Deputy Prime Minister and First Deputy Head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Minsk Trilateral Contact Group Oleksii Reznikov has recently become the main generator and speaker of ideas regarding the future fate of Donbass. At the same time, the official who does not have the Donbass origin shows quite clear-eyed understanding of both the causes of the conflict and the conditions for its termination that are safe for Ukraine and internally displaced persons. We were going to talk about the future, to simulate reality after the return of the territory under the government control, but the events of the "Minsk" topic in recent days left almost no time for this. Therefore, we began with the relevant, hoping that this is not the last meeting of Reznikov with the OstroV readers.
- Who, after all, was the initiator of the last truce in the Donbass? Plenipotentiary of Russia in the Trilateral Contact Group Boris Gryzlov says that it was the Russian side that put pressure on Ukraine for 5 months.
- I would not refer to the words spoken publicly by representatives of the Russian Federation to initiate any things. I can say that the representatives of the Russian Federation at the negotiations and the words that sound publicly on their behalf are different things. For example, there were cases when Mr. Gryzlov was absent from the TCG meetings, but long and detailed statements are issued on his behalf just in 10-15 minutes after the meeting. However, we understand that the person did not write this for sure, since he did not even witness what was happening, moreover, he comments on what was not in the TCG.
As for the ceasefire, its authors are leaders of the Normandy format of 2014, since the agreement on a ceasefire (truce) is officially enshrined in the Minsk agreements. And the task of negotiators of the Trilateral Contract Group has always been how to fulfill this task, to make the truce real.
Any agreement written in 2-3 pages cannot cover all the questions that arise during its implementation. The Normandy format leaders got together and agreed that it was necessary to start de-escalating the international military conflict, and the first thing to start from is a ceasefire. The solution to any military conflict begins with a ceasefire. And it is very important that we, in fact, turned "Minsk" upside down, where a political settlement and other things were mainly talked about recently, but the security. However, Minsk is, first of all, just a ceasefire, and then the disengagement of forces and means, the withdrawal of foreign troops from our territory, the seizure of control over the border and so on item by item. And finally - elections as a result of a political settlement.
The truce issue has been on the agenda for 6 years, since the first meeting of leaders of the Normandy format. Someone will say that there have already been several truces that ended sadly. I agree. Technically, a ceasefire must be permanent, so we are talking about a comprehensive ceasefire. This means that single shots can happen because there are flesh-and-blood people at the front, with different emotional states. A person on the front line can shoot of fright or fire into the air, but this does not belong to the category of offensive or combat operations. Therefore, we are talking namely about a comprehensive ceasefire, when there is no obvious military action. And what is happening now is another attempt to achieve this.
- The message from the OSCE, which was published for the media, refers to "a coordination mechanism for responding to violations of the ceasefire with the assistance of the JCCC in its current structure". What kind of coordination mechanism is it?
- I would call it a plan, which the parties have set themselves for this coordination mechanism to be born. There is no coordination mechanism yet. I want to remind you that the JCCC existed in a full-fledged form, and there were Russian and Ukrainian officers who were involved, among other things, in monitoring the observance of the ceasefire. This was successful until a decision was made by the President of the Russian Federation to recall his officers. In our opinion, there is every reason for the return of Russian officers to the JCCC to provide effective control. Therefore, we expect the return of Russian officers. We believe that there is a mechanism that will allow them to return, but this is already a matter of a political solution.
- Have you already made such a request?
- We have voiced our expectations to the Russian Federation. I can say that there was no denial. It was hear about for the first time in Paris on December 9 during a meeting of the Normandy format leaders. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky offered President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin to return the Russian officers to the JCCC.
- How did Putin react?
- He did not mind the idea itself. He did not like the mechanism for the appearance of Russian officers on Ukrainian soil. The fact is that their biometric data were started to be taken from a certain point, as well as of all citizens crossing the border. Naturally, they did not like it.
- Have you come up with a new mechanism?
- Yes. It makes it possible for Russian officers to stay in the JCCC absolutely painlessly and legally. We proposed it and are waiting for a response. This is a purely diplomatic format.
