The Minsk agreements: All to save the bloody Hetman
Oleg Nemsky, Four Feathers, Feb 26 2015
Oleg Nemsky is a member of the Russian Institute for strategic studies, researcher of the Institute of Slavic studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, & fellow of the Centre for Ukrainian studies and MSU Belorus
After military victories diplomats conclude agreements, such surrender, naturally arise some questions and difficult to hide the confusion. Minsk talks 11-12 February was, in fact, two sides: East and West. As if Russia tried to imagine himself not a party to the conflict, yet the primary responsibility to promote and protect the interests of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass lay on it. Moreover, the position of the East side was very strong: the people’s Republics proved their viability, their Armed forces went on the offensive, and there were many evidences about the criminal actions of the opposite side. And it was clear that the old (September) Minsk agreement was a mistake: its conditions were not implemented, and it has not helped to stop the war. In addition, they provide many months of terrible shelling of the cities of Donbass. An attempt to conclude new agreements, to adopt new measures to stop the war was understandable and justified, but the East side was negotiating with strong cards in their hands.
The result was a signed document, almost point by point matching with the old Minsk and only specifying its conditions. Minsk agreement, all cursed, and indeed they did not give Russia and the people’s republics nothing. But now Moscow announces approval of the “Complex of measures on implementation of the Minsk agreements”, as if the past months have proven their favour. Having the best position in the negotiations, we got nothing. “Complex of measures on implementation of the Minsk agreements” is pretty close to the original text of the Protocol of Sep 5 2014, but implementing it in favour of Ukraine. According to the signed agreement, assumes the complete destruction of the people’s Republics and their Armed forces by the end of 2015. The document insists on enacting the autumn of the law on special order of the local government in some areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which implies the elimination of all organs of the Donetsk and Lugansk national republics. About the law at the time, I wrote that it looked like mockery, but now it was supported by Russia, and the leading countries of the West.
On the tenth paragraph of the “package of measures” should be carried out the disarmament of the Armed forces of Novorossiya (“all illegal groups” – and they are illegal, because the validity of the self-proclaimed republics is never recognized). State border (ninth paragraph) due by the end of the year to be transferred under the full control of Ukraine. It is true, with reservations, that in the supposedly “private areas” should be held local elections according to the Ukrainian laws (in the framework of an uncertain degree of decentralisation of power, for which you will need constitutional reform). Pardon and Amnesty are assumed only for those charges which are connected with the event in some districts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, but will not apply to all political prisoners in Ukraine (and in the last year was, according to some estimates, not just hundreds, but thousands). In the sixth paragraph contains the actual ban on direct deliveries by Russia of humanitarian aid, now she will have to use international mechanisms (of course, with the Kiev participation and control). Never raised a question about the legalization of the status of the Russian language in Ukraine (as a whole), but merely in “some areas” it registered only “the right to linguistic self-determination”, which can mean absolutely anything (i.e. anything Kiev says).
Still the document is signed, in addition to the OSCE representative, by only one official: Russian Ambassador Mikhail Zurabov. The rest of the signatures are delivered on behalf of just three citizens of Ukraine. Neither Alexander Zakharchenko nor Igor Plotnitsky has been designated as representatives of the DND and LNR, nor Leonid Kuchma as the official representative of Kiev, but only as a private person, once the former President. That is, from the point of view of international law, the document does not cost anything, but there is no doubt that Russia, as represented quite officially, will demand his execution. In addition, the Declaration promulgated by heads of States of the “channel four” (four-party talks – RB) speaks of respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. That is, Russia has actually agreed with Ukraine’s sovereignty over the Crimea, as under the Constitution of Ukraine it is its full part. To recognize the territorial integrity “with the exception of certain areas” is impossible. Either you agree with the territorial limits fixed in legislation and international treaties, or not. Here we should add that the Declaration was nepodpisnyh, and therefore legal force has not.
What ultimately were the results for Kiev? First, it received a military respite, and thus saved its army from imminent defeat, and not for the first time. Secondly, it got its refusal to discuss the issue of granting the Donbass Autonomous status, approved at the international level. It also received approval for the elimination of the people’s Republics and the return of Russian border under the control of the Ukrainian border troops after the fulfillment of certain conditions on the reform of local government. Thus, the plan of liquidation of DND and LNR and restoration of full power of Kyiv throughout the old territory of Donetsk and Lugansk regions has been approved by the international community (including Russia), which potentially saves the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian unitary statehood. Here was added immediately after the signing of the Minsk-2 statement, the IMF’s approval of a loan to Kiev to $17.5b, which could save Ukraine from financial ruin, or at least significantly delay it. At the same time, Pindostan decided to take costly measures for military assistance to Ukraine, both with weapons and training of soldiers. Moreover, the conditions on state obligations Of Ukraine in respect of residents of Donbass are actually postponed until the autumn.
