28 December 2019

The expiring 2019 was a year of new hopes for all of us. Firstly, because the “party of war", which had been keeping Ukraine hostage to its voluntaristic, nationalistic policy of hostility and theft for five years, suffered a crushing defeat in the presidential and parliamentary elections. And secondly, the peace-building process finally moved forward from the dead centre. We received a real chance for peace and the return of the Donbas to Ukraine.

The Normandy Summit (between Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia) in Paris on 9 December 2019 is an important turning point. The four leaders agreed on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and put their signatures under the Normandy Group's general communiqué, the first document of the Group for the years of the war. Thus, all the clauses of these agreements have been re-confirmed and legitimized once again. It also means that the signatories of the Paris Communiqué not only declare, but also take their personal responsibility, on behalf of their states and peoples, for the establishment of peace in Ukraine. Such a result of the Paris negotiations is an undoubted success for each participant, and for all the countries. In addition, it is a personal success of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who fulfils the will of millions of citizens of Ukraine – the will to peace.

The cessation of the war in the Donbas and the beginning of the peace-building process in Ukraine means the cessation of 6-year-long fears in Europe about the threat of a "big war". Moreover, this is the beginning to the restoration of trust between Europe, Russia and Ukraine. Indeed, over these recent years, because of the sanctions and information hysteria, we seem to have returned to 60 years ago – to the times of the Cold War. Now, after the Paris Summit, we all have a hope that a "new detente" has nevertheless come. Everything now depends on the four leaders, and on each of us.

The Paris talks and the signed communiqué resulted from reciprocal goodwill and joint efforts of Ukraine, Russia, the European leaders and the OSCE Mission to overcome the military conflict in the Donbas. The disengagement of the armed forces in certain parts along the contact line and the agreement on new steps to strengthen security measures in the conflict zone, release of detained citizens, return of sailors to Ukraine, successful negotiations on gas transit to Europe and agreement on the exchange of all the established prisoners are only some, the most vivid and convincing examples of the peace-building process that has begun. Yet, it is even more important that the productive meeting of the Normandy Group in Paris has given a start to a dialogue at different levels – diplomatic, general political, expert and civilian level. I hope that by the next meeting of the Normandy Group in March 2020, the reconciliation process will become irreversible.

Dismantling of the economic blockade of the Donbas, which must be made as early as in the first half of 2020, could play a huge role. This dismantling should be happening in a sequential, well-balanced and step-wise manner. When restoring economic relations with the Donbas, it is necessary to simultaneously abolish numerous discriminatory and restrictive measures that now make millions of our compatriots outlawed and may be a reason for their unjustified persecution.

Yet, I am sure that it is precisely those numerous economic and commercial ties, and the restoration of the country's unified economic space, that are the best diplomacy in the peace-making process. Indeed, even now, under the conditions of the blockade, the citizens of Ukraine crossed the line of demarcation more than 13 million times (!) in both directions, during only one calendar year. This says only one thing: despite the bans and risks, ties and contacts remain, people maintain their relationships, do business at the micro level, trade, and receive the necessary social services. And once the blockade is lifted, these ties will strengthen tenfold.

At the same time, I often get an impression that in Ukraine, they do not fully realize the scale and significance of what is happening. Hundreds of experts in geopolitics and security have appeared who advise "not to trust agreements." Poroshenko’s team and the entire political army from the “party of war” attempted to disrupt the negotiation process and blackmailed the entire country with a new Maidan, spending millions of hryvnias to sponsor street protests. Failure of fake "maidans" and widespread support to the peace-making process in the Ukrainian society highlight one thing: the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians are against the war, against revolutions and street terror, and they will be supporting a consistent peace-making policy.

I hope that Europe and Russia, the U.S.A. and China, as well as other influential global actors are really interested in the restoration of peace in Ukraine and in removal of all the risks of geopolitical confrontation on the continent. And I sincerely believe that our compatriots in the Donbas are ready for a serious dialogue about our common future and the restoration of the country’s unity. But, of course, on condition that their voices will be heard and the right for their strong regional self-government will be ensured.

A newly received chance for peace is just an opportunity that we all have yet to realize. And in that sense, the Paris Agreements are only the first step. It is necessary to build up the capacity of the negotiation process. It is necessary to create legitimate negotiation groups consisting of deputies of the parliaments of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. One needs to ensure the work on peaceful Donbas development projects for scientific and expert circles, and to support civic diplomacy. Undoubtedly, we need a dialogue with residents of the Donbas, representatives of local self-government, with internally displaced citizens and refugees who will be returning to their homeland.

However, until now there has been no serious internal political narrative in Ukraine: "what should we do inside the country?"

In October 2019, I presented my peace-building plan Humanism-Dialogue-Unity of Ukraine, where the main emphasis is placed precisely on general actions inside the country and on the policy of civil reconciliation and complicity. This plan is a proposal towards a common, joint action of our entire society.

It is necessary to finally put an end to the political confrontation between various party groups fighting for power at the price of the war in the Donbas and sufferings of millions of fellow citizens.

We all need a "peace team" – for civil accord in Ukraine and for building "bridges of understanding" in the Donbas.

The internal peace-making process could unite the entire society. It could return Ukrainians to their home cities and towns. It will become a symbol of restored trust for hundreds of thousands of our compatriots who left the country in search of work and a calm, peaceful life.

I believe in the unifying power of peace and will do everything in my power so that the year 2020 becomes a year of fulfilled hopes for us. Yet, this requires some practical action and goodwill.

First of all, the time has come for a serious political dialogue between the President, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary political forces on a nationwide peace-making platform. In addition, the topic of peace should be taken off the table for the future election campaigns. Perhaps for this it is worth holding a National Roundtable with the participation of the President and political leaders.

It is necessary to overcome the chronic disease of the "internal information war" step by step. And here teams of the leading media should say their word, should develop a common position on the "language of peace", should change the politicized aggressive rhetoric on TV screens and pages of electronic and print media, often accompanied by the use of fake information. It is necessary to put the interests of people at top of mind, to empathize with the tragedy of the war that we all face.

It is necessary to get local, regional self-government and Ukrainian businesses involved into the Donbas recovery programs. Indeed, every Ukrainian region, and even every regional centre or industrial city, could implement its own assistance programs for selected populated areas or infrastructural facilities in the Donbas, where there is a shortage of everything now – work force, materials, managerial and advisory support. Businesses could also act as a creative force to develop the economies of the territories that survived the war. Great potential capacity for such interaction between businesses and the government is laid down in the law on public-private partnerships, which should be made more feasible and effective. The Mariupol Peace Forum should become a standing "platform" for such a dialogue, and should then be moved to Donetsk and Luhansk in the future.

The “peace team” primarily means those who begin to act together in synergy. I see great unifying and humanistic capability in this idea. This is a movement for cooperation and interaction between civil society organizations and political associations, people's deputies at all levels, businesses and the government in the implementation of programs and projects to restore peace and trust in the Donbas and inside Ukraine as a whole. And the work should be commenced as early as now, at the regional and local levels.

Ukrainian intellectuals and the new, young and educated generation can become a kind of "engine", a driving force for such a movement.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize the most important thing once again: the coming 2020 can become a real Year of Peace in Ukraine. And for Europe, Ukraine and Russia, the year 2020 can be a year of restored trust, and can open up prospects for new continental cooperation processes. We must realize this truly historic chance.

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