The famous formula of Leon Trotsky: “Neither war nor peace!”, which reflects the Bolsheviks’ attitude to the 1918 Brest-Litovsk Treaty, is quite applicable to the situation that developed after February 2015 – when the agreement on the peaceful settlement of the situation in Donbas was signed in Minsk, as well as when the formula to achieve peace, worked out in this agreement, formed the basis for the UN Security Council’s resolution. Four years have passed since the "second Minsk Agreements" were signed. According to the international classification, we have a semi-frozen conflict: no active offensive or defensive operations are conducted; the line of confrontation is fixed and is not moving. Yet, at the same time, people die almost every day, including civilians, and the degree of tension in the relations between the sides does not fall.
The Minsk Agreements, it would seem, formulated a fairly clear road map how to achieve peace in Donbas, in the country and in the region: ceasefire, the adoption of the necessary laws, granting of a special status to Donbas within Ukraine, holding of the elections and return of control over the entire length of the state border to Ukraine. However, it turned out that the Minsk Agreements became a utopia. Peace never came, and there are several reasons for that.
Reason one. Lack of independence among politicians. There are not only the Ukrainian Joint Forces (ATO forces) and armed formations of the self-proclaimed republics warring in the East of Ukraine. There are interests of big world players behind each side. Ukraine is under the US protectorate. “DPR” and “LPR” (the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics) are plainly puppet formations whose policies are completely subordinate to Russia. Accordingly, the conflict in the East of Ukraine is an extrapolation of the conflict relations between Washington and Moscow. That is where the keys to peace lie.
Unfortunately, the United States is not a party to the Normandy format, or the Minsk process derived from it, and neither Germany nor France is a beneficiary in the conflict. They are just the parties interested in solving their own economic and political issues. Today’s attempts by some politicians to offer the Budapest format (with the participation of the USA, Russia, the Great Britain and Ukraine), as a replacement for the Normandy format, also encounter a problem: Russia will not agree to such a format since it will be in a three-to-one state in fact.
Not a single international conference on the future of Ukraine can do without the two main players in this conflict. And the absence of the United States at the negotiating table in Minsk in February 2015 (as well as the absence of the US Secretary of State in February 2014 among those foreign ministers who provided guarantees for resolving the situation in Ukraine during the Maidan) makes the Minsk Agreements vulnerable and ineffective.
Reason two. It flows out of the first one. Lack of independence in the positions of Kyiv, Donetsk and Luhansk makes it impossible to hold direct negotiations between the centres of confrontation. In practice, this translates into a formula: "And who is there to talk to?" and into making a reference to illegitimacy (Kyiv considers the self-proclaimed republics to be illegitimate, while Donetsk and Luhansk consider the Kyiv junta as illegitimate authorities). In practice, this is nothing more than attempts to cover up incapability of the negotiation process without the permission from above – either from overseas or from across the northern neighbour’s border.
The history of world conflicts knows many situations when, in order to resolve a crisis, it was necessary to go into direct negotiations with separatists for the sake of achieving peace. The most vivid example is the negotiations of Charles de Gaulle with the leader of the Algerian insurgents Ahmed Ben Bella in Evian in March 1962. Almighty de Gaulle did not ask either who Ben Bell represented or who issued his mandate or what his legitimacy was. He understood: “the operation to restore the constitutional order in Algeria” (the French recognized this war as a war only in 1999) resulted in numerous victims; it had been fought for eight years now, and someone had to take responsibility for making a possibly unpopular but necessary decision that is to sit down at the table of negotiations with the separatists. Did de Gaulle have few critics of this step? Between 1961 and 1969, he survived 31 assassination attempts. However, he brought peace to France.
Reason three. Lack of trust between the sides of the conflict. Today, no one believes that once the conditions of the Minsk Agreement are fulfilled the parties will remain loyal to each other and will respect each other’s basic positions. After all, over the five years of the conflict not only mutual anger, aggression and claims have accumulated between the conflicting sides (more than 10 thousand dead automatically convert into hundreds of thousands of relatives and friends who will not forgive the opposite side and will blame it for the killings). A difference in the view of the world has formed up. The coming of the Ukrainian authorities to Donbas with the attempts of Ukrainization and the “glorification” of the OUN and UPA, a forced decommunization and rewriting of history by many over the other side of the front line (including true supporters of reunification with Ukraine) is perceived as a threat. The policy of "bending across one's knee" in church matters – with the forced imposition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine – only adds fuel to the fire. Official Kyiv is doing everything to deepen the line of confrontation, and not to create pre-requisites for strengthening pro-Ukrainian sentiments in Donbas. The continuing blockade of Donbas can be added to the list.
