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The Big Treaty of Ukraine and Russia: Denounce shall not be extended!

As the Ukrainian Supreme Rada resumes its plenary session on January 16, parliamentarians started discussing the Bill No.7163 “On state policy to support sovereignty of Ukraine over temporarily occupied territory in Donetsk and Lugansk regions” (“reintegration/de-occupation of Donbass”) that was passed in the first reading last October.

By preliminary data, they plan to discuss all the alterations to the bill on January 18. On the same day, the parliamentary speaker is expected to put the scandalous bill to voting. The authors of the bill say if it is passed, it will become possible to introduce a provision in the legislation of Ukraine saying that the Russian Federation is an “aggressor-state.”

For the time being, no Ukrainian law gives Russia the status of an “aggressor-state.” In 2015, the parliament of Ukraine passed an enactment “On Appeal of the Supreme Rada of Ukraine to the United Nations, European Parliament, Parliamentary Assembly of NATO, Parliamentary Assembly of OSCE, Parliamentary Assembly of GUAM, parliaments of other states for recognition of the Russian Federation as an aggressor-state” (Jan 27, 2015) and “Statement of Supreme Rada of Ukraine ‘On Repelling Armed Aggression of the Russian Federation and Overcoming Its Aftermaths.’” (Apr 21, 2015). However, the legal force of these documents is doubtful.

Unlike Georgian’s authorities led by Mikheil Saakashvili, who terminated diplomatic relations with Russia in 2008 and withdrew from the CIS, the Kiev top powers calling Russia an “aggressor” has not resorted to such steps. Furthermore, the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership of Ukraine and Russia (commonly known as The Big Treaty) signed by Leonid Kuchma and Boris Yeltsin in 1997 and ratified by the parliaments of the two states later still remains in force, formally.

The treaty was signed for 10 years with automatic regular extension for another 10-year-period unless one of the signatories denounces it through written notification at least six months prior to expiry of the regular 10-year period. In 2008, the treaty was extended automatically. It is 2018 now and the sides need to adopt a decision on this document by October 1, 2018.

There are only two options, of course: either the sides will “forget” to notify each other by October 1 and the document will be extended for another ten yeas automatically or one of the sides will inform the other sides of an intention to denounce (do not extend) it fully and partially. Note that the year 2018 is a pre-election year and Petro Poroshenko, who has de-facto launched his election campaign in the middle of 2017 relying on the right-radical nationalistic electorate who prefer circus to bread, will be flirting with that electorate.

What we have now is a paradox situation: for Ukraine, Russia is an “aggressor-state” and a “strategic partner” (under The Big Treaty) at the same time. Things are not that easy for Russia either: the country has recognized Ukrainian elections in 2014 and Moscow Court recognized the February 2014 events in Kiev as a “state coup” at the same time. This undermines legitimacy of those elections.

So far, Kiev and Moscow governments call it undesirable terminating The Big Treaty. First Vice Speaker of the Supreme Rada Irina Gerashchenko said she was “shocked” to see politicians advocating for termination of the Treaty. “In such case, no rights will be exercised and we will hand in Donbass and Crimea,” she said. “We should demand Russia to fulfill it [The Big Treaty] and avoid terminating it, because this law provides for respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine,” Gerashchenko said in the parliament on January 15. Earlier, in late 2016, the then deputy foreign minister of Ukraine Vadim Pristayko said Kiev would denounce The Big Treaty, as it plans to file claims against Russia to the international court for what he called violation of its provisions.

Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov called potential denouncement of The Big Treaty irrelevant. The minister believes this issue should be transferred to lawyers. Lavrov emphasized that termination of the Treaty will affect implementation of the Minsk Agreements (although there is no direct legal connection between Minsk-2 and The Big Treaty, denouncement of the later by Moscow will probably be interpreted by the other countries of The Normandy Four as a step complicating the conflict resolution). This is how the Russian foreign minister responded to the suggestion of Konstantin Zatulin, a member of the Russian State Duma, vice chairman of the Committee for CIS, Eurasian Integration and Compatriots Affairs, to denounce the Treaty in the part where the sides recognize each other’s borders. Zatulin believes that such provisions are “in favor” of Ukraine and by ratifying the Treaty Russia “has confirmed that it considers, for instance, Crimea and Sevastopol as part of Ukraine’s territory.”

An impartial insight into The Big Treaty provisions will show that it does not work at present. Most of the provisions are not implemented/ignored by the sides, though it was Kiev that has been often initiating termination of intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary agreements with Russia since 2014. Besides the provisions on territorial integrity (Crimea and Sevastopol issues) and requirements to avoid agreements aimed against the interests of the other side (Ukraine’s aspiration for NATO), the sides ignore clauses providing for versatile development of relations in the fields of economy, finance, business and investment protection, military and military-technical cooperation, space, science, humanitarian policy, sports, healthcare, transport, energy, border cooperation, fighting crime, inter-parliamentary cooperation and interaction on the international arena.

There is another nuance: termination of The Big Treaty by Kiev will probably increase the political weight of opponents of the government, namely, Viktor Medvedchuk. It is no secret that Medvedchuk, who occupies the post of Ukraine’s special representative for humanitarian issues at the Tripartite Contact Group in Minsk, is now the key communicator between Kiev and Moscow. Summing up the outcomes of 2017, The Correspondent Ukrainian magazine ranked Medvedchuk the 7th among top 100 influential Ukrainians. Medvedchuk is the only person in the list of top 10 influential persons who is neither an oligarch nor a high-ranking official. The rating was published yet before exchange of POWs in Donbass in late December, thanks to direct talks of Medvedchuk and the leaderships of Russia, Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics and Patriarch Kirill.

Evidently, denouncement of The Big Treaty will mean further termination of ties linking Ukraine and Russia. As international players seek to resolve the conflict in Donbass on the basis of Minsk-2 while private business in Ukraine seeks to maintain its positions on the Russian market, it appears that informal communicators (like Medvedchuk) able to settle issues at the level of Ukrainian and Russian leaderships will play a bigger role as long as the sides “burn bridges” linking them.

Let’s wait and see. Not so much time is left until October 1.

Aleksey Nechayev, political strategist, Kiev

Igor Federovsky, economist, political analyst, Kiev

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