In Digest, Ukraine

New Cold, Nov 18, 2015

Four news reports are enclosed, some translated from their Russian originals.

1. Contact Group for Ukraine to meet today in Minsk

From TASS, Tuesday, Nov 17, 2015

MINSK–The five-party Contact Group in charge of settling the armed civil conflict in eastern Ukraine and its four working subgroups will hold another round of conferences here on Tuesday.

Vladislav Dane (L) and Denis Pushilin, representatives of Lugansk and Donetsk people's republics at Minsk-2 talks

Vladislav Dane (L) and Denis Pushilin, representatives of Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics at Minsk-2 talks

The previous conference took place three weeks ago in Berlin. Those talks in the Normandy Four format comprised Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine. They produced the current agenda for the ongoing Minsk-2 agreement peace process.

A crucial provision in the field of security was implemented last week when sides to the conflict in Donbas completed the pullback of weaponry of calibers smaller than 100 mm from the line of contact separating their combat positions.

Nonetheless, instances of shelling of the areas adjoining the Line of Contact have intensified since the beginning of November. The sides accuse each other of violations of the ceasefire. The Defence Ministry of the Donetsk People’s Republic has registered a concentration of armaments by the pro-Kiev units in all the sectors of the line. DPR defence officials say the Ukrainian military has concentrated 322 units of weaponry there.

The foreign ministers of the Normandy Four countries said at the talks in Berlin three weeks ago that the Minsk accords should remain in effect until all of their provisions are fulfilled. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed the essential importance of fulfilling all the items of the political settlement plan, including adoption of a law and voting procedures on local elections in Donbas, amnesty for combatants, and constitutional reform fixing a special status for the Donbas region.

Leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics announced at the beginning of October they agreed to postpone local elections until 2016. At the end of that same month, the government in Kyiv submitted its own proposal for a law on elections. This made it possible for members of the Minsk-2 subgroup to begin discussions of a working document on local elections taking account of the positions of all the parties to the process of negotiations – the Kiev government, the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The degree of pullback of heavy armaments from the Line of Contact in Donbass remains limited so far on both sides. Michael Bociurkiw, the chief of the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine, said at the end of October that heavy armaments which were to be withdrawn under the accords still remain at positions close to the Line of Contact and are not all located on the sites where they were registered and where they should be stored according to the pullback accords.

Contact Group on Ukraine urges all parties to conflict in Donbas to cease fire

TASS, Nov 17, 2015

MINSK–The Minsk-2 Contact Group on the Ukrainian settlement has called on all parties to the conflict in Donbas to immediately cease fire and prevent possible frustration of previous agreements and any resumption of hostilities, Martin Sajdik, the envoy of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said on Tuesday after Contact Group talks.

“In view of deteriorating security situation along the line of engagement [in Donbas], including serious violations of the ceasefire regime, the Contact Group urges the parties to the conflict to stop all actions that run counter to the agreements signed and peace settlement efforts under the Minsk process,” he said.

He noted that the current aggravation was again claiming human lives and was a serious obstacle for the return of refugees and internally displaced people, for the delivery of relief aid and restoration of vital infrastructure and economic life. “It is necessary to take effort to prevent resumption of armed confrontation and possible frustration of agreements. Immediate normalization in the conflict zone is a binding provision of the Minsk agreements,” he said.

He said the security subgroup had discussed reported ceasefire violations and had focused on de-mining works. “The sides are to exchange all information on de-mining by the end of November,” the OSCE envoy said.

The humanitarian subgroup, in his words, has agreed to spare no effort to speed up the process of prisoner exchange, first of all of those sick and heavily wounded. “Four persons were released last week. Now serious negotiations are under way to continue exchanges,” he said.

The Ukrainian side, according to Sajdik, has informed that two additional mobile bank offices on the platform of armored vehicles would be launched in the Lugansk region starting next Monday and in the Donetsk region starting next Wednesday.

The political subgroup, Sajdik said, discussed the problem of local elections in Donbas and participation of Ukrainian political parties. Amnesty-related issues were also addressed, he added.

The next meeting of the Contact Group will take place on November 24. “We still have time this year to solve what is envisaged by the Minsk agreements,” he said.

The Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine comprising senior representatives from Russia, Ukraine and the European security watchdog OSCE  signed a 13-point package of measures in Minsk, Belarus on February 12, 2015. The package was agreed to by the leaders of the ‘Normandy Four’, namely Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine.

The package of measures, known as Minsk-2, envisaged a ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and people’s militias in the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk beginning February 15 and subsequent withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of engagement. The deal also laid out a roadmap for a lasting settlement in Ukraine, including local elections and constitutional reform to give more autonomy to the war-torn eastern regions.

To spur up the work of the Contact Group, four working subgroups were established on four key aspects of the Minsk agreements, namely on issues of security, political processes, prisoner exchanges and refuges, and social, humanitarian and economic aspects. [See: Text of Minsk-2 Ceasefire Agreement of Feb 12, 2015.]

3. Negotiators in Minsk did not find a consensus on the issue of elections in Donbass

DAN News Service, November 17, 2015. Russian original here, translation by New Cold

DONETSK–The participants in the negotiation process of Minsk-2 have not reached consensus on the election of local government in Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics. This was stated today to journalists by the head of the delegation of the DPR and chairman of the DPR People’s Council, Denis Pushilin.

“These discussions are continuing. As yet there is no understanding, there is no consensus, ” Pushilin was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency.

DPR representative stressed that despite this, work of the political affairs subgroup discussing the election process will continue to work.

Pushilin stressed that the Ukrainian authorities are trying to push through a bill in the Verkhovna Rada pertaining to elections in Donbas which is not coordinated with the people’s republics under the umbrella of the subgroup, directly contradicting the Minsk-2 package of measures.

According to the Donbas delegation, anything put to a vote in the Verkhovna Rada “must be clearly worked out and agreed upon in the framework of the subgroup on political issues.”

Vladislav Dane of the Lugansk republic reminded of the need for coordination of Kyiv policy makers with the people’s republics, referring to issues of constitutional reform in Ukraine.

“Kyiv has to understand that all changes to the constitution must be consistent with the Lugansk and Donetsk republics. Dane is quoted by TASS. “The DPR and LPR will not accept versions of the constitution which are not negotiated with them. ”

According to the People’s Republic of Luhansk, the issue of amendments to the constitution will be raised in the next round of talks in Minsk.

“The Contact Group at the next meeting will discuss possible changes to the constitution of Ukraine. Special status should be indicated in article133 of the Constitution, and there are still a part of the comments of the Venice Commission, which were not taken into account when drafting the amendments to the Constitution for the second reading,” said Dane.

According to OSCE Special Representative Martin Saydik, the next meeting of the contact group for peaceful settlement is still scheduled for November 24th. Summing up the work today, Saydik, on behalf of the Contact Group, called for an immediate end to violations of the truce in the Donbas region.

“We should avoid a resumption of the armed conflict and, therefore, possible disruption of the implementation of agreements,” said the OSCE representative. “Immediate action is required to normalize the situation in the conflict zone and ensure compliance with all the Minsk agreements.”

Recall that the frontline in the Donbas has recently experienced a significant increase in tensions. Contrary to the ceasefire established on September 1, Ukrainian security forces have shelled every day, in particular, the suburbs and the outskirts of Donetsk and Gorlovka.

According Saydika, violations were discussed today at a meeting of the subgroup on safety issues, whose members also agreed to meet at the the end of November to exchange all data on land mine clearance.

The OSCE representative told reporters that some progress has been made in other Minsk-2 subgroups. For example, the sub-group on humanitarian issues has come to a consensus on the need for priority exchange of prisoners suffering from illness and injury. At a meeting of the economic subgroup, it was announced that Kiev has decided to open two mobile bank branches, using armored vehicles.

4. Interview with Konstantin Dolgov of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Donetsk People’s Republic: ‘We already live better than in Ukraine’

Interview published on PolitNavigator, Nov 13, 2015, translated on Fort Russ

Introduction by PolitNavigator: Kyiv is not even trying to fulfill the provisions of the Minsk Agreements. The ceasefire in Donbas is violated regularly. Now, the defeat of Kyiv in economic competition with the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk is becoming obvious. Ukraine has been plunged into the economic chaos of permanent default while the republics are engaged in active state building.

The official representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Konstantin Dolgov, discussed these topics as well as the complexities of the post-war situation of Ukraine with PolitNavigator’s Valentin Filippov.

