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Negotiations on Donbass on the right track

Kurt Volker, U.S. Department of State Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, CIA analyst, U.S. ambassador to NATO, lobbyist and executive director of Arizona State University's McCain Institute for International Leadership is either poor negotiator or his sharp and offensive shifts from “support” to “betrayal” are intended to show Kiev that it has no place at the real negotiating table.

Kiev has nothing to do but play into the hands of Volker, probably, as agreed with the patron, but as roughly as if it was self-activity. Thus, on November 3, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko called on rocketeers and artillerists to be ready to return to the demarcation line in Donbass at any moment, “should the need arise.” These statements and the intensive artillery shelling and rocket-firing at Donbass on November 5-6 once again showed that Kiev regularly breaches the ceasefire for political reasons.

On November 4, President’s Representative in the Supreme Rada Irina Lutsenko said the scandalous bill on “reintegration of Donbass” that declares Russia an aggressor may be submitted for the second reading “at the end of the second plenary week” i.e. on October 16- November 17, immediately after Kurt Volker’s meeting with Russian President’s Aide Vladislav Surkov in Belgrade on November 13 is over and its results are implemented (by Washington, not Kiev). This is what can be called “peasant blackmail”!

By the way, the Kremlin has highlighted that if adopted as currently worded, the bill on “reintegration” will break the Minsk Process. At the same time, the Kremlin does not reveal its possible actions in the case the bill is signed into the law. A voiced threat is no longer a threat, but a detail of political landscape.

In short, one should not overestimate the diplomatic skills of the U.S. Department of State Special Representative who is used to distort facts, such as Russia allegedly submits its own draft resolution on peacemakers to “freeze” the conflict in Donbass. A diplomat should know that deployment of peacemakers on the engagement line always freezes the military phase of a conflict and paves the way to political settlement.

While President of Russia Vladimir Putin openly hinted that Russia is ready to wait until the current or future leadership in Kiev stops sabotaging the Minsk Process, Kurt Volker said he has set a goal to have the UN SC Resolution on Peacemakers passed until the New Year. Setting deadlines for oneself is not the best step in diplomacy. Perhaps, Volker had to disclose part of his leadership’s “business plan.”

Volker apparently makes precarious statements and demands to reserve a place for “concessions.” In this light, Aleksey Pushkov, Head of the Council of Federation Commission for Information Policy, said in a tweet: “Paradox: Volker is more and more like the U.S. special representative for undermining the Ukrainian crisis management, not as a special representative for managing it.”

Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Ryabkov has also commented on Volker’s behavior saying: “The way the American side behaves now with regards to the Minsk Agreements shows that they cannot have any neutral, reasonable or sober approach.”

It appears that they have made conclusions and at the Department of State press briefing on November 4, Kurt Volker finally started speaking to the point. He did not just “axe” the Ukrainian draft resolution with peacemakers to be deployed “not where it is fired, but where they want” on the Russian-Ukrainian border (LDPR), but also told about the last meeting with Vladislav Surkov on October 7, saying: “I got a much better understanding of what some of the Russian concerns are and what some of the ones they’re not as concerned about…. It gave us a perspective on how to develop this idea further.”

It became clear how to develop the idea further already on the next day after the meeting. Surkov came out with a statement saying, “the Russian draft UNSC resolution on Donbass was discussed. We have reached mutual understanding on a number of issues. Most of the revealed discrepancies can be overcome.”

Unlike Volker, in Surkov’s statements the important thing is what “he did not tell about.”

Surkov did not say whether they discussed Kiev’s draft resolution, which means that they did not discuss it. On November 4, Volker just confirmed that fact.

This is what caused hysteria among Ukraine’s leadership. Under the pretext of evident anti-Russian rhetoric, Volker actually accepted the Russian viewpoint.

At Valdai International Discussion Club on October 19, Putin explained what Volker meant speaking of Russia’s concerns. He said that Kiev’s demands before settlement of political issues, including Donbass’ special status and amnesty, may result in a “situation equivalent to Srebrenica.” “They will just make a massacre there, we cannot and will never let it happen,” Putin warned.

(The “Genocide in Srebrenica” is a disputable issue, since the fighters who died with arms in their hands in the very enclave and during the attempt to break into Tuzla and even those who were killed earlier are called victims of the “massacre,” whereas more than two thousand people that yielded themselves prisoner in Srebrenica and Zepa were handed over to the Bosnian side safe and sound. Meantime, names of the Serbian villages destroyed by attacks from Srebrenica are not known to Westerners, whereas the name of the town that was defended by murderers of two thousand peaceful Serbs has turned into a well-known mythologeme.)

