By Gordon M. Hahn
As fighting continues to flare up intermittently in Donbass, and Kiev’s Maidan regime continues to meltdown in economic depression and Wiemar-like neo-fascist terrorism, the Minsk 2 accord appears doomed to failure at some point. The threat to the agreement comes largely from the war party in Kiev made up of neo-fascists and national chauvinists from parties in and out of parliament. The process hammered out in Minsk in February while admirable in its ambition is too complex, especially for Maidan Ukraine’s difficult Weimar politics. The required multi-tasking distracts and diverts the parties directly involved — Kiev and Donbass — and their allied participants/mediators — the West and Russia — from the most fundamental and immediate goal – a ceasefire that holds. Things need to be simplified.
The parties should convene a ‘Minks 3’ either immediately or at least when it becomes clear that Minsk 2 is dead with the sole goal of achieving an inviolable ceasefire. Once a ceasefire is consolidated, talks on other issues can be finalized in a new agreement – Minsk 3b.
The key points of the Minsk 2 accord increasingly appear to be impossible to implement. Sporadic fighting continues with civilian and military killed and wounded. Kiev refuses to negotiate directly with the rebels, which allows it to continue to blame Moscow for the civil war. Moscow continues to supply the Donbass rebels, and a few thousand Russian forces remain inside Donbass prepared to assist the fighters. Perhaps most importantly, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s proposed amendments to Ukraine’s constitution mandated by Minsk 2 that would ostensibly give the Donbass regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, power-sharing with, or autonomy from the central government in Kiev in fact do nothing of the kind. The single amendment addressing the issue simply allows for a law on decentralization. For decentralization to be actually implemented, therefore, the Rada must pass a special law. The only amendment among those approved in a first reading of a package of amendments related to the ‘decentralization’ merely states that the Donbass regions will be given a share of power on the basis of a special law. If that law is never passed, Donetsk and Luhansk will not have autonomy of any sort.
Moreover, the package of constitutional amendments includes clauses that centralize power in Kiev and the federal executive, constituting institutions more akin to a centralized unitary rather than limited federative one. They establish the office of appointed regional prefects in place of governors. The new prefects will be appointed and strictly subordinated to Ukraine’s president – an executive vertical of power of the kind Putin has tried to build in Russia at the expense of federalism. Similarly, as Putin once had the power to do, the amendments give the Ukrainian president the power to disband regional legislative assemblies under certain circumstances. The fact is, however, that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has held out the possibility of significant markups to the draft amendments after the first reading. The demonstrations scuttle any hope that the marked up amendments will be changed in the direction of further decentralization/autonomy and not less. Indeed, in a nationwide television address in the evening Poroshenko seemed to give in to the neo-fascists’ pressure, noting that the final decision on decentralization would depend on the situation in Donbass (www.pravda.com.ua/rus/news/2015/08/31/7079679/).
The amendments are crucial if there is any hope at all of bridging the gap between Kiev and the Donbass rebels. One of the central clauses of the Minsk 2 agreement signed on 12 February 2015 required the Maidan regime to amend the constitution to provide for a decentralization of power in the Donbass. The Donbass rebel regimes (DNR and LNR) are so suspicious of Kiev’s willingness to actually carry out a decentralization of power and provide the Donbass with some degree of autonomy has prompted them to schedule their own elections in the region rather than allow Kiev-organized elections to proceed this autumn as planned for the rest of the country. On the other hand, Kiev might be additionally reluctant to decentralize given that should Donbass receive special powers at the local level, other regions may demand the same. Transcarpathian areas with their large Hungarian populations might seek autonomy. In addition, many of Ukraine’s regions have their own unique characteristics and often an independent self-identity that might prompt many non-ethnic areas to pursue such autonomy. Those with large minority, including ethnic Russian minority populations, might be expected to lead the way. Unstable Odessa would be a prime candidate, among others.