- Do you think there are real chances? After all, the return of Russians to the JCCC is in conflict with the general strategy of the Russian Federation, which is trying to force us to recognize the subjectivity of the "republics".
- It was already possible to understand for six years that it is senseless to force and recognize. I am sometimes amused by the statements of the Russian Foreign Ministry that "we should force Ukraine to do something", "we should oblige France and Germany". Did not they understand in six years that neither France, nor Germany or Ukraine can be forced and obliged? It is possible to agree and convince with an argument. The entire civilized world has repeatedly stated that Russia was a party to an international armed conflict, a party to the Minsk talks. Secretary General of the European External Action Service, Political Director Enrique Mora clearly stated in the last statement: "For us, the role of Russia is clear. It is not a mediator in this conflict, but its party".
As for the imposing of someone else's subjectivity on us, in all public appeals to its audience, Russia does not recognize the existence of quasi-formations that are located in the temporarily occupied territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
- Why is not the ceasefire agreement document published? There are questions about who signed it and in what status.
- There is no agreement in the form of a document. The "armistice agreement" itself does not exist in written form.
There is paragraph one of the Package of Measures, which states that the parties undertake obligations to ensure the operation of a comprehensive ceasefire. This is the signed document. Has it been performed? No, it was violated many times.
During the last meeting of the advisers of leaders of the Normandy format in Berlin, which lasted 11 hours, they only talked about this truce in fact. The text that formed the basis of these additional measures, which were taken at the TCG, was discussed by the political advisers. It was agreed upon by Ukraine, Germany and France, only Dmitry Kozak, who was looking for other modulations and formulations, had his own position, but basically, he had no objections. At that moment, the document as such was not born on paper, but everything was discussed in words. The OSCE Special Representative in Ukraine Heidi Grau submitted this text for discussion during the next TCG. This was an OSCE proposal. We have already discussed this text, agreed with something, asked to change something and made some corrections. But the basic proposal was voiced by Heidi Grau. A compromise was found as a result of discussions on July 22.
Therefore, the ceasefire agreement was not signed on July 22, because it was signed back in 2014. Now the parties have declared and assumed responsibility to issue appropriate orders to the troops to oblige the servicemen to comply with these measures. This does not lead to a capitulations regime, refusal to repulse aggression, etc. Russia is the same party of these additional measures, why do not they say that they capitulated?
- That is, there was no subjectivization of the "republics" in this case.
- No. There was not and could not be. There are no "republics" in the Package of Measures and in the Minsk agreements. There is the wording "representative of CADLO". By the way, this is you on the part of the Ukrainian delegation.
- Many people linked Leonid Kuchma's departure from the Minsk process with this ceasefire agreement. Do you agree with that?
- No, there is definitely no conspiracy theory. This should have happened a few months ago. Leonid Kuchma has long asked Volodymyr Zelensky to let him go, which the president announced back in May. It was just a matter of time. Leonid Kuchma is an amazing negotiator and bearer of the institutional memory of a six-year difficult process. But the coronavirus broke out, and he was very attentive to the recommendations in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as he is at risk.
As a result, Leonid Kuchma turned on "heavy hitters" - as far as I know, his wife and daughter asked to let the dad go. They could no longer be said "no".
- Can we expect the Russian delegation to change too?
- I am also quite interested in this question. I respect Boris Gryzlov, he has a serious service record. I have never seen him get nervous or unrestrained. But he has been in this position for a very long time. We have sent a signal to the Russian Federation for a long time that the rotation can be done. This is normal, there is nothing wrong with that. But this is their political decision.
- Let us go back to the truce. If it becomes comprehensive and long-term, will it not mean the preservation of the conflict? After all, there is no political progress and it is difficult to imagine it.
- It will not mean the conservation of the conflict, because the truce and the conservation are uncorrelated things. Can it lead to conservation? Yes, it can, but it will be one of the scenarios. The truce is definitely not a symbol or a sign of conservation. A sustainable ceasefire is a different mood for people who live along the contact line. A lot of our guys and girls died at the front, so the everyday reports with the absence of dead and wounded is a stupendous achievement. If we can help keep such statistics, we must.
