Written exclusively for the New Cold War website, this update is the last of 2019 from our regular contributor on Ukraine, Dmitriy Kovalevich. This month he unravels the mayhem left by the failed negotiations that took place in Paris , early in December and considers — with several examples — why this was so.
By Dmitriy Kovalevich, Dec 31, 2019
Millions of Ukrainians have been waiting for December – the month of the long expected meeting in France aimed at resolving the conflict in Donbass which has lasted for six years. However, the negotiations held on December 11, between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France ultimately failed and the sides merely agreed to meet again next year.
Disagreement on major issues
The meeting was preceded by a mass coercive campaign, organized by the former government of Poroshenko and far-right militants “against capitulation” (the term they used to refer to the ceasefire and withdrawal of forces). The oligarchs who seized power in Maidan 2014 and the far-right militants continue to profit from the war and consequently do not want a ceasefire. The new president does not have full control over the law enforcement agencies and bows to pressure from the nationalists. This is why the negotiations have failed. The sides disagreed on major issues regarding special status for Donbass in the event of its reintegration. This was one of the main points of the Minsk agreement signed by Kiev in 2015. Even so, Ukrainian nationalists claim that a special status, which implies semi-autonomy within Ukraine, would be a ‘cancer cell’ in the Ukrainian body politic. They insist on the war continuing until the final victory and the “cleansing” of Donbass following their victory. And Zelensky accepts their demands, as he is a weak president who has no force by which to confront this aggressive, armed, nationalist minority.
Meanwhile, leaders of the far-right nationalists continue to hoodwink their supporters with promises that “Russia will collapse soon” and “we’ll get its territories and resources.” This is exactly the same promise that was used during the early Cold War period (1940-1950s) for former Nazi collaborators in Eastern Europe who had shifted from serving Nazi Germany to serving the US in 1945. In 1941, Nazi Germany had promised to let them plunder the Soviet Union; an assurance later made by their new US masters. This was seen by the unscrupulous as a much better prospect than making the effort to search for gainful employment.
“No one believes in the Russian threat”
This tendency was well expressed not long ago  by Kiev journalist, Vyacheslav Chechilo:
“These patriots, who undermine the peace talks, are—of course—not going to fight with the Donbass and Russia behind it. Patriots don’t need Donbass in any way, except Donbass on its knees, but better – deserted. The residents of Donbass are despised and hated here. But for the sake of returning these territories, they are not ready to make concessions – they demand additional payments. Despite all the propaganda, no one believes in the Russian threat. No one expects Russian troops to cross the border and actually get here to kick their ass. Here, it is just comfortable and safe to be a militarist and Russophobe. Everyone is convinced that time is on their side. After all, the Russian Federation will fall apart sooner or later, or the anaconda [NATO] will choke it. All that is required is to wait on a comfortable couch up to this moment.
“The economic interests of this active minority are no longer connected with the economy inherited by modern Ukraine from the Ukrainian SSR. The return of the Donbass, the restoration of economic relations with Russia are important for the residents of a few remaining industrial regions. But for many residents of Kiev and Lvov it is important to have an opportunity to work for foreign masters here or in Poland; to have access to public budget and foreign NGO grants. And for all this, it is easier for them to live without Donbass and without Russia. Therefore, they have plenty of reasons to be against any peace agreement. And this is precisely the biggest problem of our peaceful resolution,” writes Chechilo.
Sentiments of the aggressive nationalist minority
However, I should emphasize that these are the sentiments of the aggressive nationalist minority, despite all polls indicating that the majority strive for peace by any means possible. But these sorts of people either tend to remain silent at home or move from Kiev to Donbass or Russia.
The Ukrainian media reports that Zelensky and Putin discussed elections in Donbas and the resumption of Ukrainian control of the border there with Russia; however, they failed to agree on which step would be first.
