On April 12 2015, for the first time since mid-February, the OSCE registered use of heavy weapons near Donetsk and the village of Shirokino, but, of course, it was unable to say who was the initiator.
What is going on? Can we say that the war in Donbass has been resumed in the same way it was resumed in January, that is, through gradual escalation? True, just a few hours later the German Foreign Ministry said that the situation in the east of Ukraine was calmer than before. They in Berlin believe that today things there are much better than they were in late February. This controversy implies that though in the next few weeks we will not see a new war in Donbass, we can hardly expect stable peace there either.
Or maybe the renewed shootings in Donbass meant just a warning before the Apr 13 Normandy Format foreign ministers’ meeting in Berlin? It might have been an attempt on Ukraine’s part to convince the foreign ministers to send international peacekeepers to Donbass. They in Kiev are seeking to show that the OSCE is unable to ensure continuous ceasefire and that Donbass needs international peacekeepers. The key goal the Berlin meeting is to see if the Minsk agreements are being implemented. Both Russia and Ukraine insist that they are not.
Last week Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged the EU to pay more attention to regular ceasefire regime violations in Donbass and to consider international peacekeeping as a way to attain real de-escalation in the region. In mid-March Ukraine’s Supreme Rada approved Poroshenko’s address to the UN Security Council and the EU Council to send peacekeepers to Donbass. Even though this looks more like propaganda, Kiev is already taking real steps to make this a reality.
Last week, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told Novaya Gazeta than peacekeeping in Donbass would benefit Russia. He is sure that the Russians should be “awfully interested” in this. Klimkin gave the example of the Balkans. But this does not seem to be very appropriate as eventually peacekeeping in Bosnia was aimed against one of the conflicting parties.
The only point Russia shares with the other parties to the Normandy Four is that it is necessary to reinforce the OSCE mission in the east of Ukraine. The Russians do not want to see NATO peacekeepers in Donbass as this would mean loss of control over the region. The Ukrainians, in their turn, do not want to see Russian peacekeepers in the region.
One more point of principle is the border or, to be more specific, the lines of supply.
On April 7, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that he saw no sense in discussing international peacekeeping in the east of Ukraine in the absence of the “people’s republics” and added that Russia was ready to give an ear to Ukraine’s proposals on the matter. But on April 11, before the Berlin meeting, Speaker of the National Assembly of the Donetsk People’s Republic Andrey Purgin made quite an ambiguous statement: “Let Ukraine ask for peacekeeping whoever it likes. This will happen only by the decision of the Security Council. We strongly object to this. International peacekeepers come for a while and stay forever.” The phrase “only by the decision of the Security Council” may mean that Russia is ready to discuss this possibility, and if proving good for peace in Donbass, it may well become a reality. It also seems that the Russians may accept international peacekeeping but only provided that it is sent by the UN rather than the OSCE. It may well be a decisive factor for the Russians if the peacekeeping mission – should it be deployed in Ukraine – represents neutral countries from other continents.
In the meantime, Ukraine is actively cooperating with NATO. Last week the country’s President Petro Poroshenko told US Senator Rob Portman that Ukraine expected the US to help it to make the other conflicting party comply with the Minsk agreements.
On April 8, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that Ukraine and NATO had signed agreements concerning military-technical reconnaissance cooperation in the framework of the NATO Partnership for Peace program.
The Ukrainian authorities are also developing a NATO-oriented concept of national security. On April 9, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov presented a national security strategy defining NATO membership as the only guarantee of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ukraine regards European and Euro-Atlantic integration as the key priority of its foreign and domestic policies.
The priority in this concept is given to the United States as “a strategic ally”, with the UK and Poland termed as “privileged partners.”
The other privileged partners are Canada, Australia, Japan, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, Romania, Moldova and Georgia.
France and Germany are just partners. China is partner only in security and economy.
Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are not in the list just like Azerbaijan and Turkey. One more neglected country is EU and NATO member, Hungary. Even more, the Hungarians are listed among potential enemies. Thus, Ukraine has different approaches not only to neighbors but also to EU and NATO members. Ukraine has one strategic ally, the United States, one historical friend, Poland, one enemy, Russia, and potential enemies, Belarus, Hungary and Turkey.