In fact, this is a plan for the complete surrender of Donbass by the end of 2015, and approved by Russia. Kiev was able to defend all major negotiating positions and not to have to rethink the benefits of the Minsk 1 agreement. But the military defeat of Kiev and the success of the Armed forces of Novorossia managed to negate all this, for the people’s republics retained the old line of demarcation of forces. You can ask the question: if Russia went to such large concessions to the West,surely the West has made concessions to Russia? However, to find traces of concessions is not possible. What Russia got from Minsk-2 agreements? This is the main question that has no answer. Actually, what did Russia need? Let’s list the most basic:
- Recognition of the people’s Republics as parties to the conflict, the beginning of direct dialogue between them and Kiev (at least it was referred to);
- Question about the federalization of Ukraine;
- Question about raising the status of the Russian language on the territory of Ukraine and some steps in that direction (and wider: Russia needs a guaranteed system of protection of the rights of Russians and Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine);
- Recognition Kiev false allegations of direct military aggression by Russia and guarantees for Ukraine’s refusal direct involvement of Russia into a military conflict (the Declaration of war with Russia);
- Cancellation by Ukraine and West of all types of economic and legal discrimination against Crimean residents;
- Release of political prisoners throughout Ukraine;
- Softening or partial abolition of the sanctions;
- Fixed refusal to supply arms to Ukraine;
- Condemnation of the practice of shelling civilians and the formation of a Commission to identify war criminals responsible for the rocket attacks and torture of prisoners;
- Condemnation of the illegal mobilization of citizens in military time and the use of the military against the civilian population.
And so on, these are the minimum requirements, which should at least be beyond question. Even if they could not be given in closed-door meetings, they least had to appear in public statements. For Russia it is very important to insist on its own terms, its own interpretation of what is happening: that Ukraine is a civil war, that Russia is not a party to the conflict, and that the Armed forces of Ukraine are out to destroy the civilian population. Even if it failed to achieve any real progress on these points, but would have been recorded at least some adopted by Russia wording, it would have been a great victory. But in the end we saw a very ugly situation. Kiev still refuses to sit at the negotiating table with representatives of the national republics, which leads to a fairly complicated combination. The West first explains to the President of Russia what its requirements are for the national republics, and convinces him; then Vladimir Putin forces the representatives of the republics to “compromise”, underlining in the process the degree of their dependence on Moscow. That is, the West uses Putin in order to put pressure on the leaders and representatives from DND and LNR and to get them to agree to things unacceptable for them, which they themselves are then forced to openly say. Moreover, the agreement can hardly be called a compromise, but rather just a surrender, intended to be completed before the end of the year. And what is most surprising: it would seem absurd and certainly humiliating for Russia, yet the scheme works.
Formally, the signature under the “package” was implemented by the people’s Republics, the separatist entities in the regionalist movement, to strengthen the role of local self-government, even without Federal requirements. How real the leadership of the LNR and DND would be according to such a scheme is a rhetorical question, and it is exactly why the militias and the entire populations of the breakaway republics did not welcome the agreement in this form and never will agree with it. The West and Kiev need to understand that actually the “separatists” are not puppets in the hands of the Kremlin. The trust between them and Moscow may be undermined. Thousands of people have taken up arms, from ideological considerations, and have gained considerable military experience,yet they are not the people whose interests can not be considered. Actually, few can compete with them in terms of military action, andthey will be no less dangerous to Moscow than to Kiev. Over the whole situation again arises the question of the future direction of policy of Russia. It is unclear what is actually the purpose of Russia, what is its strategy? However, it is quite clear what Kiev and the West want – they talk about this openly. Yes, it is possible to think that Moscow simply does not reveal his cards. But I’d rather assumed that she herself does not know what she wants. The proof is their policy towards Ukraine throughout all the post-Soviet years, and its current result.
The only thing you can dispute is whether any of this will be fulfilled by Donbass, given their understandable assumption that the entire Minsk plan, all conditions of the Minsk agreement, actually will not be implemented. And that is certainly going to be the case. Moreover, their failure will become evident much faster than with the previous version of the Minsk agreements. First, because of the format. Without the main player, Pindostan, to agree about anything is impossible. Yes, of course, they are constantly called up and consulted, and yet we are dealing with a European initiative aimed against the main line of Pindosi politics. Washington here has other interests, and as long as it is not refused, it will retain a major influence on the situation. With Pindosi assistance, Ukraine is actively preparing for a big and long war, and the Pindosis openly committed themselves both to providing lethal assistance and to sending military trainers. Even if we imagine that Petro Poroshenko tries to enforce even the more favourable conditions of the new Minsk agreement,he still will not succeed for long to play on the West’s contradictions. And he does not control the Armed forces. His main task now is to stay in power.
