Holding Kiev to account

From the start of the crisis in Ukraine, I have regularly pointed out that it is not all Russia’s fault. My purpose has not been to deny all Russian responsibility – Russia does share the blame for what has happened – but merely to point out that others are to blame too, most notably those who currently govern Ukraine. The talks last week in Paris between the so-called ‘Normandy Four’ (Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France) indicate that the West, or at least part of it, is beginning to realize this.

In the past few weeks, the main roadblock to the implementation of the Minsk-2 peace settlement has been proposed local elections in Donbass. Kiev has been insisting that such elections be held on 25 October in accordance with Ukrainian law. The rebels in Donbass had announced that they would hold elections on different dates and under their own laws. If the rebels had agreed to the Ukrainian demand, it would have amounted to something close to surrender. If they went ahead with their own plan, it would be a major step on the way towards forming independent states, and would constitute a formal break with Minsk-2.

In Paris, the Normandy Four agreed to a compromise, referred to as the ‘Morel plan’ after Pierre Morel, the French diplomat who proposed it. The rebel Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (LPR & LPR) would cancel their own elections and instead hold elections under Ukrainian law, but not until 2016 after Ukraine has brought in a new electoral law, which is to be drawn up in consultation with the rebel leaders, and after Ukraine has legislated an amnesty for the rebels, so that they can stand as candidates in these elections. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin promised to ask the rebels to cancel their elections, and today the DPR and LPR announced that they would indeed postpone them until the new year, on condition that the Ukrainian government provides the promised amnesty, enters into negotiation with them about a new electoral law, and grants Donbass ‘special status’ in the Ukrainian constitution.

By asking the rebels to cancel their elections, Putin has shown yet again that he is not interested in annexing Donbass or in seeing the DPR and LPR become semi-independent states like Abkhazia or South Ossetia. Rather, Russia remains committed to making Minsk-2 work, and that means re-integrating Donbass into Ukraine. But, it is equally clear that the Russian government believes that the only way that this can be done is by direct negotiation between Kiev and the DPR/LPR, leading to a constitutional ‘special status’ and to new electoral laws which the latter find acceptable. According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

Besides the timing of local elections, of key importance are issues such as guaranteeing the special status of Donbass … And, according to the agreement, this special status will be guaranteed permanently, not for a year, not for two, not for three. This is written in black and white in the Minsk agreements. … All this work [to change the constitution and carry out elections] must be agreed with the particular regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, that is to say with the current leaders of Donbass.

Lavrov is on solid ground here. Contrary to what Kiev claims, the Minsk-2 agreement did not actually state that Donbass had to hold local elections on a specified date under Ukrainian law, merely that ‘dialogue is to start on modalities of conducting local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian legislation and the Law of Ukraine “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts,” and also about the future of these districts based on the above-mentioned law.’ The agreement also says that, ‘questions related to local elections will be discussed and agreed upon with representatives of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group.’

No such ‘dialogue’ has taken place, nor have the elections been ‘discussed and agreed upon with representatives of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts’, for the simple reason that Kiev refuses to recognise the rebel leaders as being the ‘representatives’ in question. By insisting that the local elections are dependent upon Kiev engaging in dialogue with the DPR and LPR, the French and Germans are doing nothing more than demanding that the Ukrainian government carry out its obligations under the Minsk-2 agreement.

This is not popular in Kiev. According to Deutsche Welle, ‘In Ukraine, the “Morel Plan” is seen as an ultimatum.’ As a Ukrainian source told the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaia Gazeta:

They [France and Germany] are demanding that we do not prosecute them [the rebels], that we allow them to participate in elections, that is to say that we recognize that the leaders of the DPR and LPR represent the people of Donbass, and that we must speak with them, and not with Russia. This is a complicated and dangerous moment. Russia is achieving what it wanted – Ukrainian recognition of the DPR and LPR.

If this attitude prevails, and Kiev continues to refuse to speak to the rebels, it will be in clear breach of last week’s agreement, and there will be no progress towards a final peace settlement. This is not inevitable, but at present it looks likely. As Leonid Bershidsky writes, ‘It’s almost politically impossible for [Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko] to push a Moscow-approved election bill through Ukraine’s parliament.’

Indeed, Poroshenko is already backtracking on the commitments he gave in Paris. There was no Morel Plan, he told Ukrainian television, just ‘some proposals, some of which can be taken into consideration, and others of which certainly not.’ Local elections in Donbass, he added, could only take place when there were guarantees of security, in other words after ‘the withdrawal of all foreign forces, volunteers, arms, and equipment.’ Since the Ukrainian government considers most of the rebels’ forces and their weapons to be ‘foreign’, this pretty much rules out any elections until such time as the rebels have disarmed.

What will France and Germany do if Kiev doesn’t fulfil its side of the bargain? Will they finally hold the Ukrainian authorities to account? In the past, when they have felt that Moscow wasn’t fulfilling its obligations, they have taken a tough line. In the interests of peace, they now need to take an equally tough line with Kiev.

