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The Minsk II. How the trap works

Expert: “Leonid Kuchma’s proposal to delegate Leonid Kravchuk is a sign of nervousness, rather than sarcasm even. It shows that the Minsk talks are not going well for Ukraine. Kuchma does not want to go down in history as a villain by signing a very dangerous document for the nation”
25 January, 2016 - 16:06
UNIAN photo

“I have no doubt that we have these 300 votes,” President Petro Poroshenko said on January 23, referring to the decentralization-related amendments to the Constitution. He added, though: “We are not going to either cancel or postpone the vote. Its date is in the calendar, I hope it will be held during the next session in the first half of 2016, and I am grateful to the MPs who requested the Constitutional Court of Ukraine (CCU) to clarify the issue so as to avoid insinuations regarding the legitimacy of this process.”

The head of state’s statement actually means that the 300 votes needed to pass the amendments are, in fact, absent (see more in Den’s article “How the Votes Are Being Secured”), so his side initiated the MPs’ request asking the CCU to clarify the meaning of the Basic Law’s words “at the next regular session of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.” This is yet another means used by the government to expand its room for maneuver. Nonetheless, there is no good way out of the diplomatic and constitutional trap created in Minsk, nor could there be one at any moment after the agreement’s signing. For Poroshenko and former president Leonid Kuchma, sent by him to the capital of Belarus, there are only two options left, which are bad and very bad.

It is likely that this circumstance was behind the recent statement made by Ukraine’s representative in the Tripartite Contact Group Kuchma: “I have repeatedly asked the president to replace me with Leonid Kravchuk. Kravchuk replied: ‘No, I am not going there. I see nobody worth talking to there.’ I, meanwhile, was never consulted before this appointment. They just signed the decree, and here you go. Do you really think I am happy to go there all the time? I have my blood pressure going up after every visit to Minsk.”

The first president of Ukraine responded to Kuchma by calling his offer “emotional” and added that he would have never taken up such an offer. “Can the Minsk Agreements be submitted for ratification in the Verkhovna Rada? No, because it is not a document signed by heads of state or foreign ministers or prime ministers. In addition, after more than a year, no provision of these agreements has been complied with, no question that is fundamental, strategically important for Ukraine has been resolved, namely territorial integrity, borders, restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty over the entire territory of Ukraine. The exchange of prisoners, demining, removal of heavy weapons – all these issues are raised and discussed there, but not resolved. Therefore, I reacted to Kuchma’s offer sarcastically. I said that I had no right to be there, and saw nobody worth talking to there. He [Kuchma. – Ed.] says that one will go there as soon as the decree to this effect will be issued. However, presidential decrees apply only to officials which I am not. And Kuchma is no official either,” Kravchuk noted.

“This exchange between presidents Kravchuk and Kuchma testifies to serious problems existing at the negotiating table in Minsk,” political scientist Mykhailo Basarab told The Day. “Kuchma’s proposal to delegate Kravchuk is a sign of nervousness, rather than sarcasm even. Kravchuk’s response is less important than Kuchma’s statement. It shows that the Minsk talks are not going well for Ukraine. We are nearing a scenario which will be disastrous for Ukraine. Kuchma does not want to put his signature under it. Most likely, Putin is so far succeeding in his drive to impose the occupied Donbas on Ukraine on his terms. Western mediators also support a prompt resolution of all this mess. This means that a drunken hooligan will be lodged in our shared apartment and we will be forced to support him. Through the window of his room, he will let his fellow criminals to enter our shared apartment, and they will deliberately trash it up. Can we live comfortably in such an apartment?! The answer is obvious. Kuchma does not want to go down in history as a villain by signing a very dangerous document for the nation. The biggest problem of our politicians is that they lack the courage to say that as of 2016, Ukraine is unable to regain control of the Donbas on acceptable terms. We should stop indefinitely talks on the return of occupied territories, fortify the dividing line between the two adversaries, strengthen the defense sector, and conduct reforms. We will revisit the issue of returning the Donbas and Crimea when the world will put the aggressor in its rightful place or Ukraine will be powerful enough to independently restore our sovereignty over these territories.”

