Having climbed on board the bus of constitutional reform and proposed amendments that would make Donetsk and Lugansk ‘inseparable parts of Ukraine’, rebel leaders in Ukraine have now leapt off the bus and are backtracking from their own proposals with remarkable speed. Today, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Aleksandr Zakharchenko, told Life News, ‘I do not envision the DPR being part of Ukraine.’ ‘For me personally, the DPR’s future is as a free, independent state,’ he said, adding that, ‘the blood which our compatriots have shed cannot be forgotten. There can be no talk with Ukraine about any type of autonomy.’
This, of course, completely contradicts the suggestions for constitutional reform put forward by the DPR’s representative to the so-called ‘Contact Group’, Denis Pushilin, which I analyzed in another post yesterday. How can we explain this contradiction? According to Pushilin today, the DPR has no intention of rejoining Ukraine, ‘This would, of course, be for us a form of suicide … nobody intends to go in this direction. But negotiations within the framework of international process is possible and is not excluded.’ In other words, the DPR made its proposals not because it actually wants them to be accepted, or even because it expects Kiev to respond to them, but because ‘international processes’ (i.e. the Minsk agreement of February 2015) require that it propose something. In short, the DPR is going through the motions.
The question is why it bothers to do so. It cannot be because the Ukrainian government is forcing it to, or because the French and German governments (which were largely responsible for the Minsk agreement) are forcing it either. The only possible explanation is that the pressure to at least go through the motions is coming from Moscow. This would mean that the proposed constitutional reforms, which would see the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk acquire ‘special status’ but remain within Ukraine, represent the wishes not of the rebels but of the Russian government.
The recent G7 meeting reiterated demands that Russia abide by the Minsk agreement, suggesting that it was not doing so and threatening additional sanctions if it did not change its behaviour. But if the above is correct, Moscow is actually trying hard to make the rebels conform with that agreement’s requirements, while Kiev is failing to live up to its own obligations by refusing to negotiate the ‘special status’ for Donbass as mandated by Minsk.