February is a difficult month for our country. Shooting of participants of the Maidan, annexation of the Crimea, Debaltseve tragedy, "Minsk agreements" – all this is February, and all this is links in a chain. Of these, the Minsk agreements are the most ambiguous event and the one that influences the future of our country the most. OstroV talks with expert, political scientist Mykhaylo Basarab about why the Minsk agreements do not work and what their implementation can bring.
- The third anniversary of the Minsk agreements was recently, which, despite the fact that they do not work, still "have no alternative". Why do you think this happened?
- I think, first of all, because the alternative is simply not being sought. The President consistently states that there are no alternatives to the Minsk agreements, and our Western colleagues echo him. And this is natural, because the initiative must come from Ukraine itself.
- Why does Poroshenko not seek an alternative to the Minsk agreements?
- It may be a question of some kind of political ambition, as Poroshenko considers the Minsk agreements to be his brainchild, a great military and geopolitical achievement. Although it is clear to everyone that he did not just exhaust himself, he was initially doomed to failure. I cannot rule out that the president may have some unspoken arrangements with the Kremlin, or these are some whims of our Western colleagues who want to settle the conflict whatever it takes with the least risks and losses for themselves.
- But the conflict is not at all being resolved…
- At the moment of signing the Minsk papers, there probably was a deceptive idea that Ukraine would be able to fulfill them. Nevertheless, the deceitfulness of the Minsk agreements, their unnaturalness and utter futility were caused by the very text of this document, because the Minsk agreements formed a narrative about the internal conflict in Ukraine, profitable for the Kremlin. There is not a word about the armed confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, about the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory, about the occupation of part of our country. There is also nothing about the Crimea in the Minsk agreements. That is, they were written out for the so-called civil conflict on the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, but we all know that not a civil war is there in fact.
- Then why are sanctions imposed on Russia in connection with the non-fulfillment of the Minsk agreements, if they are written out for the internal conflict?
- It is a literal interpretation of the Minsk agreements that gives Russia the opportunity to accuse the Western countries of a prejudiced attitude towards the Russian Federation and unfounded accusation of the Russian party in the presence on the territory of Ukraine. And I am convinced that the text of the Minsk agreements was being prepared in Moscow, because the algorithm of the conflict settlement, which is written there, completely suits Russia. The agreements register the fact of internal conflict on the territory of Ukraine and offer its settlement at the expense of Kyiv's cessions to the so-called rebellious republics. If you consider the formal point of view and read the "Minsk agreements" literally, then Moscow, indeed, has grounds to resent why sanctions are applied against it.
- Was this ambiguousness and uncertainty intentionally put in the Minsk documents?
- I think yes. Obviously, Russia believed that it would have enough political arrogance and pressure in order to force Ukraine, including through its Western allies, to fulfill the absurd conditions of the Minsk agreements. But that did not happen. And to begin with, that did not happen because of the serious resistance of Ukrainian society. I believe that if the Verkhovna Rada could implement these agreements, the president would not hesitate in any way and did it. But the position of the Verkhovna Rada, which does not hurry to implement the Minsk agreements because of the public moods conjuncture that have developed in Ukraine, ran afoul. Sociological studies show that about two-thirds of Ukrainians do not perceive the provisions of the Minsk agreements.
- If the Minsk agreements are not implemented by the Verkhovna Rada, how legitimate are they? Should we fulfill them?
- Ukraine can do nothing in accordance with the Minsk agreements. International lawyers maintain that they are illegitimate from the date of their signing, because, contrary to many international conventions and agreements, the Minsk agreements were signed under pressure and threat of using force. Moreover, in order for any international agreement to have a binding effect on Ukraine, it must be implemented by the Verkhovna Rada. That did not happen, and I think it was impossible, because the list of measures, envisaged by the Minsk agreements, was signed not by the head of Ukrainian state.
- What are the Minsk agreements then?
- They can be considered a certain political initiative or a gentlemental agreement of individuals.
- And what did Poroshenko and Merkel sign then?