Despite the tentative and limited nature of the proposed decentralization amendment, it provoked a near neofascist revolt and bloody violence near the building of the Supreme Rada when the package of amendments went before the parliament in a first of three readings on August 31st. After the violence President Poroshenko seemed to back down telling the nation in a televised address that ultimate decision on decentralization would depend on ‘the situation in Donbass.’ (https://gordonhahn.com/2015/08/31/ukraines-neo-fascist-tea-party-throws-grenades-shoots-at-police-attempts-storm-of-rada/).
Regardless of the complications, failure to bridge the gap between Kiev and Donbass on the decentralization issue is likely to leave the Minsk 2 ceasefire agreement a dead letter and make renewal of heavy fighting in Donbass almost inevitable at some point. This is part of the calculus in the ultra-nationalist and neofascist parties in opposing the amendments. They constitute the core of Kiev’s war party intent on taking back Donbass by force and that party of neofascists and ultra-nationalists threatens not just the peace agreement but the Maidan regime itself.
The only partial description of the issues and challenges facing the numerous stipulations and goals set out in the Minsk 2 agreement demonstrate that the processes created thereby are too ambitious and complex. They divert the immediate parties and their allied mediators from the most immediate task: an actual ceasefire. The energy and focus of leaders, bureaucrats, and institutions are diffused, overburdened, and drained by the necessity of having to design and organize planned measures, secure the agreement of all parties on the specifics of those measures, and then coordinating the actual execution of the implementation of more than ten very difficult goals spelled out in Minsk 2. Delays and disagreements on one issue complicate preparation and implementation on others. Rather than burdening an embattled Kiev and Donbass with such a complex set of tasks, it would be better to proceed more slowly in general and keep it simple by focusing on the most fundamental goal – the one that will end the bloodshed – the ceasefire.
It follows, therefore, Minks 3 should focus on solely on achieving an inviolable ceasefire. Issues such as constitutional reform should be negotiated but not concluded until the ceasefire is fully consolidated, with no casualties for some designated period of time. Once the ceasefire is deemed to have been consolidated, negotiations and signing of Minsk 3b on constitutional and/or perhaps other issues can proceed.
Minsk 3 should concentrate on the details of constructing a viable ceasefire. First, it should seek agreement on a deeper pullback of all forces and weapons types. Second, it should develop the most comprehensive technical and human intelligence regime for monitoring the ceasefire, the location and any movement of troops and equipment in and around the Donbass, including inside Russia. Drones, national-technical means (satellites), and OSCE monitors should be deployed to construct a web of detection to seek out violators. Each of these monitoring means needs its own sub-agreement signed by all parties. US, NATO, Ukrainian, and Russian national-technical and human means should be deployed and their data sent to a central command center manned by OSCE and/or UN personnel for analyzing and publishing the monitored and collected data when disputes over possible violations arise.
Talks on the issues raised but not settled by Minsk 2 can proceed on a secondary basis, but they should not drain time, energy, resources and personnel from the task of achieving a lasting ceasefire. Continued talks on the other points can help build trust between the parties that might help in achieving a good faith implementation of the ceasefire. Of the other points, the most important would be getting Kiev to talk directly with the Donbass rebel leaders. If Western parties and Kiev are interested in limiting Moscow’s role in the crisis, this is one sure way of accomplishing that goal and may induce the Kremlin to be more cooperative with its Western partners in the overall process in order to keep skin in the settlement game.
At the same time, exhaustive monitoring should assist consolidation of the ceasefire or at least leave no doubt as to who the violators are. More positively, we can hope that the monitoring regime can ensure that such a ceasefire holds and issues of rebuilding the failing Ukrainian state and democratizing its embattled, neofascist-infused regime can be resolved. Later, perhaps, sanctions can be eased. Then the ‘new cold war’ so many are eager to embrace will put to rest before it causes a larger conflagration in Europe and perhaps beyond.
Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.