Reason four. In May of last year in Zagreb, I asked former Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and former Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusić: “We have many people talking about the “Croatian scenario” of solving the conflict in Donbas. What was the success formula for Croats? What exactly was the real “Croatian scenario” of achieving peace?” The answer struck me. They did not talk about the Storm operation, extolled in Ukraine in every possible way (by the way, an example of connivance from Western states and the inability of UN peacekeepers to prevent lawlessness). They talked about the need for politicians to have the will to ensure the preconditions of peace between those who do not carry weapons. Markets, shops and clubs were created on the line of demarcation. The main purpose of that was to intensify dialogue between civilians of Croatia and Serb Republic of Krajina. Is it possible to imagine something similar with us?
Reason five. The answer to the question lies on the surface: who should receive the mandate to organize a peaceful dialogue in the East of Ukraine. There is only one institution that is represented both in Ukraine and in the uncontrolled territories (and even in the Crimea). This institution has a high level of trust from citizens and has experience in solving complex problems in an environment where politicians turned out to be powerless. It is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. An example of how a large-scale exchange of prisoners took place in December 2017 through the efforts of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry is indicative one. Yet, it was decided then to quickly black out the success of the Church by overt provocations, including the refusal of the funeral service for a representative of a different denomination in Zaporizhzhia and attempts to sway the situation around the Kyivo-Pecherska Lavra. However, instead of coordinated actions between the authorities and the Church, we see an absolutely hostile state policy towards the Church.
Reason six. Perhaps everything is trite and simple? Perhaps the Ukrainian authorities do not need Donbas? But they are afraid to admit it? The return of the uncontrolled territories means an additional 3–3.5 million citizens, 2.5–3 million voters, almost 10% of the total number, who will in no way vote for the current coalition forces. That is why we see these shamanistic rituals about peace and reintegration of Donbas with parallel actions that in fact move peace away and deepen the split.
Peace is the revival of the Ukrainian economy, first of all the revival of its industrial capacity. Yet, does Europe need a strong Ukrainian industry? Especially against the background of the de-industrialization policy pursued by the European Union in the Eastern European countries at the time of their joining the EU? The more industrial facilities Ukraine will have to close down, the greater will be the amount of compensation that Brussels will have to pay to Ukraine as integration deepens. Did not the authorities know about this nuance when pushing changes to the Constitution regarding the course for membership in the EU and NATO? While the war solves the question of cheapening the integration procedure – one of the informal arguments that our diplomats use in backstage disputes with Brussels officials.
The war in the East of Ukraine is an opportunity to prevent the lifting of sanctions from Russia, as well as an argument in relations between Washington and European states, a trump card in a big geopolitical game.
The war is a way of making money for profiteers among the Ukrainian authorities, who earn millions and billions from extortion at checkpoints, from smuggling, from military tenders, from sales of arms on the black market.
In fact, the reason for the failure to fulfil the Minsk Agreements is simple one: too many of those who benefit from the continuation of the war. Too scattered are those who are ready to speak for putting an end to it. Sociologists say that 70% of Ukrainian citizens are in favour of ending the war. Yet, the tone is set by those 30% for whom the war has become the meaning and the way of their life.
Those who say that the Minsk Agreements do not work simply do not want them to work. Someone does not like the idea that we will have to go for some form of compromise. Someone does not want to lose the benefits of the current state of affairs. Someone is afraid of a new political reality where there will be no war as a factor of influence on the minds of voters and when it will not be possible to write off the failures in the economy and social policy for the military actions.
The Minsk Agreements could be refined, updated, supplemented with new inputs – the UN peacekeepers, new mediators for negotiations, etc. Yet, the formula itself is universal one. However, one cannot hope that the road map, drawn up four years ago in Minsk, will be implemented by someone else instead of us and someone else will secure peace without our participation. In 1995, the question of peace for Bosnia and Herzegovina was resolved in Dayton. Ask the Bosnians whether they are happy with the result? Although we are already one step away from the Dayton option, when the question of the future of Ukraine is decided by politicians of other countries without the participation of Ukraine itself.
Another thing is that we need politicians who can show their will, perhaps can sacrifice their rating and – regardless of yelling and screaming of various populists and hurray-patriots, regardless of angry protests by influential Western embassies, threats of international blackmailers to organize the “third Maidan” and “colour revolution!” – can agree to negotiate with those who control the situation in the uncontrolled Donbas. Unless, of course, those who sit in administrative buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk, are not afraid of opposing their will to the position of populists and pseudo-patriots in the same way.
I believe that the results of the 2019 elections will be that politicians capable of displaying their will, their wisdom, their ability to build compromises and the ability to bring long-awaited peace will come to power in Ukraine. Those will be the people able to put the national interests above the interests of external stakeholders, the people who will put an end to the shameful practice of the blood business.
“Neither War nor Peace”: Minsk Agreements Four Years Later