Again, like last time, Russia is treated as a participant in the conflict, although she does not define herself as such. Hence, the situation again: Russia will be blamed for failure to meet conditions of Minsk-2, and she will explain that she never agreed to enforce the terms, it being not her responsibility. In general we can say that nobody really likes the agreements. It seems, no one seriously believes in their execution. However, they are not just a meaningless piece of paper, they will have consequences. The pen… (is mightier than the sword – RB). In 2014, Russia equally responded to the referendum in the Donbass and the election of the President of Ukraine, not by declaring their recognition, but only by indicating their respect for the will of the people. Now Moscow has clearly defined its position: in its foreign policy, it fully recognizes the legitimacy of the current authorities of Ukraine, and does not consider it necessary to refer to the results of the Donbas referendum, for it does not actually exist. That is, Russia is making a huge step towards negating the will of the Russian population of Ukraine Kiev and openly turn away from supporting the foundations of existence of the people’s republics. If they are not recognised now, it will not be possible to reinstate them later on.
In defense of the agreements, one can hear the claim that “Moscow did not did not surrender, and this is the main result.” But first, it is difficult for me when reading the text of the “set of measures”, to convince myself only on the basis that it is unlikely anyone will carry them out, that this plan for the complete elimination of the people’s Republics and their Armed forces signed by the Ambassador of Russia is not a surrender. Secondly, in any negotiation fundamental importance must be given to the determination of fixed positions. Now, Russia has surrendered all such possible positions. She not insisted on any item of her own interpretations of events and their conditions. The text of the two documents is the basis for all subsequent talks about the situation in the Donbass, and to dismiss it is already impossible. The signed document defines the scope of the next negotiations. The conditions of the old Minsk agreement have not been fulfilled, but the text still refers to them, and moreover, it bases more texts on the previous ones.
Declarations by Russia now maintain only one position: peace at any price. Very convenient, because the most direct and effective way to build peace is to surrender to the mercy of the enemy. We, by the way, already engaged in such surrenders in the second half of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s, and we were proud of our own generosity. But, as we now see, the positive results of such a policy is not worth waiting for. And the game of giveaway with Ukraine can also be costly. Actually, all this conciliatory rhetoric hides only one, in fact, quite small goal: to save Poroshenko. We do not want even more radical forces to come to power. And in this regard, the policy of Russia has a chance to succeed. Whatever his criticism from political opponents, yet for public opinion Poroshenko returned to Kiev if not a winner, at least not a traitor. From their perspective, he won a stunning victory. And the money from the IMF gives him a chance to remain stable for several months.
However, the task of preserving Poroshenko is very controversial. First, he’s still bound to fall pretty soon, and still we will see the appearance of even more frostbitten (fig – extremists – RB) in control of Ukraine. Secondly, the emergence at the head of Ukraine of such characters will be rather only beneficial for Moscow. The best candidate for Russia is Dmitry Jarosz, although Oleg Lyashko would be interesting. However, no matter who, in any case he will not be enough of a gentleman to retain the open support of the West. Thirdly, it is not in Russian interests to delay the situation. Sanctions and oil prices act to strangle our economy, and the longer they last, the more Russia will be weakened. And national spirit has died on that very important point. If people feel falseness of the central government, they have no faith in victory. In addition, this view is often based on the rate that Ukraine is not going anywhere – will still fall apart. This calculation is reasonable and probable, but it is not guaranteed. If Russia will continue to help maintain the stability of the central government and to keep afloat the Ukrainian economy (directly and indirectly, through the creation of conditions for providing loans from the IMF), the chances of Ukraine will be improved. And who will be the first to collapse is another question.
There is another way of reasoning: we need a single (without Crimea) neutral Ukraine, we don’t need chaos at the borders, and the Donbass should play in Ukraine the role of anchors that bind her to the Eurasian space. I would strongly disagree with that logic, which is increasingly playing in our leadership. It is this hope that led the Russian policy towards Ukraine into the position in which it was now. We need to clearly understand that neither a pro-Russian nor a neutral Ukraine is possible, and that the Russophobia of the Ukrainian leadership is not a disease growth, but a deep property, the basis of the entire national project, and on top of the intensity it has already achieved, there will be more.
And most importantly, Russia’s policy must have its moral foundation. Rough Machiavellianism is actually ineffective. It is no coincidence that the West invests any political action in value form, gives it a civilizational justification. It’s not just rhetoric, but the very possibility of action. Yes, we can find moments when a value-based approach of the West makes it a weakness or even a loss in one way or another game. But in general it provides a lot of stability and activity, gives a strong motivation for action and orientation processes, introducing into the orbit of policy society as a whole, from the head of state to the activists of the society of women Cherry street.” By itself, the task of saving Poroshenko presents itself due to the realization that a certain way is configured, but in fact, society will not leave him in power in the event of a default or consent to federalization. Such things are completely driven by the need to reckon with public opinion in Ukraine. If we see Russia on the basis of a rather controversial calculation, which protects the power of a man openly hostile to the Russian population, and helps him to get the multi-billion dollar loan which everyone knows is in large part spent on further military action against that population, then the state line loses the very last faint hint of patriotic loyalty. The state is at odds with patriotism, with the value dimension of policy, and as a result, the state is losing its social base. Collapsing that which provides stability and strength is much stronger than a cunning political situation. Supposing even that the Russians will take it. But the rebels in the Donbass – definitely not.