As of last week, the Minsk process was still in a stalemate, with no real solutions to the Donbass conflict available. The Minsk agreements were designed as an analogue to the Dayton Agreement for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1992-1995, the sides to the Bosnian civil war managed to form an autonomous state, but the sides to the Donbass conflict are not yet able to come to terms. The Ukrainians are doing nothing to meet their obligations, and one of the reasons is that their supporters, the US and the EU, want the Russian leaderdship led by Vladimir Putin to lose this war.
The only prerequisite for peace in Donbass would be the rout of the Ukrainian army, but that army has not been knocked out. This situation resembles Peter the Great’s Battle of Narva, when instead of finishing off the enemy and imposing peace on him, the Swedish king went to fight in Poland. Today, our conventional Charles XII has gone to fight in Syria and has given his enemy time to recover. For the Kiev regime, the Minsk process is a good chance to restore its army. During his last press-conference on June 3, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that Ukraine has enough resources for stopping any Russian attack. What this actually means is that Poroshenko does not believe that the Russians will attack him as the Minsk agreements have proved to be a good deterrent for them.
There is one important nuance here: point 2 of Minsk 2 stipulates withdrawal of troops from the contact line, but it does not say that this will be possible only when the Ukrainians stop its “anti-terrorist operation.” But the problem is that the Ukrainians are not inclined to do it as the war is developing to their advantage. It seems that Minsk 2 is just a cover for Poroshenko and his allies to prepare some political countermeasures.
Here, time is playing into the Ukrainians’ hands.
It was a big mistake on the Russians’ part to accept any changes to the Minsk agreements. During the Normandy Four meeting in Nov 2015, President Putin agreed that the elections in Donbass should be held before the constitutional reforms in Ukraine. As a result, they in the West ceased to mention constitutional changes and autonomy as a priority and are now focused on elections in Donbass and the need for Russia to return control over the Ukrainian border. Recently, Reuters mentioned these two points as the key prerequisites for restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and industry and for reconsidering the western sanctions against Russia.
Once the Russians yielded, the Ukrainians and their allies began laying additional terms. One of them is the need to deploy an OSCE “police mission” in the conflict zone. For Poroshenko, this is a guarantee of restored Ukrainian sovereignty in some areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
The example of the Bosnian war shows that such missions may result in international provocations, and if this happens in Donbass, Russia may suffer even tougher sanctions, while Donbass may even face NATO’s “humanitarian bombardments.”
Now Russia has supported the idea to form a number of security zones on the contact line, where the OSCE may send its armed observers. This is a concession - no matter how much symbolic it may seem. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said recently that Russia is ready to support the plan to form a group of OSCE observers, who will help police to ensure security during the elections in Donbass. So, Lavrov has de facto supported the idea of a police mission, and now the EU and Ukraine may appear with a demand for enlarged powers for that mission. Thus, step by step and concession by concession, Poroshenko is coming closer to his goal to establish international armed control all over Donbass.
The problem is that the Russians trust their “partners” too much instead of regarding them as enemies. In fact, they lack consistency in their relations with the West. Their Byzantine approach is based on self-deception or misinformation. In his recent interview to Komsomolskaya Pravda, Lavrov said that it would be counterproductive to break the Minsk agreements as this would give the West a pretext to go back on its current policy of soft pressure on Kiev. “They are pressuring Kiev. They are trying not to make this public, but when they contact with the Ukrainians tete-a-tete, they are tough and insist that they do all that is stipulated by the agreements.” So, what is actually going on? Are the western sovereigns exerting soft pressure on their Ukrainian puppets or are they tough on them? In his last interview to Vesti v subbotu, Lavrov said that the Americans are increasing their pressure on the Kiev authorities so they meet their Minsk obligations concerning Ukraine.
But Lavrov’s words are in conflict with existing facts. Last Friday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman told Reuters that very soon Ukraine will resume its contacts with the IMF, which means that the Ukrainians may get one more loan from that organization. One more fact is that last week Poroshenko signed a deal for receiving credit guarantees worth $1bn from the United States. He also expects to get $500mn from the WB for buying gas in Europe.
One more characteristic example: on June 3, Angela Merkel told her party that the EU will lift its sanctions only if Russia implements the Minsk agreements. She did not mention any pressure on Ukraine. What she was talking about was ceasefire and elections in Donbass. She also said that Ukraine must regain full control of its border. She termed the conflict in Donbass as a civil war fueled by Russia. Merkel did not say anything about federal Ukraine and its non-allied status.
But she had one sugar candy for the Russians: "I hope that Russia would increasingly develop ties with the European economic area, finally resulting in a common economic area from Lisbon to Vladivostok," she said. If you remember, common economic area from Lisbon to Vladivostok was Russia’s official strategy before its geo-political conflict with the EU.
One important point here is that when talking about the common economic area, Merkel meant Russia rather than the Eurasian Union.
But shortly after Merkel’s statement, they in Germany pointed out that in their new strategy Russia appears as Europe’s rival and a threat to its security. So, Europe’s policy on Russia will still be based on a combination of restraints and stimuli. And Merkel’s last statement was a vivid example of this.
So, what can we expect from Minsk 2? If Lavrov is right and the West is actually pressuring Poroshenko to implement the agreements, we may very soon see the Supreme Rada adopting a law on elections in Donbass. This is quite possible considering the ability of the new Ukrainian coalition to quickly pass pro-western laws. The last voting on legal reforms have shown that Yatsenyuk’s removal has made Poroshenko much stronger. Victoria Nuland’s hope that the law will be adopted in May has not come true. But the new deadline is mid-June. If the Supreme Rada fails to adopt the law by that time, we will have to admit that the West’s pressure is a fake and that Lavrov is mistaken.
If the Supreme Rada refuses to adopt the law on elections in Donbass, the Russians will have no more diplomatic solutions except just ceding the region and losing face. But even if the conflict is settled, the Russians will have no guarantees for peace and security on their southern boundaries as they still have the problem of Crimea.
So, we have just to wait and see what the Russia-EU sanctions talks will end in (the Russians are really eager to see the Europeans lifting at least some of their sanctions) and what the Ukrainians will prefer: to approve the law on elections in Donbass or to yield to the West’s faked pressure and to continue the debates on a peacekeeping operation in the conflict zone. The Russians have no solutions here. All they want is to avoid confrontation, but this makes things even worse.