Summary: This note discusses the outcomes of the Paris negotiations of Normandy Four Format on implementation of the Minsk agreement by considering the different parties’ interests and how they presented them in the media. Key principles and main beneficiaries of the Minsk agreement study shows that this document was disadvantageous for Ukraine from the beginning and mainly expressed Russia’s interests. Broad Russian interest could be formulated as a desire to secure Ukraine as a sphere of strong influence, and also prevent Ukraine from moving toward EU integration and joining NATO. This is why Russia is interested in maintaining instability in the Donbas and plans to delay process of peace in the region. The main practical reason for the Paris meeting was regarding the announcement of “DPR/LPR” separatists holding local elections, and principal outcome is agreement to cancel them, since they questioned all Minsk agreement implementation process. Despite fundamentally different, although positive evaluation of the meeting results by all parties, the Minsk agreement has almost no chance to be implemented by the date specified in the document.
(1) This paper is discussing the results of the recent Paris meeting negotiations regarding the Minsk agreement. A brief overlook of the Minsk agreements’ main points and evaluation will be provided; then the negotiation sides’ points regarding meeting outcomes will be reviewed, and the differences among them will be compared; following, their presentation in the media will be discussed. Moreover, reasons for such interpretations will be assumed.
(2) “The complex of measures to implement the Minsk agreements” was signed on February 12, 2015 by the Trilateral contact group representatives. This complex consists of 13 steps concerning permanent ceasefire, firearms withdrawal, OSCE monitoring securement, control of the state border regained, local elections modality; and a special note regarding law “On special order in some local government areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions” implementation. The current version, unofficially called “Minsk-2” is an amendment to the first agreement reached on September 5, 2014. From the very beginning this document was disadvantageous for the Ukrainian side and beneficial for Russia and “DPR/LPR” separatists backed by it. Among others, the most prominent losses for Ukraine are: the agreement formally recognizes terrorists as part of the negotiations, and in contrast doesn’t indicate Russia as a part of the conflict; Ukraine’s commitment to adopt amendments to the Constitution; approval of the plan of weapons allocation and ceasefire (which until recently was adhered to only by the Ukrainian side and significantly limited the possibility of its army); and boundary line recognition (which de-facto declares territories which are not under control of Ukrainian authorities). Despite a ceasefire, the most important point for Ukraine, and simultaneously undesirable for Russia, is regaining control of the state border, since it will stop resources of any kind being supplied to terrorists. In light of the latest negotiations, Kyiv insists that full implementation of the Minsk agreement, including border control, should be a precondition for local elections in “DPR/LPR,” and Moscow argues that Ukrainian authorities should listen to the Donbas opinion and refuse to fulfill commitments until Kyiv concedes its positions. Fixed term of Minsk-2 agreement implementations expires at the end of the year.
(3) So what new was brought by recent negotiations in Paris? It is necessary to clarify that the ceasefire and arms withdrawal were constantly violated by separatists, who moreover obstructed the OSCE Observation Mission. There was a relative ceasefire established just before Putin’s UN speech. The key reason for this meeting was “DPR/LPR” militants’ announcement of the dates (and the fact) of elections being held in the territories under their control contrary to Minsk II, which clearly stated that the elections should be held according to Ukrainian legislation. Ukraine announced that in case of elections, the Minsk agreements would be disrupted and the EU supported this position. The actual result of the negotiations was that no changes to the current agreement were made (which practically means that Russia should make militants to abandon the idea of elections). But each of the three sides of the negotiation evaluate it as principally different. These positions will be discussed in further detail. Formally, the next points were agreed on as well: light weapons withdrawal; extension of the OSCE mission and its unimpeded access to all of the territory; amnesty to be held together with the elections; immunity for members of elections; and probable shift in the issue of Ukrainian political prisoners, and step by step controlled restoration over the border with Russia.
(4) Ukrainian delegation as an outcome of negotiations claimed two essential positions: negotiation results are a success of Ukrainian diplomacy; and Russia is the one to blame in case of the Minsk complex of measures to implement failure. Ukrainian foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin stated that due to the fact that the Ukrainian army is much stronger now, Russia is forced to find non-military solutions to the conflict, and that the atmosphere of negotiations was different than the previous time. He also added that the presence of Russian troops in the Donbas makes it impossible to hold local elections, and that Ukraine insists on total cancellation of militants’ elections. Administration of the President also declared that “it was stressed in Paris that the elections will be held in the Donbas only after the withdrawal of illegal armed formations, military equipment, as well as militias and mercenaries from its territory.” Concerning the election issue it was also mentioned by the head of the Central Election Commission, Michael Ohendovsky, that “for the practical organization of elections in some regions of Donetsk and Lugansk areas after resumption of Ukrainian laws a separate law and electoral infrastructure restoration needed to be adopted.” And First Deputy Head of the “Petro Poroshenko Block” faction Igor Kononenko reports that “before developing a special law regarding local elections in the territories that are now under the control of illegal armed groups, the Trilateral contact group will accumulate approaches to this document.” Furthermore, Presidential Administration representative Kostyantyn Yeliseyev also said that “Ukraine will not accept any new laws on amnesty for militants or special order of local government in some regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.” He also insisted on the significance of reaching an agreement on full OSCE mission access to all areas under the control of militants in the Donbas. Besides that, three more important topics were raised: the Crimea question is still on the table and Donbas is only at the preoperational stage for its liberation; Russia does not want to fulfill the Minsk agreement and is doing everything to delay the process and buy time (claimed by Prime Minister of Ukraine Arseniy Yatsenyuk); there is no strong guaranties that all the points reached will be implemented, since no formal document was signed. Overall, majority of the comments evaluated the results of negotiations in a positive way, however there were some critique, especially regarding the unclear sequence of steps of elections in the occupied territories and the controlled restoration of its national borders by Ukraine, and fears that the Donbass conflict will become frozen.
(5) The European Union, represented by German and French authorities, reported Paris negotiations outcome in a “cautiously optimistic” manner. Two most important messages from French President François Hollande are: fake elections (announced by separatists) in Donbas wouldn’t be held; and implementation of all steps of the Minsk agreements will probably take longer than expected, therefore this process may continue after December 31, 2015. He explained his position with a statement that “it will take time to organize elections in Ukraine that respect international standards and as a result, the so-called Minsk peace process will run into next year.”German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with Hollande on the “ray of hope” existence in the Ukrainian crisis, which “gives a chance to proceed to a political settlement,” and that they optimistically look forward the peace restoration. Besides, Merkel stressed the importance of early withdrawal of all foreign troops from the territory of Ukraine and the restoration of full control over the Ukrainian-Russian border. It was also stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin is obliged to make efforts to implement the whole package of the complex events of the Minsk Agreement. European experts assumed that “the negotiations will be successful only if strengthening sanctions against Russia.” Overall EU representatives repeatedly insisted on commitment to Minsk agreements implementation and effectiveness of Normandy Four formant.
(6) Russian Federation and pro-Russian separatists drew a completely different picture of negotiation outcomes in the media. According to the evaluation of the Russian side “the success of the summit, “Normandy Four” depends on Poroshenko,” since “in fact, Kiev remains the last obstacle to a stable peace.” Which practically means Russia’s refusal to admit its responsibility for the Donbas conflict and therefore shifting blame on Kyiv. Moreover, what Russian observers expected from this meeting is no less than a breakthrough, but it is not really clear why. Furthermore, the Russian media announced that “Not only Ukraine will be on the meeting’s agenda. Undoubtedly, Syria will be an issue as well.” This statement looks controversial since the meeting was arranged specifically to discuss the implementation of the Minsk agreement and elections in the Donbas, and none of these issues includes concerns regarding the Syrian crisis. Such discourse could indicate the Russian desire to shift public attention to a new object. Another controversial issue is that Ukrainian President Poroshenko claimed that “President Putin promised to announce the cancellation of fake elections in the Donbas no later then Tuesday (October 14, 2015),” but pro-Russian separatists “DPR/LPR” announced only that they “agreed to postpone the local elections to 2016.” There is a fundamental difference between postponement and cancellation of elections. Among other messages, Russia highlighted that France advocated the abolition of sanctions against Russia in the case of the Minsk agreement implementation. Also Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed that the amnesty for “DPR/LPR” militants was discussed by “Normandy Four” in Paris in conjunction with local elections and constitutional reform in Ukraine. Overall the result of negotiations was presented by Russian media as reinforcing Ukraine to fulfill the agreement since Kyiv has no choice, and that it is Moscow’s achievement. Only Russian opposition media outlet “Medusa” evaluated outcomes impartially by just listing agreed points. Real Russian interest in these negotiations could be summed up by the following quote “Kremlin wants Ukraine to take economic and social burden of the Donbas, but politically it should be autonomous in order to provide Russia’s interests.”
(7) In conclusion, the main outcome of the Paris negotiations is the cancellation (or at least postponement) of separatist elections in Donbas, which could be considered a positive result for both Ukraine and the EU. All other agreed points seem uncertain since different sides interpret them in different ways. Talking about benefits, the EU side achieved a desired pause in the Ukrainian crisis, which allow them to focus on Syria, moreover they formally have a diplomatic win in the eyes of their people. Ukraine also gained a relatively stable ceasefire, which is very much needed in due to upcoming local elections; and additionally present outcomes is a strong victory over Russia among the Ukrainian public. Russian and separatists side continue to blame Kyiv and intend to shift attention away from Ukraine to Syria, while seeking to postpone fulfillment of complex of measures. Taking into consideration all the facts, it is highly unlikely that the Minsk agreement will be fulfilled in time, since Russia will not fulfill its commitments; and moreover, Ukrainian performance is also inefficient in many ways due to corruption and weak governance. The Paris negotiations provide only a short pause during which parties reassess their strength and make future plans.
Performed by: Varvara Shmygalova, Carleton University
Ukraine Crisis Media Center