- They signed a document that approved the signing of a set of measures, which we call the "Minsk agreements". That is, the signing of this document took place in two steps: the first from Ukraine was signed by Leonid Kuchma, the OSCE representative, the Russian ambassador to Ukraine and Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky private parties; after that, a general statement was signed by Poroshenko, Putin, Merkel and Oland.
- If the Minsk agreements are illegitimate in our country, then why does the government continue to refer to them?
- Supporters of the concept of the Minsk agreements' lack of alternatives (the president and his entourage) claim that these agreements have a binding effect on Ukraine, since they were approved by the UN Security Council. We should understand that the resolution, which was approved by the UN Security Council, has no binding effect for Ukraine. The resolution serves only as guidelines. The UN Security Council just approved the signing of this document, but in no case obliged Ukraine to comply with the provisions of the Minsk agreements.
- The UN Security Council cannot force Ukraine to change the Constitution.
- That is quite right. Therefore, from the very beginning, the signing of the Minsk "agreements" was inconsistent with the nature of the conflict and the reasons for its emergence, respectively, they offered an illogical and irrelevant settlement framework for this situation. In a certain way, the situation was corrected with the adoption of bill 7163 (law on the peculiarities of state policy aiming to secure sovereignty of Ukraine over the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, or the so-called law on the reintegration of Donbass, - OstroV), which the Verkhovna Rada recently adopted. In this document, Ukraine legislatively recognized the fact of presence of occupation administrations in certain regions of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts as a result of armed aggression of the Russian Federation for the first time ever.
- But, on the other hand, there is no word "war" in this law, accordingly, there are no mechanisms for its ending. That is, the mechanisms put in it, as well as the mechanisms of the Minsk agreements, are inconsistent with the problem they must solve.
- It was ignis fatuus that as a result of the adoption of this law, the war and the armed hostilities would end. The main task of this law is to recognize the fact of Russia's armed aggression and occupation of the part of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, what lay the responsibility for situation in the occupied territories and compensation for losses as a result of aggression and occupation on the Russian Federation. In fact, this law is the basis for the forming of Ukraine's political and legal position regarding the events that take place on the territory of Donbass and Ukraine's claims to Russia as an aggressor state.
- If there is no war, how an occupation can be there?
- In fact, this law has a very well written preamble, where it is reminded several times that the territory of the Donetsk and the Luhansk oblasts is under the occupation of the Russian Federation as a result of Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine. And the qualification of the actions of the Russian Federation in accordance with the norms of international law is provided there. Everything is clearly written and named, that this is an invasion, a war, armed aggression and occupation.
- Then why is our response to aggression called self-defense, and the Defence Act is not involved?
- This is in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter, which recognizes the right of any country to self-defence.
- Accordingly, the Law on Defence can be eliminated altogether if we adopt a separate law in response to a specific aggression?
- One of the authors of this bill, Professor Vasylenko, recognizes that the law is not perfect. This document is the result of a huge compromise between the president and those who have long demanded to call things by their own names.
A year ago, we could not even dream that the president would reconcile with the official recognition of the Russian invasion to the Donbass. Let us recall how Poroshenko and his team talked about the fact that the recognition of certain regions of the Donetsk and the Luhansk oblasts as occupied territories means abandoning them, cutting off from Ukraine and forgetting about them. The president said that he would never allow this, and we understood that this was a consequence of his consistent logic that "the Minsk Agreements have no alternative". And since they do not assume a Russian presence in the Donbass and the status of "temporarily occupied territories", Poroshenko avoided recognizing this fact in Ukrainian legislation. A few months ago, it seemed impossible that the president would agree. But it happened.
I believe that the most valuable part of this document are those provisions that state the facts of aggression and occupation, since this is a serious reason for the correction of Ukraine's position in the international arena and the formation of a consolidated claim against the Russian Federation, since losses from its armed aggression account for tens of billions of dollars.
- Is it realistic to force Russia to compensate for these losses if it does not recognize even the fact of its presence in the Donbass?
