MINSK, Belarus–The ‘Contact Group’ established by the Minsk-2 ceasefire agreement of Feb 12, 2015 will gather on October 6 for another session to discuss settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Its participants will have to start implementing everything that the leaders of the ‘Normandy Quartet’ (Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine) agreed upon at the meeting in Paris at the end of last week. [See: In Berlin, all sides in talks over Ukraine signal that ceasefire will hold, report on New Cold War.org, Oct 2, 2015.]
No documents were signed in Paris. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande who talked to journalists after the summit described the negotiations only in broad terms. Concrete steps for further settlement should be discussed by the sides in the framework of the Contact Group. It will be clear what the leaders of the Quartet agreed on only after the results of the work of the Contact Group are available.
The Contact Group’s sub-groups will begin talking in Minsk on October 6 at around 1:15pm local time, Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) envoy Denis Pushilin’s press service said.
“The DPR delegation led by Denis Pushilin will arrive at around 11am,” Donetsk News Agency quoted the press service as saying. “Talks of sub-groups will start at around 1:15pm due to organizational issues. The talks will be followed by a Contact Group meeting.”
Judging by the statements made by the participants in the meeting in Paris, there are two high-priority political tasks on top of the agenda for the Contact Group.
The first task is to discuss the planned elections on October 18 and November 1, respectively, in the Donetsk and Lugansk republics (DPR and LPR). They will have to coordinate the issue of holding elections at some other time in accordance with Ukraine’s special law on election in Donbas which has to be adopted yet. (See:
French President Francois Hollande said last week that the refusal to date of the self-proclaimed republics in Donbas to cancel elections on the set date will become an important issue in settling the conflict in Ukraine’s east. “Holding such elections threatens to block the implementation of the Minsk Agreements” which can in turn “lead to a full disintegration of the country,” Hollande told a French-German TV channel Arte.
At the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to use Moscow’s influence on the self-proclaimed republics to solve this issue, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. According to Peskov, “relevant services responsible for such contacts” have already been tasked with discussing the issue of election with representatives of DPR and LPR.
The Ukrainian presidential administration said that the Contact Group will discuss the modality of elections in Donbas at the meeting on October 6. Deputy Head of Ukraine’s Presidential Administration, Konstantin Eliseev, said that an agreement was reached that “snap elections will be held in accordance with Ukrainian laws and standards and under monitoring from OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and ODIHR [Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights].”
The political agenda is not only limited to the issue of local elections. The leaders of the Normandy Quartet tasked the Contact Group with ensuring a comprehensive approach toward the implementation of all points of major political issues. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid special attention to this. “In accordance with a proposal made by the French president and supported by the German chancellor, a possibility was considered to coordinate the elections so that they secure the implementation of all other parts of the political part of the agreement,” the foreign minister stressed. [Note: Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko did not attend the press conference of Angela Merkel and François Hollande in Paris on October 2 following the Normandy Quartet discussions that day. —New Cold War.org]
“Apart from dates of local elections, the key issue is securing the special status of Donbas,” Lavrov said. “In such parameters that were agreed on paper. It should be done on a constant basis, not for a year or two, three years – it is explicitly stated in the Minsk [Agreements],” he explained. Amnesty in Donbas is also connected with local elections, he added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that negotiations in Paris left little room for interpretations. “We are convinced that the talks eliminated for all participants any misunderstandings on the main issues that need to be implemented in full measure,” he said.
However, Kiev continues to send mixed signals. On Monday, Deputy Head of Ukraine’s Presidential Administration Konstantin Eliseev said that Kiev will not hold dialogue with DPR and LPR. “There are militants [on the territories not controlled by Kiev] with whom we will not hold dialogue,” Eliseev said. Ukraine “will not adopt a law on amnesty, a separate law on Donbas special status, will not implement the already existing law on special procedure for holding local election,” he continued. “We cannot do this without legitimately elected authorities,” Eliseev noted.
Kiev “does not need to adopt new laws on amnesty and Donbas special status,” he continued. “We have a legal framework in line with the Minsk Agreements and sufficient for settling all contentious issues. In our vocabulary, there is no notion of a ‘special status’. We only have a law on special procedure of local self-government in several parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions,” he stated.
On September 16 last year, the Verkhovna Rada adopted laws “On special procedure of local self-government in separate parts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions” and “On preventing persecution and punishment of participants in events on the territory of Donetsk and Lugansk regions”. The Ukrainian parliament thus has only one law left to adopt – on elections in Donbas regions not controlled by Kiev. [See: Decentralization reform in Ukraine, by Halyna Mokrushyna, New Cold War.org, August 28, 2015.]
DPR delegation to discuss local election, amnesty and Donbas special status at Contact Group meeting
The delegation of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) will put forward for discussion a proposed law on amnesty, organizing local elections, and special status for Donbas special status at Tuesday’s talks, Denis Pushilin’s press service told Donetsk News Agency on Tuesday.
“The agenda remains the same: laws on amnesty, special status and elections. Special attention will also be paid to restoration of strategically important railroads, electricity supply on the front line and demining water pipes in the Yasinovatsky district,” the press service said.
The new round of Contact Group talks is notable because the meeting of the Normandy Quartet in Paris on October 2 gave an additional impetus to negotiations. According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, talks were “intensive” and “businesslike”. The summit focused on the implementation of the Minsk-2 Agreements, including issues of weapons withdrawal, local elections and amnesty.
Minsk agreements on Ukraine
The Minsk-2 accords were signed on February 12, after negotiations in the so-called ‘Normandy format’ in the Belarusian capital Minsk, bringing together Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko.
The Minsk accords envisage ceasefire, weaponry withdrawal, prisoner exchange, local election in Donbas, constitutional reform in Ukraine and establishing working sub-groups on security, political, economy and humanitarian components of the Minsk accords.
Ukrainian armed forces and the self-defense forces of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics have repeatedly accused each other of violating ceasefire and other points of the Minsk agreements.
TASS and Associated Press report postponement of DPR and LPR local elections, report on New Cold War.org, Oct 6, 2015
In Berlin, all sides in talks over Ukraine signal that ceasefire will hold, report on New Cold War.org, Oct 2, 2015
European leaders take up Ukraine issues as Russia hits Syria, New York Times, Oct 2, 2015
Decentralization reform in Ukraine, by Halyna Mokrushyna, New Cold War.org, August 28, 2015
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