In Ukraine

By Eduard Popov, translated and published on Fort Russ, Oct 7, 2017

Russian and U.S. special advisers on Ukraine, Vladislav Surkov (left) and Kurt Volker

Today, October 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s representative Vladislav Surkov met with the U.S. State Department’s Special Representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker in Belgrade. The backstory of this meeting is the Ukrainian parliament’s adoption of two bills on October 6 in their first readings, namely, bill number 7163 (known as the “reintegration of Donbass bill”) and number 7164. The latter extends for another year the bill on “special self-government” for the regions of Donbass uncontrolled by Kiev, which was adopted back in 2014 following the first Minsk Agreements and which was supposed to expire on October 18.

To recall, ‘Minsk 1 was initiated by Kiev in September 2014 order to save the Ukrainian Army from final defeat at Ilovaysk and Izvarino. It was seen as a temporary respite needed to restore the combat capacity of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. ‘Minsk 2’ [February 2015] practically repeated the fate of Minsk 1, having been adopted for the same reason – the Donbass militias’ defeat of Ukrainian forces – and the same failure to implement the conditions of the ceasefire.

In this light, Bill 7164 formally confirms Ukraine’s commitment to a ceasefire – but only formally. A law granting “certain districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions” (Ukrainian legislative jingo for the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics) a special political status has still not been adopted by the Verkhovna Rada over the past three years.

Yet even Ukraine’s purely formal adherence to the truce is completely overshadowed by Bill 7163, which we described back in July when it was first submitted to the Verkhovna Rada as a bill entailing no more nor less than war with Russia. Today’s adoption of the bill with some amendments features even more tightened wording, but the main provisions of the document remain:

  1. Cancelling the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” (ATO), and instead introducing “martial law”, the responsibility for which will be transferred from the SBU (Ukraine’s secret police) to a new special Joint Operations Headquarters of the UAF to which all other departments, including the National Guard and police, are to be subordinated. The right to impose martial law in any region of the country is the exclusive prerogative of the President of Ukraine, and under such all local authority at all levels in the area of martial law is terminated.
  2. Fixing Russia’s “legal status” as the “aggressor country”, and using the term “occupational administration of the Russian Federation” to refer to the governments of the DPR and LPR.

Indeed, it is on the urging of the “patriotic” deputies of the Verkhovna Rada that the bill excludes any mention of the priority of implementing the Minsk Agreements for the sake of resolving the conflict. The paragraph on this point contained in the original version of the bill has been removed.

In other words, Ukrainian authorities’ interpretation of the nature of the conflict in Donbass has undergone a fundamental transformation. Instead of “separatist regimes” in Donetsk and Lugansk, the document proclaims the presence of an “occupational administration”, and instead of separatist groups, “Russian occupation troops.”

Thus, on the legislative level, Russia is now in official legal terms an “aggressor” occupying a part of Ukrainian territory. The ruling Poroshenko regime will actively push this central provision of the bill on the international political and diplomatic arena. However, Kiev has also left itself a loophole. The thesis that Russia has “occupied Donbass” would seem to imply an immediate declaration of war against the “aggressor,” which, of course, in practice would mean a swift and final defeat of the Ukrainian Army. The question of “de-occupying” Donbass, has thus been left hanging in the air, while Ukraine reserves the right, at any moment most convenient, to declare war on the aggressor. Of course, for now it is in no hurry to do so for the sake of maintaining its army and receiving IMF loans.

Both of the bills in question have been adopted on the same day, literally just before the announced meeting between Volker and Surkov. Ukrainian deputies’ legislative activism has been met with an altogether one-sided appraisal from the U.S.’ Special Representative for Ukraine, who has tweeted: “Special status extension shows Ukraine taking tough steps for peace. Hope Russia now acts to make peace – time to end conflict.” Thus, the U.S. has not “noticed” that Ukraine’s bill no. 7163 literally negates the Minsk Agreements.

What’s more, the Poroshenko regime’s legislative balancing act has become, for Volker, a pretext for launching a new round of accusations against Russia, faulting the latter for allegedly frustrating peace efforts in Donbass.

In my article on Volker and Surkov’s first meeting, I said that Volker’s job boils down to pushing ultimatums against Russia, namely, demanding that Moscow leave Donbass. Volker’s rhetoric on the adopted bills, I think, confirms this conclusion. Kurt Volker, after all, is a frank and super-rigid lobbyist for the Poroshenko regime. The much anticipated restart in Russia-U.S. relations following Trump’s victory has not taken place and, on the contrary, the White House’s position has somewhat hardened.

In fact, Volker’s rash words during his telephone conversation with Russian pranksters Vovan and Lexus, who pretended to be Ukraine’s Secretary of the National Security and Defense council, Turchynov, reveal the U.S.’ strategic aims in Ukraine. In particular, Volker categorically stated that a new Ukrainian offensive on Donetsk and Lugansk is inadvisable.

This shows that the U.S.’ tactic in the former Ukraine currently boils down to simulating a negotiations process and putting forth new demands and allegations against Russia as if it were a party to the conflict in Donbass. All the while, the DPR and LPR continue to be shelled and economically blockaded in blatant violation of the Minsk Agreements, and new sanctions are being imposed on Russia. Thus, the conclusion I drew in my previous article is fully applicable to the present situation, which has only furnished new evidence.

Eduard Popov, born in 1973 in Konstantinovka, Donetsk region, is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia in Rostov-on-Don. From 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don. He has actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass and has been a guest contributor to various Donbass media He has contributed to Fort Russ since June, 2016.

Related stories:
U.S. envoy for Ukraine meets Russian president’s special adviser on Ukraine in Belgrade, Radio Free Europe, Oct 5, 2017

Press release on Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Published on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Oct 9, 2017  (full text enclosed)

On October 9, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the latter’s initiative.

They discussed the situation in Syria, including prospects for cooperation between Russia and the United States to ensure proper functioning of the de-escalation zones and to advance the political settlement process. The Russian side also pointed to the need to wage an uncompromising struggle against the terrorist groups entrenched in Syria, while strictly observing the principle of territorial integrity.

Other pressing international matters were discussed as well. Sergey Lavrov stressed that the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, caused by U.S. military preparations in the region, is unacceptable, and underscored the importance of resolving disputes exclusively by diplomatic means. The Russian Minister noted that the Donbass reintegration draft law promoted by the Kiev authorities is clearly at odds with the Minsk Agreements and undermines the peaceful settlement process. They also exchanged views on the meeting between Aide to the Russian President Vladislav Surkov and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker, which took place in Belgrade on October 7, and stressed the importance of continuing contacts using this channel in the interests of developing realistic approaches towards implementing the Package of Measures agreed upon in Minsk.

Reviewing the situation in the bilateral sphere, Sergey Lavrov again drew attention to Russia’s demand to return illegally seized Russian diplomatic property and stressed that Russia reserves the right to pursue legal recourse and take measures in response. [Story here on, Oct 9, 2017.]

Both sides expressed support for continuing the dialogue on the complex issues of Russia-U.S. relations that is being maintained by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and U.S. Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon.

The ministers agreed to stay in touch on important issues of the bilateral and international agenda.



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