The price of peace: Russia anxious to legitimate its militants in Donbas

On September 9, the Trilateral Contact Group agreed a joint inspection of the area near Shumy in the presence of the OSCE. The agreement was preceded by threats of the militant leader in Donetsk Denis Pushylin, who blamed Ukraine for alleged ceasefire violations near Shumy. Pushylin threatened to respond by firing at Ukrainian positions and breaching the ceasefire that stands since July. The news on the upcoming “inspection” of the Ukrainian positions by Russia-led militants was met with massive criticism on the part of the civil society, political class, and the military. Later, the inspection got temporarily cancelled. Instead, on September 10, at 14:15, the occupation troops started an attack on the Ukrainian positions near Shumy – the site earlier intended for inspection on the same day. UCMC takes a look at what the present situation on the contact line is, why such inspections are dangerous for Ukraine, and what to expect next. Read on.       

Where did it all start? Russia’s proxies throwing accusations. Earlier this week, the leader of the so-called “DPR” Denis Pushylin repeatedly voiced the threats to fire upon the Ukrainian positions outside Shumy, a village close to the occupied Horlivka. He also said that Ukrainian troops had allegedly set new positions there in violation of the ceasefire.    

In its daily report, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine disproved the statement that the Ukrainian troops set new positions in the area. Looks like the militant leader was simply lying. 

Ukraine gives in to blackmail – agreement reached by the Trilateral Contact Group on September 9. Following the accusations, at the meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group on September 9, the Ukrainian delegation agreed to let Russia-backed militants “inspect” the Ukrainian positions in the presence of the OSCE in order to make the ceasefire last. Here’s how the head of the Ukrainian delegation Leonid Kravchuk commented on it: 

“Today we are hopeful that the ceasefire will keep being respected by all parties. To achieve that, the Ukrainian side will be resorting to any arrangements within the Trilateral Contact Group and the Normandy format that will help save lives of Ukrainian troops and civilians. We stay fully committed to the peace process and to the implementation of the agreements achieved.”  

What was the position of the Office of the President? The Office of the President of Ukraine also made a statement in defense of the “inspection”. ‘’A very limited presence of militants will give no benefits to anyone but one – it will become another confirmation of Ukraine’s rightness,” the statement reads. 

The group that was supposed to inspect the positions near Shumy was to include representatives of the Ukrainian side to the Joint Coordination and Control Center (JCCC) that monitors the ceasefire, representatives of the OSCE, and a “DPR general” presented by militants as a JCCC member.

The Office of the President of Ukraine insisted that there is nothing new about the upcoming inspection, citing the JCCC as an example.

“Let those who do not trust the OSCE, see the truth with their own eyes. To those who do not understand the possible mechanism of such inspection, we recommend refreshing their memory of JCCC’s activities,” the Office of the President said.

What was wrong with the inspection? Subject to the planned inspection were only Ukrainian troops’ positions. Inviting Ukrainian troops to inspect the positions of Russia-backed militants was not on the table.   

“If the inspection were bilateral, so that our representatives could inspect the adversary’s positions, there would be nothing to worry about. Instead, it’s just in Shumy, which is weird in the light of the statements by our command that the militants are building new fortifications and dugouts. It would be logical to also have our representatives jointly inspect those positions with the OSCE,” Denys Kazanskyi, journalist displaced from Donetsk, commented on the decision of his fellow colleagues at the Trilateral Contact Group.

To remind, the Joint Coordination and Control Center was established in autumn 2014 at Russia’s request, and ceased existing in late 2017. Ukrainian and Russian officers were part of the Center. After Russian officers withdrew from the JCCC in the end of 2017, there was no official joint center that would incude “DPR” or “LPR” representatives. 

Why the “inspection” is a dangerous precedent that plays into Russia’s interest? In addition to the fact that the plan was to inspect just one side – Ukrainian, the planned action would actually become what Russia has been demanding since it started the war in Ukraine. The demand is that Ukraine talks to Russia-backed militants directly, while Russia becomes not a party to the conflict but an intermediary in it. Russia has been in try to take the arbiter’s position in Minsk, so that the “DPR” and “LPR” militants it leads take the stage. They have never had a vote in Minsk-based negotiations, being silent spectators instead. 

Legitimating the militants“It is a very negative signal, a risky one. Is that really an answer to the question on what JCCC’s format should be like? Instead of re-including the Russian military in it, they want to insert “DPR” and “LPR” members that have no powers to monitor,” said Maria Zolkina, political analyst at the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation.

She explains that should this inspection happen, Ukraine will actually legitimate the militants. The expert warns: if the Ukrainian government makes it, legitimation of the militants will spread to other platforms as well.

“This formula will be later included into all security-related matters. There is an upcoming framework agreement on de-mining. Who will be the parties to the agreement and security guarantors during mine clearance? All those security solutions will keep bringing to light the legitimation of militants again and again. That’s Russia’s tactics,” Zolkina said.  

Protests in Kyiv. The planned “inspection” caused a burst of public indignation in Ukraine. Immediately after the news on the joint inspection was released, a series of condemning statements followed.  

Political parties “Golos” (Voice) and “European Solidarity” (Yevropeiska Solidarnist) issued the statements condemning granting of access to Ukrainian troops’ positions to militants. They demanded that the inspection is immediately canceled.  

Besides, on September 10, activists rallied in front of the Office of the President and by the residence of President Zelenskyi in Koncha Zaspa, outside Kyiv, to voice their position on militant inspection of Ukrainian positions near Shumy.

Combat veteran and civil activist Oleksandr Pohrebyskyi and co-coordinator of the “Resistance Movement against Capitulation” Myroslav Hai said: “People are joining the protest by the Office of the President that was caused by authorities’ actions and had to do with the presence of ‘DPR’ members or Russian troops at the positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It made people very angry, so the rally by the Office of the President was announced. Our friends also announced a rally in Koncha-Zaspa by Zelenskyi’s house that is happening now. These two simultaneous rallies aim at preventing joint inspections at the positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

“We want the Office of the President to understand that the civil society and patriots are an efficient force to prevent capitulation. We will not let them play giveaway checkers with the Kremlin and Putin’s puppets, or implement Russia’s whims.”

Inspection got canceled. On September 10, the Office of the President released a statement saying that the inspection was cancelled, after the militants put forward a series of demands that “contradict each other, distort the ceasefire agreements and humiliate OSCE as an authoritative and objective intermediary.” 

“If in Donetsk they are unable to find Shumy in Donetsk region on the map of Europe – (a village) at the center of repeated claims that we’ve heard, and are now randomly choosing new towns for inspection, we can only offer them our compassion,” the statement reads.