- On the other hand, if they do not shoot, then it seems like there is no conflict…
- We have not a conflict, but a war in different stages. And the war must be ended. It may end in someone's surrender, but this will definitely not happen on the Ukrainian side, and we do not expect this from the Russian side either - therefore, this is not our option. This means that the war can be ended in some other way. The only way today is political and diplomatic: for now, there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements, since they are the brainchild of the Normandy format. And while Germany and France will have enough strength and effort to help us and ensure the European sanctions policy against the aggressor, we still have a chance to end this war without more bloodshed.
The Package of Measures spells out how it could be completed. As a lawyer, I have repeatedly expressed my critical attitude to the Package of Measures. I believe that there are a number of things that are not working and are illogical. But I repeat once again that it is difficult to wish someone to be in the shoes of the one who made these decisions at that time.
I have always said that the Minsk agreements are subject to modernization. There is no need to leave "Minsk", but it needs to be modernized. The four leaders of the Normandy format need to sit down, look at the document six years later and honestly say what worked and what did not.
- But this is possible provided that Russia wants to end the war.
- Yes, that is right. If Russia decides for itself that it has fulfilled its task - this is one story. If it believes that it has not fulfilled and it needs this war further - this is completely different. But if Russia believes that it has not fulfilled this task and at the same time, continues to suffer from sanctions, plus a pandemic and some internal difficulties, then is the war with Ukraine a priority for it, do Russian citizens like it, do they want to vote for the Novorossia project with their wallets, do they want to feed and maintain the occupied territories? This is a question to answer.
Therefore, provided that the political leadership of the Russian Federation is ready to sit down and approach this situation reasonably, then one can agree even with the preservation of face that "Minsk", in the text in which it is written, is partially non-working today.
But any conversations on legal and political topics are possible in a normal regime, when people are not killed and houses are not blown up. Then there is a completely different degree of communication, a different atmosphere in society. There will be no dialogue in the parliament on the topic of legislative acts (for example, on holding the elections), if people die at the front. Society simply will not accept such conversations against the background of blood. This is what a truce is for - so that we can think calmly and talk about how we can live on.
- Do not you think that the opposition forces will in any case use this against the authorities in order to keep themselves on the political float?
- Yes, I do. But there is a nuance. We have at least two oppositions with different polarities. It is impossible to compare OPFL with Voice, ES or Batkivshchyna. The opposition is not monolithic, it is diverse. Parliament is a mirror of our society, its mood and sympathies change, favorites appear and disappear. If the actions of the authorities are obviously directed against sovereignty and territorial integrity, the people will feel this and give a signal to the deputies. If this is a purely technological surge, the people will not support it. Political strategists measure it. If they believe that the field has a request, that the field sincerely believes that this is bad, they will immediately demonstrate it. If the people say that this is good, then there will be no betrayal. Most people want peace. People are tired of the war. Even if you ask the military, they get tired of the war too.
- When you talk about the field, we understand that it is formed by TV channels that belong to someone.
- You are absolutely right, but there is an interesting point. I will not fully disclose the history of specific studies, but I am currently studying a number of sociological studies that are aimed at monitoring the situation associated with the war. We look at them chronologically. Since in our ministry we have to deal with information sovereignty…
- So you were given the powers of the Ministry of Information Policy?
- The information policy remained in the Ministry of Culture, and the issues of information sovereignty were transferred to us. Now we are starting to work on this together with the Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko. It turns out (for me this was also new) that if you look at what people are reading, what people are watching, then the trend is to watch less TV. Why? Because there is no good news. Because television mostly talks about bad things. They watch TV series and soap operas, because there is no bad thing. People are tired of bad things in 6 years. If not a war, then an explosion, if not an explosion, then an accident and necessarily victims, if not an accident, then an idiot with a grenade in corn fields, etc. Therefore, they start watching less television. TV channels think they are being watched, but they are being watched less and less.
