Russia defends the Minsk Agreements and status quo in Ukraines East

The new plan for peace in Ukraines east, disclosed by Ambassador Martin Sajdik (seeEDM, January 30, 2019) and the reactions to it from Kyiv, Moscow, Donetsk and Luhansk (see below), illustrate three basic facts about the Russian-imposed Minsk agreements and their non-implementation from 2014/2015 to date.
First, as is generally recognized, the Minsk agreements do not work; more to the point, they do not work the way Moscow designed them against Ukraine, because Ukraine has immunized itself militarily, legally and politically from those agreements destructive potential.

Moscow, Donetsk and Luhansk have instantly perceived Sajdiks plan as threatening their own conception of the Minsk agreements as inviolable, immutable and obligatory on Ukraine. In particular, Sajdiks plan jeopardizes the status of the Minsk dispensation as without alternative, since Sajdiks plan itself outlines a possible alternativealbeit suboptimal, compared with the 2017 US-Ukrainian initiative for a UN-led peacekeeping operation. Although parts of Sajdiks plan contravene Ukraines interests while favoring Russias (seeEDM, January 30, 2019), Moscow and Donetsk-Luhansk have attacked Sajdiks plan vituperatively, and his person scurrilously.
The Kremlins authorized voice, Aleksei Chesnakov, responded: The Minsk agreements must be fully carried out. Any talks about adding to and further development of Minsk, are manipulative attempts at enabling Ukraine to avoid its obligations. Initially assuming that Sajdik was acting on his own initiative, tolerated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Chesnakov warned the latter: The OSCEs own representative is casting this organizations effectiveness into doubt. The OSCEs official, responsible for the fulfillment of the Minsk agreements, is attempting to renege on them. Sajdiks was an empty document, unworthy of serious consideration, incomprehensible to anybodyeven to him. Obviously fatigued at the end of his career, he tries to propose at least something, so as not to look so helpless (TASS, January 28, 2019).

Chesnakov is generally deemed the public voice of Vladislav Surkov, Kremlin overseer of the Donetsk and Luhansk peoples republics (DPR, LPR). Shortly after his initial reaction, Chesnakov reconsidered and exculpated the OSCE: It has now become obvious that the United States is behind Sajdiks plan. This is not Sajdiks plan, not even the OSCEs plan. This is [Kurt] Volkers plan. Sajdik was simply ordered to air it. Volker unleashed Sajdik (TASS, January 31, 2019).
The US State Departments special representative Volker was the counterpart to Chesnakovs own chief, Surkov, in the negotiations on a possible UN-led peace mission in Ukraines east (2017early 2018), which Surkov has broken off. The Kremlin suspects, not entirely without reason, that Sajdiks plan seeks to float a B-grade version of that 2017 concept.

Moscows chief representative in the Minsk Contact Group, Boris Gryzlov, also attacked the OSCE and personally Sajdik, his regular counterpart in the Minsk forum: The OSCEs Special Representative [Sajdik] is thereby admitting to his own incompetence The road to peace in Donbas leads through the exact fulfillment of the Minsk agreements. Within the Contact Group, Gryzlov said, Russia continually works to impress upon the parties that a political settlement under the Minsk agreement has no alternative (TASS, January 29, 2019).
Russias Ministry of Foreign Affairs has preserved the diplomatic decorum (at least pending foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharovas weekly spectacle). The ministrys pan-European cooperation department director, Andrei Kelin, pointed out that Sajdiks personal plan is not supported by the Donetsk and Luhansk peoples republics. Only with their agreement would it be possible to move forward (TASS, January 29, 2019). This is, in Russias view, an iron-clad component of the Minsk agreements and the Contact Groups negotiations: decisions require a negotiated consensus between Kyiv and Donetsk-Luhansk (i.e., their veto power).

The DPRs and LPRs foreign affairs ministers, Natalia Nikonorova and Vladislav Deynego, respectively, followed the Surkov-Chesnakov cue in attacking Sajdik and the OSCE. The Sajdik plan is irresponsible, in view of his coordinators role; it casts the OSCEs effectiveness into doubt and aims to sabotage the Minsk process. Any disruption of the implementation of the Minsk documents is unacceptable. They codify the only peaceful settlement plan, without alternative. The OSCE and Sajdik must react to Ukraines evasion of its obligations under the Minsk agreements (TASS, Donetskoye Agentstvo Novostei, Lugansk Infotsentr, January 28, 2019).
Moscows and its proxies remarks demonstrate, in their content and their tenor, a fierce resolve to preserve the status of the Minsk dispensation as the sole basis for negotiations, at least in theory. From a different perspective and different motives, the German and French governments also insist on the sacrosanct nature of the Minsk agreements. This stance both explains and guarantees deadlock in the forums that those agreements begat, namely the Normandy Forum (Russia, Germany, France, Ukraine) and the Minsk Contact Group (Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, DPR and LPR). Secondly, Moscow and even Donetsk-Luhansk apparently feel free to show their disrespect for the OSCEwhich is hardly surprising in view of this organizations displays of weakness vis-a-vis Russia in the frozen conflicts during the last 25 years.

All of this vindicates Ukraines serial decisions from 2015 to date to protect itself against the implementation of the political clauses of the Minsk documents. It vindicates, as well, the Donald Trump administrations policy (unlike that of the preceding administration) to work in tandem with Ukraine around, not within, the traps set by the Minsk system.
Read the original text at The Jamestown Foundation.
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