photo minsk 2

by Gordon M. Hahn

It has been over a year since Kiev and Donbass leaders signed the 12 February 2015 Minsk-2 agreement under the auspices of Russia and the EU in an attempt to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.  Unfortunatley, Minsk-2 hangs by a thread. Moreover, there is a dispute over which side in the Ukrainian crisis is failing to fulfill its obligations under the agreement, with Washington and Brussels accusing Russia of failing to pressure the Donbass to abide by the agreement.  There is a simple way to resolve this dispute: referencing the agreement’s text and examining the parties’ post-agreement compliance.

The first three points deal with the ceasefire and the withdrawal of Kiev and Donbass forces from the line of contact. Both the ceasefire and withdrawal were achieved last spring. To be sure, both sides have occasionally broken the ceasefire with small-scale fighting but the original full ceasefire has largely held and withdrawal of weapons was implemented by both sides.

The fourth point in Minsk-2 stipulates: “On the first day following the withdrawal a dialogue (between Kiev and Donbass representatives) is to begin with respect to the modalities of the local elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and the Law of Ukraine ‘On the temporary order of local government in certain areas of the Donetsk and the Lugansk regions,’ as well as with respect to the future operation of these areas on the basis of the Law.” Kiev did not fulfill this pivotal step –the first in the agreement with a specific deadline. A full year after the agreement and nearly a full year since the ceasefire and subsequent troop pullback, Kiev has refused to engage a dialogue with the Donbass rebel regions’ representatives: (1) either on the modalities related to conducting elections in the Donbass, (2) or on the Ukrainian law to be adopted according to Minsk-2 ‘On the temporary order of local government in certain areas of the Donetsk and the Lugansk regions,’ or (3) ‘with respect to the future operation of these areas on the basis of the Law,’ or, for that matter, (4) on any other subject related to the crisis.

Thus, Kiev was the first to violate and has been in violation of Minsk-2 since the second day after the implementation of the mutual troop withdrawals last year.

This means that Kiev also violated Minsk-2’s fifth point or article, which reads:  “Immediately, and not later than 30 days from the date of signing of this document, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is to adopt a resolution with the specification of the territory covered by the special regime provided for in the Law of Ukraine ‘On the temporary order of local government in certain areas of the Donetsk and the Lugansk regions,’ (such territory) to be based on the line set out in the Minsk Memorandum of September 19, 2014.” The stipulation that Kiev consult—i.e. negotiate—in dialogue with Donbass representatives on the law ‘On the temporary order of local government, etc. is reiterated in Minsk-2’s article 12. Instead of dialogue on the temporary local government law, on 17 March 2015 the Verkhovna Rada passed unilaterally a corresponding resolution, having failed to consult with the Donbass rebels’ representatives in a “dialogue,” as stipulated in the Minsk agreement.

Article 11 of Minsk-2 requires Kiev to adopt a new constitution “with entry into force by the end of 2015 of a new constitution, which shall incorporate decentralization as a key element (taking into account the characteristics of certain areas of the Donetsk and the Lugansk regions, to be agreed upon with the representatives of these areas), as well as, before the end of 2015, adoption of permanent legislation with respect to the special status of certain areas of the Donetsk and the Lugansk regions in accordance with the measures specified in the Note.” Minsk-2’s ‘Note’ mandates that the new constitution and any corresponding laws for decentralization provide for: (1) “linguistic self-determination” (to allow Donbass and perhaps other regions to use minority languages such as Russian); (2) participation of local governments in appointing the heads of prosecutorial bodies and the courts in certain areas of Donbass (Donetsk and Lugansk); the possibility for the central executive authorities to conclude agreements with authorities in the Donbass on economic, social and cultural development in certain regions; the establishment of People’s Militia by order of local councils for maintaining public order in Donbass; and several other clauses. Neither a new constitution or a law on decentralization and the other issues listed in the Note have been adopted by Kiev.

Neither has Kiev lifted the blockade to the separatist Donbass regions, reopened Ukrainian banking in those regions, nor issued the across-the-board amnesty for the rebels required by the agreement.

Thus, from 17 March 2015 Kiev has been in violation of no less than seven articles and nine obligations it signed on to under the Minsk-2 accord.

On the other side, Russia has still not handed control over the border to Kiev. Although there is no recent evidence of Russian troops in the Donbass, there likely are military, intelligence and other advisors working on the Donbass side. However, the latter issues fall under the radar of the agreement and would be unenforceable without the reassertion of Kiev’s sovereignty over the breakaway territories. Both Kiev and Donbass have exchanged prisoners on an equal, negotiated basis. Both Kiev and Donbass occasionally violate the ceasefire, but both have generally complied with the withdrawal of heavy weaponry to the distance from the front line imposed by the agreement. Except for the ceasefire and withdrawal of weapons, none of these other points were assigned time frames or deadlines, so they are more difficult to define as violations.

In sum, Kiev is significantly more in violation of the agreement than the Donbass rebels and/or Moscow.

Rather than pressuring Kiev to comply with Minsk-2 on the day Kiev unilaterally adopted the resolution passing the local government law, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden called Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko to congratulate him and reaffirmed Washington’s promise to send military equipment and instructors to train Ukraine’s national guardsmen, many of whom were members of the neo-fascist volunteer battalions. At the same time, NATO commander in chief of allied forces in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, declared that the West was obligated to assist Kiev by supplying it defensive military equipment. In other words, Washington and Brussels expressed their willingness to reward Kiev for violating Minsk-2.

However, perhaps the main cause of Kiev’s failure to fulfill its obligations under Minsk-2 is the deep political paralysis in Kiev. That paralysis is driven by the ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist wings of the Ukrainian polity, which are robust and gaining strength under the stress of continued economic collapse, social dislocation, and state-supported ideological radicalization. Thus, when the Verkhovna Rada convened to vote on a constitutional law on decentralization required under Minsk-2’s article 12, the neo-fascist Svoboda Party (SP) and Right Sector (RS) parties organized a ‘demonstration’ that quickly transformed into an attempt to seize the parliament building. One protester through a grenade killing and wounding several police officers outside the Verkhonva Rada building. This and other terrorist and coercive actions by leaders and members of the SP, RS, and ultra-nationalist and national chauvinist parties like Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party, Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party, and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s Popular Front have signaled Poroshenko that any attempt to comply with these key articles in Minsk-2 can lead to a Maidan 2.0 ultra-nationalist revolution, as stated numerous times by former RS leader Dmitro Yarosh, SP leader Oleh Tyahnibok, and other radical nationalists.

President Poroshenko—like his forefather—Viktor Yuschenko (Ukraine’s president form 2004-2010) has played into the hands of the ultra-nationalists by establishing the World War Two-era neo-fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and Ukrainian Partisan Army (UPA) as the heroes of Maidan Ukraine’s national myth.

Until the West pressures Kiev to address its neo-fascist problem and stop supporting the radicals’ ideological orientation as state ideology, the Poroshenko administration and any successor will fail to comply with Minsk-2. So the next question is: Do Washington and Brussels want Minsk-2 to succeed or do they prefer the ‘frozen conflict’ status quo and why?

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Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Adjunct Professor and Senior Researcher, Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California; a Contributor for Russia Direct, www.russia-direct.org; and an Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch, http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com. 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. Dr. Hahn has taught Russian politics and other courses at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, St. Petersburg State (Russia), and San Francisco State Universities as well as the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey, California. He also 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. His website is http://www.gordonhahn.com.