Valentin Filippov: Tell us, Konstantin, on the internet right now, there is one troubling report after another. Have serious firefights, more than just small local skirmishes, really started in Donetsk? 

Konstantin Dolgov: It is not possible to speak of “local” skirmishes because any firing of shots is a violation of the Minsk agreements. Since August 24, when the president of Ukraine flew to visit Merkel in Germany, he returned and everything stopped, even shelling and small arms fire.

The last few months have been fairly calm. Now that I am a resident of Donetsk, I feel and hear things and yesterday, I was close to the former Donetsk airport. There was some fairly perceptible sounds.  I understand that it was small arms firing. I read in the Donetsk press what our military is saying, that Ukrainian servicemen have started to enjoy shelling the ruins of the Donetsk airport again. Of course, this is a breach of those agreements that were reached at Minsk [in February 2015]. But we’re not talking about anything that is systemic. And, most importantly, artillery fire and mortars are not being used, except for a few cases that are disturbing and disappointing.

VF: I noticed that, first of all, these aggravations mainly start up when international negotiations take place. Just the other day, the Normandy quartet met and, simultaneously, immediately, a number of provocations began. Whenever the negotiation process somewhere in Europe ends, then everything calms down a bit. Unfortunately, in the mainstream media, there is very little coverage of what is happening with the Minsk format. That is, there are contact groups, and they at least provide some kind of consultation… Now, these consultations – have they been stalled? Or are they ongoing as was planned? What is being discussed? 

KD: As regards the agenda of the these days and the agreements that were reached, undoubtedly, it is depressing that, and this is no secret, the Ukrainian side, as regards fulfilling the specific points of the Minsk agreements, is quite slow. Because there are many points. But for some reason, they believe that the main point is restoring control over the Ukraine-Russia border. But this is the last point. I’ll remind our audience that the Minsk agreements imply a phased implementation, and the first thing is undoubtedly a ceasefire. The second is the withdrawal of weapons. And so on. Then amnesty, the adoption of a law on a special status, and other points.

VF: Well, yes.

KD: And to this day, Ukraine, and this is disappointing for us, has not taken the slightest of steps to begin discussing how Ukraine will fulfill its obligations. There is a very important provision which concerns what is perhaps a third of the population of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. I’m talking about pensioners and the resumption of welfare on the territory of the DPR and LPR. I recall that, since July of last year, Kiev stopped all payments, turned off the banking system, and so on. Hundreds of  thousands of people have been left without pensions. If we include the Lugansk People’s Republic, then this is more than a million pensioners. Not to mention salaries for state employees and investments in infrastructure.

VF: But Kiev simply doesn’t have this money today. If even they wanted to have it, they have a default, actually…

KD: Of course, we understand all the difficulties which face the Ukrainian side. But these are our people, our pensioners. We will do our best to ensure that Kiev pays them their money. We believe that this money has been stolen. People worked for years not only in Ukraine, but when it was the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. They were removed from the pension fund. This was all Kiev. Kiev appropriated for itself all of this, and the regions received however much Kiev saw fit: some miserable crumbs. As a result, Kiev is the rich capital. They feel themselves to have blue blood and white bones while everyone else is considered to be third class people. Well, that’s just not right.

Naturally, we are skeptical towards Ukraine’s implementation of the Minsk agreements. If you ask my personal opinion, not as an official representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the DPR or as a civil servant, but my personal opinion, then I believe that Ukraine is unable to fulfill the Minsk agreements. In addition, I believe that it doesn’t want to fully comply with them. There are points which suit Ukraine, in particular the return of control over the border, but Ukraine doesn’t want to do anything to achieve this.

VF: Well, returning control over the border is the last point and it was agreed upon last. It shouldn’t be fulfilled any earlier…

KD: That is absolutely correct. And, besides that, look at the timing. Look how much time it took the Ukrainian side just to stop shooting and killing people. It took flying to see Merkel in Berlin in August…

VF: More than half a year.

KD: Yes, more than half a year. But, I’ll remind the audience that, according to the Minsk agreements, two weeks were set aside to achieve this. That is, by the end of February, 2015. On February 12, they signed the Minsk agreements. They were supposed to stop firing by the end of February. But this didn’t happen. Only now can we talk, and only now can we deal with the second point in fulfilling the Minsk agreements.