The country’s media also reports that Zelensky and Putin have agreed on a new exchange of prisoners before the New Year. But even this issue resulted in a disagreement over the terms: Kiev refuses to exchange prisoners, held in pre-trial detention without the verdict of any court. This is typical practice in Ukraine: political dissidents may be detained for years merely on suspicion. A Ukrainian Political prisoner, the 85 years old scientist Mekhti Logunov, has been on hunger strike during December. The Donbass republics decided to include him in the list for prisoners’ swap. However, his lawyers claimed that the Kiev authorities pressurised the old man, demanding that he refused the exchange. Meanwhile, the other detained persons , are allegedly being pressed to acknowledge their guilt in order to get into the list of POWs for the swap, despite most of these individuals having nothing whatsoever to do with the Donbass republics. Even so, on December 29, the exchange of prisoners took place and Mekhti Logunov was finally released .
No agreement is reached on any point
In fact, no agreement was reached on any point. Kiev continues to refuse to meet and negotiate directly with Donbass leaders. Nevertheless, the very fact that this is an international meeting (though fruitless) is used to show the importance of Ukraine on international arena.
Another point, revealed by the talks in France, was the crucial role played in them by the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. He runs both the police and the National Guard, including the neo-Nazi ‘Azov’ regiment, which protested against any peace in Kiev.
The minister is a leftover from the former Poroshenko government. After the failed talks he said that “there was no betrayal” during the talks and the protesting neo-Nazi militias immediately stopped their protests. Arsen Avakov is one of the wealthiest of Ukraine’s ministers. He controls the police, neo-Nazis, and a group of MPs. He is one of those who profit from the war. Last year his son was accused of corruption  during the scandal over embezzling money by supplying ammunition to the National Guard. Following the failed talks in France he directly said  that ‘Ukraine didn’t agree with withdrawal of forces, proposed by Russia, along the entire frontline – because it is not beneficial for Ukraine to withdraw its forces’. In the same interview he also claimed that Angela Merkel had helped Kiev to press the point.
The former Ukraine’s minister of justice Elena Lukash says that peace can be achieved more easily – without multilateral negotiations concerning the status of Donbass. And the first step should be carried out in Kiev, not in Donbass – it’s about calming down roaming gangs of ultra-nationalists.
“The war can be stopped by starting from the controlled territories – from Kiev. It is here that the real enemy is rampaging – gangs of stray ‘patriots’ on call. Without a struggle and victory on this front there will be no peace. If you are in power, don’t be cowards, put things in order,” writes  Elena Lukash.
“In 2020, we will increasingly hear about gas in the context of confrontation with Russia.”
But for the US peace in Ukraine seems to be undesirable. Speaking recently during the meeting with Ukraine’s ministers, William B. Tailor, the acting US ambassador in Ukraine, ascribes for Ukraine to escalate and broaden the war next year. “We are talking about the frontline in a broader sense. In 2020, we will increasingly hear about gas in the context of confrontation with Russia. And this, in turn, will affect the link between Crimea and Donbass”, said  Taylor.
The continuation of the war and the failure of the peace talks also means another round of media censorship for Ukraine. During December a new bill on media ‘freedom’ was presented and this should be adopted by the Parliament presently. According to reports by Kiev media  it implies a complete ban on the positive portrayal of the Soviet Union or technical achievements during the Soviet era. It also contains a complete prohibition on positive information regarding the seceded republic of Donbass (for instance, on the information that gas and electricity prices in the republics are 300% lower than in Ukraine). Banned also is any positive information about Russia (even in the form of citations from Russian official statements). Formally, it suits the article on ‘justifying a crime or criminal regime’. The bill also implies the proscription (without a court decision) of any website that is suspected of spreading this kind of information. All the bans are to ‘promote media freedom’ and ‘fight against fake news.’
Nevertheless, according to a new poll , conducted in late December for Christmas and the New Year, Ukrainians wish most of all for: health – for themselves and their relatives – (49%) and peace (40%). And we can only hope that their wishes will be fulfilled during the coming year regardless of the warmongering policies of the Kiev and US politicians.
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