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15 thoughts on “Holding Kiev to account”

  1. “By asking the rebels to cancel their elections, Putin has shown yet again that he is not interested in annexing Donbass or in seeing the DPR and LPR become semi-independent states like Abkhazia or South Ossetia.”

    But all the western leaders will see is “Putin controls the rebels! This is proof that the plot was hatched in the Kremlin!”

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    1. Meanwhile, Russian nationalists agree with the `Putin controls the rebels’ theme and see the whole thing as proof yet again that Putin and his puppets are preparing to throw Donbass under the bus (for what must now be about the 50th time).

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  2. and it also shows that the west and their puppets in the eu and kiev hold no aces.
    if this is indeed true, then dpr and lpr may get their wish to be independent and putin is their patron.
    well played.

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    1. One explanation of Russian behaviour may be that Putin fully expects that Kiev won’t do what it has promised, and so there is little to lose by agreeing to this compromise. Kiev will look bad while Moscow won’t have to hand the rebels back into Ukrainian control. I’m not convinced by that explanation, however: a) it’s risky – if that really is the plan, what if Kiev calls Moscow’s bluff?, and b) I actually think Moscow would prefer that Kiev did follow through, as that would then allow Russia to rid itself of the problem in a manner which would look as if it has extracted serious concessions from Kiev and so end the conflict with honour.

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      1. Further to my last, the logic I describe might not be what Moscow is thinking, but it might be what LPR/DPR leaders are thinking – no harm in making concessions about the elections, as Kiev won’t do its bit, and sooner or later we can go back to our plans.

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      2. Maybe both are true.
        That way the Kremlin avoids losing in both scenarios (cooperative or uncooperative Kiev).

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  3. In general, a pov. that Donbass and Russian leadership share is that Kiev makes it very easy for them to be seen as acting more in good faith then they do. Both regard this as a structural weakness causes by the illegitmacy of the Kiev goverment, and both have absolutly no issues capitalizing on it, especially since this is a way to make Kiev not only illegitimate domestically but eventually also internationally.

    Apart from that, I do think that time is on the side of Donbass and Russia. The Oligarch-Nationalist-Western_Curator alliance in Kiev will not hold indefinitly. All three have different goals, and you even have significant fractures (between different Oligarchs, between different nationalist organizations, and between EU and US curators) within each individual subgrouping.

    Donbass and Russia meanwhile at least agree on what they dont want.

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  4. The extreme right wing in western Urkraine can’t live with Minsk 2, nor can Nuland et al in the US State Department, especially in light of Russia’s demarche in Syria. And the EU is being crushed in between no matter what happens. All the EU’s options are traumatic: settle refugees caused by US fomented chaos and endure the blowback of counter-trade sanctions imposed by Russia or break with the US and NATO. Film at 11.

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  5. Recognising the legitimacy of a “separatist” political institution that was manufactured by the Russian security services is profane, insulting, and entirely unjust.

    However, as you argue quite strongly, it is pretty much the only path to keeping a lasting peace–a peace that is essential for Ukraine’s success in the long term.

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    1. Seriously, if you just tabulate what Kiev is demanding of the South East, the big surprise is that the rebellion isnt larger.

      The South East would have to accept:
      -Forced deindustrialization via the EU agreement
      -De facto loss of their votes. If their votes cease to matter whenever some Maidan throws a tantrum, then they have a right to express their desires in other ways.
      -Sending de facto hostages to Kiev, as opposed to parlamentarians
      -Accept the appointment of hostile Oligarchs as direct governors (thus effectively ending meaningfull seperation of powers). This also showed that any “Anti Corruption Maidan” was a complete lie because the Oligarchiate is correctly seen as the source of much corruption in Ukraine.
      -Suffer a massive purge of those who sympathize with them from the army
      -Tolerate the establishment of a parallel army explictly designed to crush and subjugate them
      -Accept a complete rewriting of Ukrainian history, including the explicit vilification of their ancestors, and the beatification of some of WW2s worst scum.
      -Accept that their political enemies can run roughshod over the Ukrainian consitution, or the Ukrainian declarations of state sovereignity and and independence, whenever they like, while they have to obey to every stupid law their political enemies come up with or be labeled treasonous terrorists.
      -Accept that Seperatism, as in declaring indepence from a legitimate goverment, is legal and just when their enemies do it, but their lesser seperatism (declaring independence from an illigetimate goverment) is terrorism.

      Western influence caused some, but not all this.
      Ukrainian Nationalists, who never were particularly reconcilable to being with, thought that with Western backing, they can seize everything once and for all, completely destabilizing the situation. Such maximalist positions are btw. a typcial outcome of foreign great power intervention into a nation internal affiars.
      They were wrong because the West isnt the only great power actor.

      Civil Wars have been started over much much less. Donbas would have to be exclusively populated by Mahatma Gandis and Mother Theresas to not rebel.

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  6. I was listening to Stephen Cohen interview on The Nation website yesterday. I wasn’t listening too carefully, but I believe he said that it’s simply impossible for Poroshenko to implement Minsk, and his most likely next move will have to be a provocation of some sort, that will end the Minsk-2 process.

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