“The problematic Minsk Agreements came into being due to actions taken not only by Kuchma, but by Poroshenko as well,” MP of the 5th-7th convocations of the Rada, chairman of the coordination council of the all-Ukrainian civic movement “Power of Law” Andrii Senchenko said at a recent roundtable hosted by The Day (see more in the article “How can we avoid a ‘hybrid capitulation’?”). “This time, Kuchma is serving as a front for this affair having secured some favorable conditions, perhaps a lack of prosecution in the Gongadze-Podolsky case. The essence of the Minsk Agreements is the return of Ukraine to the Kremlin’s orbit, which effectively means Vladimir Putin’s clutches. The only way to forestall Poroshenko implementing these agreements is by mobilizing response from the Ukrainian society. It is very important, therefore, that the media explain the nature of these agreements and what threats their implementation is posing for Ukraine. One should oppose both ‘decentralization,’ which really means usurpation, and terms associated with a change of local government regulations in the Donbas, which actually means enshrining in our Constitution the Kremlin’s control over political processes in Ukraine.”

In parallel with the events around the Minsk Agreements, we have heard another important news. The son-in-law of the Ukrainian signatory of the agreements, Ukrainian businessman Viktor Pinchuk agreed to settle his business dispute with Ihor Kolomoisky and Hennadii Boholiubov, thus withdrawing his lawsuit lodged with the High Court in London, BBC Ukraine reported. The hearing on the merits of the claim Pinchuk put forward against his former business partners Boholiubov and Kolomoisky was to begin on January 25. However, it became known that the plaintiff and the defendants had reached understanding and settled the dispute out of the court. Details of the settlement have not been disclosed.

Pinchuk accused Kolomoisky and Boholiubov of a breach of contract committed during privatization of Kryvorizky Zalizorudny Kombinat (Kryvy Rih Iron Ore Industrial Complex). He sought two billion dollars in damages and 90 million dollars to reimburse him for initial investment in the company. At the preliminary hearing in December past year, the court refused to admit as evidence in the case testimony of Ukrainian lawyer Serhii Karpenko who complained of threats against him emanating from Kolomoisky’s inner circle. Judge Stephen Males refused to admit this evidence as prejudicial for the trial involving Kolomoisky.

Despite the fact that the details of the settlement have not been disclosed, the very fact shows, first of all, that the plaintiff wanted to avoid an open trial. Let us recall that it was Pinchuk who initiated the lawsuit and publicly declared he would not withdraw it under any circumstances. But, as we have seen, he agreed to a secret settlement in the end, which was promptly signed just a few days before the trial was to start. What could be the reasons behind this step?

First. We can suppose that this happened due to unfavorable circumstances which have befallen Pinchuk and became public recently. For example, Reuters reported on January 11, citing Fox News, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was examining the use of private e-mail by Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and looking into possible violations of anti-corruption legislation. “The agents are investigating the possible intersection of Clinton Foundation donations, the dispensation of State Department contracts and whether regular processes were followed,” Fox News quoted an unnamed official as saying. Investigators suspect that some benefactors of the Clinton Foundation could have benefited through friends and connections in the State Department. A number of US media released information in May 2015 about possible Ukraine-rooted corruption in the Clinton Foundation. Thus, according to The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, Ukrainian businessman Pinchuk paid 8.6 million dollars to the Clintons. According to American journalists, Pinchuk’s company cooperated with Iran in 2011-12 despite Western sanctions against the country, but managed to avoid getting on the list of internationally sanctioned entities. Some link it to the fact that Clinton led the State Department then.

Second. The British judiciary made a few high-profile statements recently about the high probability of Russian President Putin and former FSB head Nikolai Patrushev’s involvement in the organization of the brutal murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London. It is possible that Viktor Pinchuk decided to avoid making the Pinchuk-Kuchma family’s links with the Russian leadership public in court. It was especially advised after public demonstrations of his special relationship with the Russian leadership and its messengers which we all saw first in Yekaterinburg during the “Protect Russia!” propaganda forum, and then during Boris Gryzlov’s scandalous visit to Kyiv.

Third. All this happened against the background of the proceedings in the Gongadze-Podolsky case, which saw the Ukrainian judiciary doing everything to avoid calling Kuchma even as a witness. The London trial, had it gone forward, would have probably attracted increased attention of the international community to these events.

By Ivan KAPSAMUN, The Day