One should not think that Surkov has “outplayed” Volker, but it is evident that Russia has persuaded U.S. in the following:

A) The Russian draft meets the Minsk Agreements approved by the UN Security Council Resolution No.2202 dated February 17, 2015, whereas the Ukrainian draft doesn’t meet it;

B) Any steps or sequence of steps violating Minsk-2 and UNSC Resolution will mean termination of both the documents. If anyone has set such goal to himself, he is free to do it, but Russia will not get involved in it;

C) Ukraine’s draft rules out any concessions, unlike the Russian one (that implies potential concessions and remains within Minsk-2 at the same time).

At present, mostly due to Kurt Volker’s talks about his vision of the peacemaking format, two possible scenarios of “concessions” are being discussed.

With a helping hand from Ukrainian political scientists, Russia will agree on deployment of peacemaker in the entire territory of LDPR (i.e. on control of the Russian-Ukrainian border), but will get its allies involved into the peacemaking groups.

Such scenario seems unlikely. First, the only allies of Russia are its army and navy. Even not its CSTO “allies” that have been holding “peacekeeping” drills under aegis of U.S. for many years and even in the formats (three-month training programs on NATO standards) far from just team training. Yet, contingents from CSTO countries are better than Belgian peacemakers in Rwanda or Nepalese ones in Serbian Krajina. Therefore, Russia will be working on this as well.

Second, deployment of UN peacemaking contingent with independent mandate into the territory of LDPR is not provided for by the Minsk Agreements. Their deployment on the border runs contrary to the peacemaking process - disengagement of the conflicting sides as such. Their deployment on the Russian-Ukrainian border would mean recognizing Russia as a side to the conflict.

Third, operation of any armed forces in the UN peacemakers’ responsibility area is inadmissible. At the same time, disarmament of People’s Militia (PM) of DPR and LPR is out of question, since they were set up under the Minsk Agreements. According to the Minsk-2, PM of LPR and DPR combine law-enforcement and defense: their equipment with heavy weapons is undisputable. (Such organizations formally replace army, for instance, in Japan and Costa-Rica).

The second scenario meets the Minsk format. In such case, the peacemaking operation will be divided into two phases, and the second phase will have partially new tasks. At both the phases, the idea “peacemakers” will be of conditional nature, supposing subdivisions of one and then two missions of OSCE.

At the first phase, “UN peacemakers” will be defending OSCE Special Monitoring Mission observers on the engagement line and during their trips to the heavy weapons storage locations (on both sides of the engagement line). That is, “peacemakers” will become only part of the forces to ensure the OSCE Mission. Deployment of peacemakers along the entire engagement line is of fundamental importance. Not to go beyond the Minsk Agreements, installation of posts can be considered as protection of SMM’s planned routes.

A few weeks after a sustainable ceasefire is ensured, preparations for local self-government elections should be launched. By that time, another “peacemaking mission of the UN” shall be launched to ensure security of the OSCE Mission observing the elections. Actually, this will be elections in accordance with Ukraine’s laws (not coordinated with DPR and LPR applicable to the elections in their territories).

These subdivisions will be guarding the areas of joint stays and trips of OSCE observers accompanying candidates for parliament from the Party of “Big Ukraine” that will try to get votes in Donbass. They will be guarding hotels, areas of meetings with voters, polling stations. Maybe such leaders as Oleg Lyashko, Semyon Semenchenko and Oleksandr Turchynov will want to agitate for their candidates.

Actually, adoption of the Russian draft resolution on peacemakers in Donbass is the same Minsk Agreement with additional “UN wrapping.”

If implemented, this first phase of “UN peacemaking operation” – deployment of peacemakers along the line of engagement – will improve significantly the positions of the peoples’ republics at the talks with Kiev for the model of elections, repayment of Kiev’s debts to DPR and LPR, coordination of the Constitutional reform of Ukraine with a special status for Donbass. Security is ensured, now implementation of Kiev’s political and economic commitments is on agenda.

The positions of DPR and LPR will improve also in terms of control over the Russian-Ukrainian border. Recall that under Minsk-2, the central power bodies should contribute to “trans-boundary cooperation in separate districts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions with regions of the Russian Federation.” The people’s republics can insist on adding certain provisions to the law on the special status of Donbass, for instance, provisions to ensure control over the border by specialized units of their People’s Militia under a Ukrainian flag, a not very noticeable one, on one of two or more flagstaffs.

Albert Akopyan (Urumov)

Permalink: eadaily.com/en/news/2017/11/07/negotiations-on-donbass-on-the-right-track
Published on November 7th, 2017 09:31 AM
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