not adhering to the letter, much less the spirit, of these international commitments. The US and our allies will continue to press Russia to honor its Minsk commitments. The US remains committed to diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict. We do not, and we will not, accept Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and its attempts to undermine internationally recognized borders” / REUTERS photo
During his latest stay in Kyiv from August 23-24, Volker met with representative of Ukraine in the working group on political affairs of the Trilateral Contact Group, former Ambassador to the US (2010-2015) Oleksandr Motsyk. So we asked the Ukrainian diplomat to tell us about the results of the meeting between Volker and Surkov. “Surkov outlined Russia’s vision that it was not present there,” Motsyk commented for The Day. “On the other hand, the US reiterated its well-known position which is that Russia committed an act of aggression and continues it against Ukraine, illegally occupied Crimea and carried out an annexation, started the war in the Donbas, and thus violated all the fundamental principles and norms of international law, the norms of the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. The conversation was more or less like this: the American side described this situation and seriously asked if Russia had a desire to resolve the situation in Ukraine; if so, then it was necessary to approach it accordingly, but if they were to keep saying ‘we are not present there,’ this was not an appropriate approach, and it would only lead to a further reinforcement of sanctions and further isolation of Russia. It is so because what Russia did to Ukraine was absolutely unacceptable, and not only does this weaken Ukraine, our territorial integrity and security, causing huge losses (more than 10,000 dead), but also presents a direct threat to entire Europe, the whole civilized world.”
“The position of the American side in this situation with regard to Russians is as follows: bring your behavior in line with international law. Where international law has been violated, you need to retreat, leave Ukraine, withdraw your troops, take your armaments away, and work on further settlement of the situation. As long as Russian troops and armaments are present on our territory and as long as regular units of Russia’s armed forces and regular troops of its thugs and so-called volunteers cross the border, of course, any settlement of the Donbas crisis will be out of question,” added Motsyk.
In his turn, Yevhen Marchuk, the representative of Ukraine in the working group on security issues of the Trilateral Contact Group, analyzed the latest developments in a broader context. According to him, “the movement of giant variables on the world scene is beginning.” “The US has begun the second phase of its hybrid involvement in fulfilling its commitments to Ukraine under the Budapest Memorandum,” Marchuk posted on his Facebook page. “The US’ specific decisions are global in nature, and a powerful mechanism for implementing them marks a sharp turning point in the entire global security policy. When the original text of the act imposing these latest sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea appeared on the website of the US Congress, and when I read it to the end, I already had the feeling that an important milestone in the world security situation was approaching. It is precisely now that Ukraine should avoid making the slightest faux pas in its international behavior, let alone mistakes.”
Given that the Kremlin sabotages any progress in the Minsk negotiations, is it possible to switch to the “Budapest format” without violating the existing Minsk Agreements? Will it be able to push the process forward, given the increased activity of the American side?
“There is now a parallel track where the US and Russia are talking directly,” Chair of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Affairs Hanna Hopko said in a commentary to The Day. “And it is important here that Ukraine and European partners are kept informed about these meetings. It is very important to prevent Russia from positioning this parallel track as an exclusive format involving the two governments and trying to use it to unravel the transatlantic partnership between the US and the EU, namely the EU powers of the Normandy Quartet, in the peaceful settlement of the crisis in eastern Ukraine. It is very important for us to make sure that precisely thanks to Volker’s efforts this additional track will work to intensify the pressure on Russia and make the Kremlin understand that there is a consolidated strategy for the real advocacy of Ukrainian interests, namely the restoration of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
It should be made clear to everyone that the US does not negotiate secretly with Russia. And here it is important that the US, in addition to the negotiations unfolding in the context of a positive dynamics for us, turn it all into a real policy like we have seen with the already Congress-approved sanctions against the Kremlin, where there is a two-party unity and unity of legislative and executive branches over Ukraine. These sanctions are quite harsh and include an energy package that is a painful blow to Putin, to the economy of the Russian Federation, and, therefore, to its ability to conduct hostilities. It is important to do everything so that the parallel track of the negotiations works best in our favor. Ukraine may be absent from the negotiating table, but it must be kept informed so that Putin cannot make his destructive adjustments to this process.
If the US is ready to change the rules or re-format the Minsk process, they should clearly demonstrate it. Volker’s mission is to prepare ground for this and demonstrate tangible results being achieved, albeit with small steps. Volker has to prove his value not only to Rex Tillerson but also to Donald Trump. After all, Trump should become more aware of Ukraine in order to have a clearer plan. To do this, we work to exchange data on the military situation, intelligence data, information on Ukraine’s military assistance needs. When I personally met Volker last time, I asked him a clear question: what is your strategy on the Kremlin? I asked him to list at least a few specific points. After all, over the two years since the vote on amendments to the Constitution, when the Ukrainian side thought naively that it would be an impetus for tactical steps to resolve the conflict, in particular for a ceasefire, the West has been unable to freeze Russia out of the SWIFT system, for instance. The US sanctions are important and necessary, but they have been well overdue. Had the package of sanctions adopted recently been adopted three years ago, no European would even mention the Nord Stream project. Now the US will try to better analyze the situation to understand how it can stimulate the Kremlin to leave Ukraine. At the same time, it is very important for Putin, especially on the eve of the election, to save his face somehow. He cannot openly backtrack now as he cannot afford to have his image damaged.”
However, the efforts of the international partners of Ukraine, of course, do not mean we can stop working on our domestic issues. Actually, this work is our top priority. “We must understand that nobody will do the bulk of our work for us,” Motsyk emphasized. “They can and do help us by imposing sanctions, punishing Russia for its wrongful actions and pushing it with sanctions onto a righteous path, and providing us with economic, financial and military-technical assistance. The issue of the provision of defensive weapons, in particular anti-tank systems, is currently under consideration. But we must understand that the bulk of responsibility lies with us. We have to consolidate within the country, carry out the necessary reforms really fast and without delay, fight corruption which is eating the country from inside, prevent anyone from squandering the nation’s resources, and understand that we must save the whole country in the first place. And in this context, the role of our military is very important, including the Armed Forces, the National Guard, volunteer battalions and civic volunteers. They are today the guarantors of our security.”
Thus, only a bilateral offensive, involving Ukraine itself and its international partners and targeting the aggressive policy of the Kremlin, can bring results.