What’s next for Minsk agreement?

Ukraine unveils draft changes to Constitution and on the other hand Zakharchenko says local elections in DPR Donetsk People’s Republic will take place on Oct. 18. If we add to this the continuing skirmishes it seems that we are far away from implementing Minsk, both militarily and politically, aren’t we? Read few comments.

Gwendolyn Sasse, Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford University

After repeated ceasefire violations, now the political content of the Minsk agreement is coming under pressure too. On the one hand, the leaders of the separatist territories in Donetsk and Luhansk are planning to hold local elections in October regardless of Kyiv’s actions; on the other hand, President Poroshenko’s first summary of the draft law on decentralization yesterday ruled out both regional autonomy based on elected governors for the whole of Ukraine and a special status for the east. Thus, both sides have gone against the spirit of the politically vague Minsk agreement that foresaw local elections within the overall Ukrainian state structure and the possibility of a special status for parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This will complicate a return to the negotiation table.

Not giving parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions a special status is a sound choice in view of maintaining the state’s integrity, but the alternative should have been allowing for greater autonomy for all of Ukraine’s regions through regionally elected rather than centrally appointed governors.

Orysia LutsevychManager, Ukraine Forum, Chatham House

From the very beginning Minsk II was a questionable agreement from the point of implementation. Most key points of this agreement were violated by the Russia-backer separatists. Exchange of prisoners, withdrawal of heavy weaponry, continued battles around Shyrokino and near Mariupol, demonstrate unwillingness to maintain seize fire and find solution for any sustainable peace.

If local elections on the occupied territories will take place in October outside of Ukrainian legislative framework, they will be the last nail in the coffin of this document. They will not be recognized by the international community and by Kyiv. This means continued strategy pursued by the Kremlin to create unrecognized state in order to destabilize Ukraine and turn it into a failed state.

Susan Stewart, Deputy Head, Eastern Europe and Eurasia Division, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik – German Institute for International and Security Affairs

I think it has been clear for a while now that the implementation of Minsk is unlikely to go any further than it has already. My original hope was that at least in the areas of the ceasefire and the pullback of heavy weapons there could be substantial progress. There was indeed some progress, but it has been very limited and there has been a lack of transparency on both sides. Also, Russia has clearly continued to support the separatists militarily and materially, thus undermining the chances of the Minsk agreement. As for further elements of it, such as holding elections in the occupied territories and working toward an acceptable level of autonomy for them, it always seemed unlikely that consensus could be reached. Kyiv is unwilling to have direct negotiations with the separatists, and they have put forth demands which Kyiv cannot accept, regarding both the elections and the question of autonomy. In theory it would be possible to address these issues within the context of the working groups under the auspices of the OSCE-mediated Contact Group. However, these working groups have been extremely slow to start their deliberations and have accomplished almost nothing so far, so it does not appear that sufficient motivation to address difficult questions like elections or autonomy within the working group framework will be present any time soon. Not to mention that the transition from Heidi Tagliavini to Martin Sajdik will require all the actors involved to get used to a new constellation within the Contact Group. All in all a very pessimistic prognosis for the future of the Minsk documents.

Alexander Clarkson, Lecturer in German and European & International Studies, King’s College London

At the moment we have a clear sense about the motives of the Ukrainian side. With the Constitutional reform moves Poroshenko wants to be seen by his US and EU partners to be doing something towards fulfilling the Minsk Accords without giving anything of substance away to Moscow. The constitutional declaration on decentralization is also directed towards a domestic audience, which wants to see more concrete action at a time at which the Yatseniuk government is running into predictable reform difficulties.

On the DPR side, Zakharchenko’s move seems to have been done purely in reaction to the Ukrainian declarations. Again this is a way of pretending to fulfil Minsk in order to keep Kyiv under pressure while in reality cementing the division between the parts of Donbass held by Moscow and its various local allies and those parts under Ukrainian government control. A sham local election process that remains under the control of Zakharchenko and his Kremlin backers is also a means with which to discipline and reward DPR supporters in smaller towns and Donetsk districts, who can either be punished by being excluded from the process or rewarded with ‘election’ to paid local positions. Another step to aligning Kremlin-controlled Donbass with the way things are done in Russia itself.

Finally, what seems to be driving the skirmishes from both sides is difficult to read, and shows the limits of our knowledge of what is driving events on the ground. Contrary to its repeated assertions of being innocent of any robust action, evidence is stacking up that the Ukrainian military has no qualms of violating the ceasefire at the drop of a hat if it sees the tactical need to take small probes or use heavy weapons. Yet the really difficult signals to read are from the DPR side. The botched attack on Marinka indicates that there are many pro-Russians and Russian fighters who want to kickstart an offensive. Yet the failure of this attack and the lack of any effort by Russian GRU or regular forces to reinforce and follow through after the attack came under tough Ukrainian counter-attacks indicates that elsewhere among pro-Russian and Russian military commanders enthusiasm for a further escalation is limiter. The withdrawal of pro-Russian and Russian militiamen from Shyrokyne yesterday also indicates that the Ukrainian side may not be as weak and the Russian side not nearly as strong and committed to the cause as so many commentators assume. At the very least the events in Shyrokyne have strengthened the influence of the controversial Azov regiment, the only Ukrainian radical nationalist volunteer unit that has done a serious job of adopting professional (in some cases even elite) military standards while still maintaining an active ideological press and PR operation.

What this says about the Kremlin’s thinking at the moment is unclear. Perhaps the Kremlin leadership is a clueless about what to do next as everyone else.

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