Comment on Ukraine’s Strategy in the East | VoxUkraine

Comment on Ukraine’s Strategy in the East

2 June 2016

My task is to comment on the VoxUkraine article “The Formula of Reconciliation: How Minsk-2 may Help Resolve Ukrainian Donbas Problem” written by Robert Cooper, which outlines how the active conflict in East Ukraine can be ended by employing Minsk II in a particular step-by-step method. This is a good and important piece from someone so knowledgeable and experienced. Cooper wrote the suggested recommendations after visiting the Donbas and feeling compassion for those who are suffering. These people are mostly Ukrainian and the government has a responsibility towards them, including a responsibility to end the active conflict as soon as possible.

However, my response to the article is a critical piece which accepts that I have more questions than solutions. Although I write about peace in the Black Sea region, my solutions are regional and long-term. Given the current attitude from Russia’s leaders who have shown they cannot be trusted, any kind of short term solution might need to be gradual and win-win for all. If this does not happen then we are left with what I call ‘balanced multipolarity in action’ in the region (see my latest paper ‘Black Sea Regional Dynamics’,  published by European Foreign Affairs Review in April 2016). Unfortunately Ukraine is currently one of the main battlegrounds for this ‘action’.

Here are my main comments on Cooper’s article:

The article says it is written in the main to “attempt to stimulate thought and debate”. Yes it does this. It also shows genuine concern for those who are suffering and goes into detail on a possible way of handling the situation. But might it also be seen as pressure on Ukraine from ‘the West’?

A Strategy for Ukraine: Keeping the Donbas would seem to be essential as Cooper suggests. Making Crimea a separate issue would also seem to be a necessity but cannot be regarded by the West as a fait accompli in exchange for a ‘frozen conflict’ in East Ukraine.   

Define the means: “If Russia’s interest is conflict, Ukraine’s is peace.” So why would Russia accept peace without gaining everything they want?

Set the agenda:

  1. Many believe that Minsk is generally unworkable and the Ukraine government is suspicious of pressure from the West to implement it.  
  1. Is the proposal just a recipe for yet another long term ‘frozen conflict’ and hotspot for organized crime?  Better for the locals than hot conflict but, for example, Nagorno Karabakh has still not had the referendum on its status and there is no end to the dispute in sight.
  1. What will make Russia stop its interference in East Ukraine and elsewhere? Why will it support the ceasefire in reality? What does it want in return? These are probably the most important questions in order to achieve at least a partly win-win situation.  

There would seem to be three possibilities with regard to implementing Minsk II:

  1. Full package implementation (Russian option)
  2. Step-by-step implementation (Cooper’s option)
  3. Abandon it (unworkable option)

The step-by-step option could also be divided into different sequences.

Russia favours option 1. According to TASS, Lavrov has very recently stated that a step-by-step proposal is not acceptable and only a full package implementation will be supported by Russia. “It must be implemented fully, without any reservations, without any attempts to rewrite its logic and the sequence of actions.”

Cooper favours option 2 but the big problem is why would Russia agree to this without getting something in return? So what might this be?

  1. A change in Ukraine’s constitution so that Russia has greater influence?
  2. A reduction in sanctions?
  3. Crimea acknowledged as Russian?
  4. To regain an image of being a great country that can be trusted as a reliable actor in the modern world, rather than a corrupt Mafia state?

Others, as stated earlier, feel Minsk is unworkable. Ian Bond, in an interview with Hromadske, says, “the West is putting pressure on Ukraine, knowing that it has more leverage with Ukraine than with Russia.” Also Lough & Solonenko write something similar in a Chatham House paper.

So in conclusion, perhaps there is a possible way of obtaining peace quickly as outlined by Cooper but only by negotiating with Russia. These negotiations must create a win-win situation which means not giving in on constitutional changes or abandoning sanctions whilst Crimea remains in Russian hands. Nevertheless perhaps there could be step-by-step moves towards reducing some of the sanctions (those that most affect ordinary people) in parallel with the implementation of Minsk steps. Russia might also benefit from an improved image.  

I hope that this very short comment has added to the reflections and debates.

  • Dr Carol Weaver is a university lecturer and the author of many books and articles on the Black Sea Region. She has visited the area many times including Kyiv in March 2014.

The author doesn`t work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations

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The author doesn`t work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations