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False logic

How Normandy format partners are pressing Ukraine, not Russia, to observe the Minsk Agreements
19 September, 18:16

The West, particularly Ukraine’s Normandy format partners Germany and France, seems to have decided to mount pressure on this country, not on Russia, to achieve progress in carrying out the Minsk Agreements. The proof of this is this year’s second meeting between German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault, and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine in Kyiv.

On the one hand, both ministers said at a Presidential Administration press conference last Tuesday that they had come to Ukraine as friends to show their great solidarity with and support for Ukraine as an independent democratic state as well as to back the ongoing reforms.

But on the other hand, they in fact made it clear that Ukraine should agree on a compromise and begin to fulfill the Minsk Agreements’ political conditions, even though the three main preconditions have not yet been met. There is no durable ceasefire, and militants have failed to withdraw heavy weapons and allow OSCE observers to monitor the withdrawal of military hardware on the territory controlled by Russia-backed rebels, and, what is more, the Ukrainian-Russian border.

Shortly before, at a joint press conference with Poland’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin said it was necessary to draw up a road map that would include such fundamental things as a schedule of actions and the guarantees that the Russia side will do this. He thus responded to the idea of drawing up a parallel “road map” which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had expressed before.

But it became clear, when the two Normandy format representatives were answering the questions of journalists, that they in fact repeated the Russian visions of settling the Donbas conflict, whereby Ukraine’s failure to fulfill political conditions is an obstacle to this.

Steinmeier said in particular regarding this: “We have seen lately that security is impossible unless the political process continues. And the political process cannot continue unless there is security. We must work on a rational and parallel implementation of the security and political package.”

His counterpart Ayrault focused on which of the conditions should be fulfilled in order to reach a settlement.

Firstly, he said, it is about guarantees of security. We have already said about the September 1 ceasefire. We must make a joint effort to consolidate this achievement.

Secondly, another political condition is drawing up a Ukrainian law on local Donbas elections and granting this region a special status.

Asked about the sequence of fulfilling the conditions, Ayrault figuratively compared this with building a house. In his words, we are laying the foundation now, which means ceasing fire and disengaging troops this week in three pilot zones.

“The next stage,” he continued, “should be the adoption of laws on local elections in the Donbas and a special status of these regions by the Verkhovna Rada. At the same time, it is necessary to expand these pilot zones, continue and monitor the withdrawal of heavy weapons, make it easier for observers to gain access to the Donbas, and set up advanced OSCE observation bases.

“The third stage is the Verkhovna Rada’s resolution on the election date and completion of the constitutional reform, and passage of the law on amnesty. But, at the same time, troops are being finally disengaged along the whole line of contact, new checkpoints are being set up, hostages are being freed, troops are being finally withdrawn, and full access to the border is allowed. We think it is a progressive and gradually-realizable logic. But the most important stage is the this week which can really give a new impetus to this process.”

The French minister also said there would be an important event this week: a draft agreement on the disengagement of troops in three pilot zones will be signed at a meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk. In Ayrault’s view, this can also help consolidate a stable truce and give a certain hope for a Normandy format summit with participation of President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel, President Poroshenko, and President Putin.

“We expect all the sides to make efforts that will lead to progress in the achievement of these security goals,” Ayrault stressed.

Unfortunately, neither the French nor the German minister even once mentioned Russia which is committing aggression in eastern Ukraine and is responsible for its part of the Minsk Agreements. Steinmeier only said at the press conference: “We brought today a promise from Moscow that a week-long ceasefire would come into force at midnight.”

Not a word was said about how our Western partners will be forcing Russia to implement the Minsk Agreements, so it is unclear how Steinmeier’s phrase “in this process we will not forget about the return of Ukrainian troops to the border with Russia” will be put into practice.

More outspoken in this respect was British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who negotiated with the Ukrainian president and foreign minister late in the evening last Tuesday. “Clearly it’s up to the Russians primarily to make progress on the security side,” he said at a briefing.

This means that, out of the three Western politicians who visited Kyiv last Tuesday, only the British foreign secretary supported the viewpoint Klimkin expressed at the joint press conference – all that is going on in Donbas is the handiwork of Russia.

The Ukrainian foreign minister emphasized that Kyiv regards security as not only an effective ceasefire and a continuing disengagement but, above all, effective 100-percent supervision on the part of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission which must be able to monitor all that is going on along the segment of the Ukrainian-Russian border still out of Ukraine’s control.

“We are all prepared to achieve progress in carrying out the Minsk Agreements. To force Russia to carry them out, we need a clear vision of the sequence of steps and, simultaneously, an implementation guarantee from the Russian side, and only progress in fulfilling this main task is supposed to allow us to meet in the Normandy format on a political level,” Klimkin stressed.

However, the statements and answers of Ayrault and Steinmeier were short of the key point – the Russian side’s guarantee of carrying out the Minsk Agreements. The German minister noted: “I have a small hope based on the fact that we managed to arrange a ceasefire at the beginning of the academic year. This is a fragile and temporary ceasefire, but it still inspires a hope.”

In his words, if both sides observe the truce for more than a week, we will have a true chance that we haven’t had for a long time – to achieve further disengagement, first in the abovementioned three pilot zones.

The overall impression is that, when speaking of progressive logic and their vision of carrying out the Minsk Agreements, neither Steinmeier nor Ayrault want to admit the obvious: there is Russian aggression going on in the Donbas, and it is Putin who stands behind this. With this in view, Klimkin expressed a very simple and clear vision of carrying out the Minsk Agreements when a journalist asked him what he would choose – the status quo in the Donbas or peace without the Donbas. “For me, the logic of the Minsk Agreements is that Russia must leave the Donbas alone. The international community in the person of OSCE should establish control over the Donbas, and we must restore normal life after holding free and fair elections, and I sincerely hope that we will do so with the help of our friends. So I choose peace and a Ukrainian Donbas,” the minister said.

Last Wednesday, visiting Sloviansk and Kramatorsk together with Ayrault and Steinmeier, Klimkin emphasized that deciding on political steps about the Donbas without security guarantees would mean legitimization of the current pro-Russian regimes there.


Mykola KAPITONENKO, executive director, Centre for International Studies, Kyiv:

“The weakest point in the Steinmeier-Ayrault initiative is a critically low level of everybody’s trust in Russia. If the Russians thought better over their decisions, they would have shown concern immediately after the annexation of Crimea over the conditions under which somebody might trust them at least a little. Any theoretical algorithm of conflict settlement calls for a number of steps towards one another, which is only possible if there is minimal trust. But there is none of it today. More than two years of conflict have convinced everybody that the Kremlin is not striving for settlement and wants a controlled escalation or a Transnistrian scenario. It is next to impossible to make concessions (and the political steps offered to Kyiv can only be interpreted as concessions) under these conditions. Our strategy will be shaped by the wish to preserve a multisided format of conflict management and the parameters of a domestic compromise. In my view, we should launch a broad national dialog on the future of the Donbas and the whole complex of relations with Russia and, in particular, we must decide on what we will or will not be prepared to pay for the region’s reintegration. It is only on these grounds that we can build a strong, lasting, and easy-to-understand position. As for the Kremlin, we should demand that it confirm its intentions. Nobody else but Moscow is to blame for undermining regional security, so it will have to prove that settling the Donbas conflict is a sincere aspiration. In the absence of this proof, any actions of Kyiv will look like a show of criminal light-mindedness.”

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