On Oct 11, 2015, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told his people that Donbass would be reintegrated with Ukraine. On Oct 12, the unrecognized Lugansk People’s Republic put off its local elections from Nov 1, 2015, till Feb 21, 2016. On Oct 9, local elections in the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic were put off till Mar 20, 2016. But that was only part of what Poroshenko wanted. In his address, he insisted on no elections at all.
So, the elections in the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics have been postponed. And what is the next step?
During a press conference after the Normandy Four Summit in Paris, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the elections in Donbass had to comply with the Ukrainian laws based on agreements to be reached by Kiev and the “separatists.” According to French President Francois Hollande, the negotiating parties were unanimous that the law on elections in Donbass had to be coordinated by Kiev and the “separatists” and only then might there be any elections in Donbass. According to Poroshenko, the elections need a special law.
Merkel and Hollande added that the law would be drafted by a special working group, with representatives of the unrecognized republics involved in the work.
Point 4 of Minsk II says: “On the first day after the pullout a 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 Lugansk Oblasts," and also about the future of these districts based on the above-mentioned law.” Hence, the working group will consider “modalities of conducting local elections.” That is, the elections will be conducted only if they comply with certain “modalities.” For Kiev, this means a special law. The law will be drafted by the working group but its final version will be adopted by the Supreme Rada. That is, representatives of Donbass will have nothing to do with it.
Here are the “modalities” for the special law as seen by Kiev:
1. Elections in Donbass will be conducted on condition that the “occupants” (Russian troops or sometimes even self-defenders) pull out their arms from the region. “Freaks with tommy guns cannot take any part in the free life of Donbass,” according to the leader of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc Yuri Lutsenko;
2. The elections must involve Ukrainian parities;
3. “Internally displaced people” (refugees from Donbass) must be allowed to vote;
4. Ukrainian mass media must be allowed to freely cover the elections.
The requirement concerning the “occupants” complies with Point 10 of Minsk II: “Pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under OSCE supervision. Disarmament of all illegal groups.” Today they have no “illegal groups” in Donbass. Instead, they have “people’s militia detachments.”
The second requirement has a specification saying that the elections can involve only parties registered by Ukraine’s Justice Ministry. That is, the parties formed by the Donetsk “separatists” have no chance to run in the race. One more specification is that the elections must be controlled by the Central Election Commission of Ukraine through appointed districts committees.
The term “internally displaced persons” makes it impossible for refugees living now in Russia to take part in the voting. Besides, the “internally displaced persons” will be involved in the Oct 25 local elections in Ukraine. So, if their repeated voting under the special law will be contrary to the “one vote” rule.
For being implemented, the fourth requirement needs much more time than the elections can give it.
At the first glance, Kiev’s “modalities” look to be right but, in reality, they are nothing but mockery as they ignore the opinion of the opposite side.
And, finally, the last bonus Minsk II may offer to Ukraine in case of elections in Donbass: the elections should be monitored by the OSCE and should comply with its standards. If they in Europe decide that the elections were not good enough, they may well declare them void.
But even with all these bonuses in hand, Poroshenko is in a fix. In his last address to his people he said that Russia wanted the conflict to go inside Ukraine. “Some of our politicians want a defeat for their own government,” Poroshenko said. He blamed the politicians urging their government to cede or isolate the “occupied territories.” “Now that the elections have been cancelled, it will be easier for us to reintegrate Donbass with Ukraine through a voting based on our laws and monitored by the OSCE. And here we need the Supreme Rada’s support,” the Ukrainian president said.
But the problem here is that a special law on elections in Donbass may cause a parliamentary and governmental crisis in Ukraine. Only two factions of the Supreme Rada are ready to vote for the law – the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and the People’s Front. But their votes are not enough for Poroshenko to pass the law. So, he will need support from non-partisan or opposition MPs. What is going on now is very much like the situation created in July-Aug, when US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland came to Kiev to help the local authorities to collect votes in support of the constitutional changes concerning decentralization. Then the voting ended in public disorders near the walls of the Supreme Rada.
The voting on the special law is scheduled for Nov. If the Supreme Rada rejects it, the Minsk process will face a stalemate.
This whole story has shown that the Ukrainian nationalists are not sure that they will succeed in Donbass. The role of parties in local elections is not as big as is the role of local activists. So, the Donbass authorities – with the help of Moscow - may well paralyze the Kiev-sponsored elections by nominating their own candidates. And the special law will hardly help here.
The postponement of the elections in Donbass has fueled the doubts that Minsk II will be realized. Let’s see the bottlenecks revealed by the last Normandy Four Summit:
1. The OSCE mission has been given free and full access for its observes all over Ukraine’s “special regions“ up to the border with Russia.
2. The “European partners” have recognized that Kiev has already conducted the constitutional reform stipulated by Minsk II and are satisfied with it – unlike the leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics.
3. No amnesty has been applied to people involved in events in some districts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Amnesty is promised only to candidates and only after the elections. “Those who have committed crimes against humanity” cannot hope for amnesty.
4. The Minsk process has been prolonged till 2016. The last summit has failed to solve the problems of elections and the border with Russia. Now Poroshenko insists on regaining control of the border by the end of this year. But Minsk II says that this process should start on the first day after the local elections. The elections have been postponed. So, now the parties will have room for free interpretations and each will insist on its version.
So, we can say that the Paris Summit has left the parties with lots of unsolved problems. If Poroshenko fails to solve the problem of a special law for elections in Donbass, the conflict will be frozen if no legal framework for its freezing. In fact, both Kiev and Moscow would like to see the Minsk process dragging for as long as possible on condition that the ceasefire is maintained. So, we can see that the war has moved from battlefields onto negotiating tables, with no political solutions available. Time is getting on. Both sides will try to use it and only future will show who will win and who will lose.
For the time being, the elections in Donbass are postponed in exchange for ceasefire. And this is the only achievement of the Paris Summit.