VF: That is the withdrawal.

KD: That is the withdrawing of troops. On our side, everything has been done. The Ukrainian side has been taking its time, and we see in the press, including in the Ukrainian press, negative articles suggesting that Ukraine has fully complied with this provision…Of course, this can’t not disturb us, can’t not disturb the residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics.

In my opinion, it’s just a matter of waiting for a complete change of the Ukrainian leadership. And it’s likely that there won’t be a change in Ukraine’s leadership, but rather its disintegration.

Then they will agree to ending the war and the Donetsk People’s Republic will negotiate with the Dnepropetrovsk People’s Republic. Without Kiev. They’ll figure it out themselves. And there is already the problem of how the Dnepropetrovsk People’s Republic will negotiate with Kiev. In my opinion, there is no other way here.

In my personal opinion, I believe that this entire situation has, unfortunately, come to stay for a while. Of course, I would like everything to happen at once, but that just won’t happen. Even if we assume that tomorrow Kiev will dare to go on an offensive, then it will get a slap in the face, and will be plucked away by our counter-offensive, and the head of our republic, Alexander Vladimirovich Zakharchenko, has already spoken about this. A counter-offensive doesn’t have anywhere to stop. But even if we assume that we have won (we, naturally, want to win, and we so desire), that all of the territory is ours, that democratic elections will be held, well, in fact, this is a very protracted process because those who unleashed civil war are the biggest criminals and they, undoubtedly, should be punished for the crimes they’ve committed. What they’ve done is horrible.

VF: Well, the war will forever be in people’s consciousness. This is understandable, even if the generation changes. This is always the case.

KD: That’s absolutely right.

VF: Experience shows that it will take a minimum of 20 years before people will be able to live together.

KD: People who directly took part in combat operations, who shelled Donetsk and Lugansk – of course, these people are war criminals. They should be held responsible for their actions. But who called these people forward? Who fueled the fire of civil war? Who sowed hatred? Who promoted intolerance towards another language, towards people with different political and ideological views?

I’m saying that this includes Ukrainian journalists… Do you understand that this is a terrible situation?

VF: Yes, I understand.

KD: It requires resolution, but not any simple resolution. Maybe an unpopular one. A resolution which, maybe, has yet to be thought up. Because it is not clear what we should do with them.

Tomorrow, they’ll tell us: “Well, sorry guys. This was the editorial policy…”

VF: Well, yes.

KD: Yes. Calling for the burning of kolorady and killing separatists? “Yeah, that was the deal.”

VF: Well, they attacked.

KD: “Well, come on, I’ll pay a fine. 150 hryvnia.” Right… “They told me that they attacked, but I didn’t figure it out. I didn’t check. I never went to Donetsk.” They didn’t see what is happening here with their own eyes.What will happen with these people then? They’ll change outfits?

VF: Yes.

KD: Roll over and sing the anthem of the Donetsk People’s Republic?

VF: Yes!

KD: Well, I’m convinced that this will last for a while. We have a tremendous amount of work to do. And everything is only beginning. The most important is that nothing is lost, and that there are positive developments in state building, and I’m referring to the Donetsk People’s Republic and its residents for the benefit of whom I work. I see that the economy is rising. I see that people are getting salaries, and pensioners are getting pensions. We expect and we hope for a re-indexing of wages and pensions, for their growth, for the growth of the prosperity of our citizens.

It’s warm in Donetsk. There is hot water. Communal utilities are available. In general, what can we say? We already live better than in Ukraine. And God forbid that we will not be equal to Ukraine when we speak about our successes in terms of the economic and social development of the state.

VF: Well, that’s good. I wish you success. And I wish that the territories of the people’s republics, in accordance with logic, will return to the borders of the regions where people voted in the referendum.

KD: Moreover, they are waiting for us. Thank you. And it will be so!


EDITOR’S NOTE: We remind our readers that publication of articles on our site does not mean that we agree with what is written. Our policy is to publish anything which we consider of interest, so as to assist our readers in forming their opinions. Sometimes we even publish articles with which we totally disagree, since we believe it is important for our readers to be informed on as wide a spectrum of views as possible.

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