- Young people no longer watch.
- Yes, they will watch entertainment programs in a best-case scenario, so you need to understand how to communicate correctly.
- Volodymyr Zelensky said that he gives himself one year to decide what to do with Minsk next. It is not clear where to start the countdown of this year from, but apparently, it is already coming to an end. How do you see the fate of "Minsk"? Is it preserved in its current form, or will we look for other political platforms, if the Russian Federation does not show its desire to end the war after all?
- You can make different counts, but it is probably reasonable to consider this year from December 9 (2019), when there was a meeting in Paris. There is still time. Of course, one can already state what did not happen and predict what is unlikely to happen. Tentatively speaking, the elections in certain areas are unlikely to take place on October 25. I wish it were possible. This is legally possible. Because the elections must be under a separate law, which says that early elections are 60 (not 90) days for campaign. If the Russians withdraw their troops from the occupied part of Ukraine and further disarmament of all formations takes place, this is theoretically possible. It is difficult in practice. What if this truce will be long and real, - God forbid, - then the opening of two checkpoints in the Luhansk region is at stake today, as well as 3 or even 5 points of disengagement of forces and means (and this is less threats to people in any case), new demining sites and the next stage in the mutual release of the detainees. We have a lot at stake. These are things that have already begun to happen, they are realistic.
- It is almost unrealistic that Russia will hand over the border to us by December…
- That is why I say that the elections are already almost unrealistic at this moment. Control over the border is one of the prerequisites for a political settlement - elections.
- By the way, why are the parties so obstinate about this position on the handover of the border? It is not necessary to hand over the border under the control of Ukraine, it can be transferred to the peacekeepers – Minsk does not prohibit this.
- Even in "Minsk" itself, we are talking about monitoring the OSCE 24/7, including along the entire Ukrainian border. There is no need to invent anything, just to execute "Minsk", and its format (the OSCE patrols or a slightly different mandate of the same OSCE) is a subject for discussion.
The OSCE has a peacekeeping mandate, it was simply never used. This requires a decision by 57 states on the basis of consensus. And if I understand correctly, in the event of a conflict between states, the consensus minus 2 votes - of those states that are parties to the conflict.
- But the Russian Federation is the main payer to the OSCE budget.
- Therefore, I repeat once again, this is a matter of political will. It is especially important for the Russian side not to appear as the losing side, to save its face. In this case, the presence of the same peacekeepers from the OSCE fully takes this factor into account.
Then the discussion begins, which has been going on since the years when the talk was about the UN peacekeepers during the presidency of President Petro Poroshenko, - where they should be: along the demarcation line, throughout the territory of CADLO, or on the Ukrainian-Russian border. But these are things that can be discussed. This is something to work with.
- But if they are at the border, we will be able to hold elections, but if they are on the demarcation line, it will give us nothing.
- Therefore, I say once again that the issue of elections is a matter of the occurrence of certain conditions. I do not consider the appearance of peacekeepers only on the contact line, for example, a stage after which the elections can be held tomorrow. No. For the elections to take place, a host of other conditions are necessary - the disarmament, the withdrawal of foreign troops, complete demilitarization and so on. Who records this? If the border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation is not closed, the smuggling of weapons, militants, fuel and ammunition will continue. If you stop this, all this will disappear in a month.
- Was this proposal officially announced?
- Not officially. We are only sending a signal to the Russian Federation that we are ready to discuss this.
- I sometimes read separatist Telegram channels from the occupied territory, and there is a heated discussion of the ongoing election campaign for local elections. Do you know what kind of "local elections" this could be?
- I can afford the luxury of not reading their Telegram channels.
- But if, after all, local elections are held in CADLO, what does this mean?
- This is a worthless story for me. We can only talk about elections under Ukrainian law, so that the OSCE can confirm and record their holding. This is stated in "Minsk". They must go under a special Ukrainian law. Everything else is pointless. If this happens under the aegis of the Russian occupation regimes, this means that Moscow is giving them permission in this way. The assessment will be given not only by the Normandy format leaders, but also by the entire civilized world. This means that the sanctions regime may become tougher.