- It is clear that the Ukrainian law is not enough to force Russia to pay. We should not have the illusion that as a result of the adoption of this law, Western partners will force Russia to leave Donbass and pay for damages. This is a matter for the future. For example, the USSR began to form a claim, to collect and generalize the facts of losses caused by German aggression, back in 1942. This document was being prepared for ten years, and only in 1952 the document acquired the final version, where the consolidated claim of the Soviet Union was concentrated.
I believe that Russia will lose in this foreign policy gamble, and the issue of damages should be raised already today.
- Then what do we consider a victory in this war?
- We will consider the cessation of the armed aggression of Russia against Ukraine a victory. The war will end when we restore our territorial integrity, and the Russian Federation will reimburse all losses caused to Ukraine as a result of armed aggression and occupation.
- Under what conditions can this happen?
- Of course, this can happen only with the help of coordinated actions of Ukraine and our Western partners, interested in stopping the Kremlin's current foreign policy gamble. We must understand that without allies it will be difficult to make current Russia capitulate. Hoping that Russia will stop as a result of internal problems and civil confrontation is not very justified. We must strengthen our defences and conduct active work in the international arena.
- What should we do if the world is unprofitable to admit that there is a war in Ukraine?
- We should not have false illusions about the UN and other international organizations. We understand that many of the mechanisms that were created after the end of the Second World War and during the collapse of the USSR, do not work today. Putin managed to prove their inconsistency. In this case, we have no other alternative than to conduct targeted communications with our priority allies - those states that are experiencing the same challenges and threats as a result of Russia's foreign policy. We should not appeal only to certain values and requirements of international law, because many conventions have paled into insignificance. We need to change the rhetoric and not talk about how someone should help us, but talk about the fact that an incorrect approach to solving the Ukrainian-Russian issue can lead to a more extensive confrontation in the whole of Ukraine, which will affect the whole Europe. It is also worthwhile to understand that Ukraine is not the ultimate goal of the Russian Federation.
The seizure of Ukraine and the establishment of its own order here is only an intermediate stage for the large-scale expansion of Russia on the territory of the entire Western world. This is a fact, since the same war is taking place on the territory of Western countries, with only one condition - they have not yet reached a military confrontation. For example, this influence on the electoral process in the U.S. and almost all European countries, the presence of Russian propaganda tools in the media, the network of Russian agitators in the territory of Western countries that lobby for better relations between the West and the Russian Federation, and cyberattacks. These are all manifestations of Russia's hybrid aggression against Western countries.
The only fuse from Russia's more insolent invasion of Europe is the United States.
- ... which makes us follow the Minsk agreements.
- The U.S. does not force us to comply with the Minsk agreements, because the U.S.-EU approach to the issue of the sanctions policy towards the Russian Federation is substantially different. If our European counterparts began to mention the Minsk agreements in the documents from the very beginning, the United States was more consistent: the sanctions were applied without reference to the Minsk agreements. Only the last sanction documents have references to Minsk. But this is also a flaw in Ukrainian diplomacy.
- But the same Kurt Volker, who used to oppose the Minsk agreements, nowadays says that Ukraine must fulfill them.
- The U.S. joined the negotiation process at a certain stage, when a certain discourse was developed in the settlement of the conflict in Ukraine, that is, it became hostage to certain stereotypes. After all, the need for full implementation of the Minsk agreements is a stereotype that was created as a result of pronouncing this slogan during international negotiations, briefings, interviews and so on... On the other hand, it's already been a long time to make sure that the topic of the Minsk agreements needs to be closed as an idle document.
- And that’s good. After all, if they start working, the Donbass will receive a special status, special relations with the Russian Federation. What will it lead to?
- The implementation of the Minsk agreements will lead to a large-scale civil confrontation within Ukraine. I have no doubt in that. The Minsk agreements are absolutely incapable of solving the Donbass problem, since this document records the fact of internal confrontation.
Interviewed by Serhiy Harmash, OstroV