In economy, Ukraine continued attempts to solve its energy problems. The Ukrainians still have no alternative to gas from Russia or from Central Asia via Russia. For the time being there are no pipelines that can pump Central Asian gas bypassing the Russian territory, while Turkey has made it clear that it will not let gas carriers pass its straits. The point is that the Turks prefer using the pipelines they already have in their territory.
However, given its conflict with Ukraine and the important gas transit status of that country for Europe, the Russians are unable to use their monopoly. Even more, they are forced to make concessions. Recently Russian President Vladimir Putin accepted Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller’s initiative not to fine Ukraine for having failed to take as much gas as it asked for. Putin said that Russia had never used and was not going to use economic ties for solving non-economic problems.
Last week Gazprom renounced its basic “take or pay” rule with respect to Ukraine. Though announced as temporary, this measure may well become regular. Following political motives and based on the EU’s support, Ukraine has managed to force Gazprom to change the contract.
In 2014, Russian gas supplies to Ukraine slumped to 14bn c m. According to the contract signed in 2010, Russia should supply Ukraine with 52bn c m a year, with 80% or 41.6bn c m being a quantity Ukraine is obliged to take and to pay for. Today Naftogaz has no money to pay for the rest. The company needs almost $1.5bn for buying some 6bn c m. Gazprom sees no sense in making its price higher than the price of the gas re-exported to Ukraine by Europe as Ukraine is openly defaulting on its obligations.
On April 1, Ukraine and Gazprom signed a new deal for supplies in Q2 2015. The price in the new contract is $247.18 per 1,000 c m – a few dollars less than the price Ukraine would pay for re-exported gas from Europe. In Q1 2015, the country paid $329. Now the Ukrainians wish to make the new price continuous. On Apr 10, Naftofaz CEO Andriy Kobolev said that Ukraine hoped for a 12-month deal and relied on the European Commission’s help in the matter.
Thus, Ukraine’s last political moves have proved that tension between Russia and Ukraine is ebbing. On the other hand, some recently adopted Ukrainian laws have shown that the conflicting is deepening. So, this seems to be a bidirectional process – a sign that the nationalist regime in Kyiv is consolidating and is getting increasingly unresponsive to opposite views. In fact, they are going to replace opposition with state of emergency.
On April 9, Ukraine’s Supreme Rada adopted “a historic decision.” The Ukrainian MPs approved a law on the legal status of fighters for Ukraine’s independence in the 20th century – a law that has recognized nationalist organizations, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, as “fighters for Ukraine’s independence in the 20th century” and has granted former Banderites social guarantees on an equal basis with veterans of the Great Patriotic war. The law says that the fight for Ukraine’s independence lasted from 1917 till 1991 and ended in the country’s independence on Aug 24 1991, when the Supreme Rada adopted an act confirmed by a nationwide referendum on Dec 1 1991.
The Supreme Rada has also approved a law condemning Communist and National-Socialist (Nazi) totalitarian regimes in Ukraine and banning propaganda of their symbols. The law has recognized the Communist regime ruling in Ukraine in 1917-1991 as criminal and anti-national. The banned symbols are the flags, anthems and other symbols of the USSR, Ukrainian SSR and other Soviet republics, their elements, like hammer and sickle, all monuments to Communist leaders and even the names of districts and towns based on their names or nicknames.
Before the 70th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, the Supreme Rada approved a bill immortalizing the victory over Nazism during World War II of 19139-1945, cancelling the term “Great Patriotic War” and changing the holiday from May 9 to May 8.
This new ideological legislation is provocative and can make the crisis of identity in Ukraine even deeper.
On top of that, following the promise given by Poroshenko after the Minsk-2, the Supreme Rada adopted a law on martial law allowing alienating any private property in Ukraine for the needs of defense. This law gives Poroshenko almost unlimited powers to redistribute property - one more factor that may deepen civil war in Ukraine.
Thus, on the one hand, last week the Ukrainian authorities gave start to constitutional reforms, but, on the other, they fixed a legal framework for state of emergency. These controversial initiatives prove that today Ukraine is facing a neither war nor peace reality but is not going to dissolve its army. And this results in constantly growing tension.