- Let us say the implementation of the Minsk agreements took place. And I want to return to Donetsk with my patriotic political views. How will it look like? Am I passing the checkpoints, for example, or will there be none?
- I think that the checkpoints will still remain for some time, including special control along the line of contact. If you remember, once upon a time, there was the police control on the highways at every city exit. Tentatively speaking, such a line of special control should remain along the conditional administrative border, because we need to pass laws on the transition period and resolve a number of issues. This also applies to the disarmament, the withdrawal of foreign troops and armed formations. The Ukrainian police will start patrolling the streets there and we will begin to restore the constitutional order in all its manifestations. But the issue of safety on the streets will be relevant for another number of years. Especially until complete disarmament occurs. We should be honest about this.
There should be a transition period. And transitional justice. They call it the law on amnesty in Minsk, but I would call this the law on responsibility, in which it is necessary to register who is subject to it without any restrictions. There is no need to invent anything, the principles of transitional justice of the UN speak about it, and it clearly states that in any case, post-conflict settlement presupposes the existence of the rights to justice, the rights to truth and the rights of victims.
Therefore, legal prosecution should be for everyone who has committed crimes. Who can be pardoned, for whom the severity of the crime allows replacing it with labor duty, - all these questions should be answered by the law on responsibility.
It is clear that if you received a Russian passport, because it was a way of survival, if you worked as a doctor or an employee of the public utilities office, then personally I cannot have any complaints against these people, and I hope the state as a whole will not have it too. But if you served as a collaborator and committed crimes, then you have to be responsible for this.
- Who will mete out this justice? Will Ukrainian police be there?
- The Ukrainian police will arrive as detached. Our contingent allows them to come, but there will be a question of personnel formation then. We have one and a half million displaced persons and, perhaps, someone will want to serve in the local police.
If you look at the sociological research there, some people do not accept today's Ukraine and they have a fear that "terrible Ukrainians will come and beat everyone". This fear must be removed, because no one will destroy anyone. We should not scare people. I want to appeal through you: Do not be afraid! Nobody will persecute ordinary citizens. The population that lives there is held hostage. But the criminal, the one who killed and tortured, must be held accountable. Therefore, we will create a transitional justice regime and restore the work of courts. Those judges who left will return and will execute justice. Policemen, national guardsmen, the SBU, prosecutors, etc. will also return.
- If they want to come back…
- This is already a matter of goodwill.
I also want to say that the territory that is now not under the control will have to receive a special regime after de-occupation, allowing it to revive and recover. Therefore, it is very important to launch a special economic regime with tax concessions on the territory of the controlled Donbass, so that businesses are interested in coming there and investing money. So that the development of the controlled Donbass began.
- Namely in the controlled by Ukraine today?
- Yes, so that this model would later be transferred to the territories that we will liberate. Today we will develop the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson oblasts. We are now working to present a strategy for the economic development of Donbass to the Cabinet of Ministers and adopt it by the parliament. Today, part of donor or credit money is given to us by Western partners, but this is the ideal way to raise the investments there.
- When can this be implemented?
- My plan is to present this strategy in a few months. We want it to work, if not this year, then at least from January 1, 2021. We are now finalizing the economic strategy for the development of Donbass, the creation of a fund is a matter of several months. Then people living in the controlled territory of the Donbass will see what is changing for them. There are already other roads today. Then the IDPs will want to return there, because they are from there mentally - the conditions should be created, so that they see the benefits for themselves. When this starts to work, people from the occupied part of the Donbass will even go to work in the controlled part and replenish the budget of Ukraine with taxes.
- If they are released from the other side.
- I think that coronavirus will end, they will still be there. Today, 272 thousand pensioners in the occupied part of the Donbass cannot come and receive a pension, because they are not allowed to pass. We are ready to pay them money. But if they are not released, the social tension there will grow. These are all the same Ukrainians who are used to taking to the streets if they are dissatisfied with something.
Interviewed by Serhiy Harmash, OstroV