Thursday

21st Feb 2019

Opinion

Time to face facts on Ukraine's dead ceasefire deal

  • Russia's covert war against its peaceful neighbour has gone on for almost half a decade (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

This past summer, the US special representative for Ukraine Negotiations, Kurt Volker, publicly pressured Ukraine to extend the law on the special status of Donbas - a provision of the Minsk Accords, a ceasefire pact, which provides for overly broad local self-governance in Russia-occupied Ukraine, as well as extensive amnesty to local collaborators.

The provision is a highly unpopular concession to Moscow, regarded by many Ukrainians as a poison pill for the country's political system, with deeply undermining consequences for Ukraine's nationhood.

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  • Unexploded shell in mud on Ukraine battlefield (Photo: Corneliu Cazacu)

Although it is an explosive political issue in the country, Volker argued that not extending the law would "do more harm than good" as Moscow would "use it as a reason to accuse Ukraine of non-compliance with the Minsk agreements."

This reasoning is perverse for the simple reason that a dead deal cannot be violated.

If Ukraine had not extended the law, it would not have been a violation of Minsk, but a simple recognition of the fact that Russia's non-compliance constitutes a fundamental breach, nullifying the agreement.

Western pressure on Kiev to implement dangerous concessions, while Russia continues to attack Ukraine's sovereignty and violate the Minsk Accords with impunity, is met with deep resentment in Ukraine.

However, being in need of Western support against a formidable foe, on 4 October, with just over the bare minimum necessary for the vote to pass, the Ukrainian parliament approved the extension of the special status law to 31 December 2019.

The decision was lauded in the West as demonstrating Ukraine's continued commitment to the Minsk agreements.

In a joint statement on Ukraine, the eight former and future EU members of the United Nations Security Council "welcomed" the renewal of the Donbas legislation.

This political game, where the victim of unprovoked aggression has to prove its commitment to peace, has long surpassed the point of farce.

Dead horse

It is time for Western governments to publicly declare what is acknowledged in private - Minsk is dead, and a more effective course to repress Russian aggression against Ukraine is long overdue.

While limiting the number of casualties and preventing Syria-like destruction in more of Ukraine, the initial usefulness of Minsk has run its course.

There is no enduring ceasefire. The Minsk Accords have not repressed Russian aggression against Ukraine, and do absolutely nothing to address Moscow's crimes against humanity in the occupied regions.

The war rages on, costing several lives every week. Ukraine is no closer to enjoying peace and seeing its sovereignty and territorial integrity restored than when the first Minsk memorandum was negotiated in 2014.

The Kremlin has maintained the appearance of adhering to some of its obligations so it can pretend it has not walked away from the agreements.

But the truth is that Russia has barely honoured any of its obligations under the Minsk Accords, flagrantly violating them for years.

Not only have Moscow's persistent and habitual violations rendered the Minsk Accords de facto null and void, but now, in clear and indisputable violation of both the letter and spirit of the Minsk agreements, on 11 November, Russia will hold fake 'elections' in occupied Donbas.

After this watershed moment, there can no longer be any pretence that Minsk is alive.

The popular argument that without Minsk, EU sanctions would have to be lifted because they are tied to the implementation of the agreements is nonsensical.

Under this reasoning, if Russia unilaterally decided to officially withdraw, then there would be nothing for sanctions to be tied to, and they would have to be lifted. This was clearly not the intention of the sanctions policy.

New sanctions

In light of Russia's de facto nullification of the accords, the EU should finally tie the entire complement of sanctions to the full restoration of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to the cessation of all forms of Russia's multi-vectored war (political subversion, terrorism, cyber-attacks, information warfare, economic pressure, and crimes against humanity).

Taking into account precedents set by the United Nations in dealing with other rogue regimes in the past, sanctions should go as far as a full economic embargo, with an oil and gas for food programme to deprive Russia of funds for its war efforts, and a nuclear disarmament programme to remove the nuclear threat Moscow uses to advance its aggressive geopolitical agenda.

However challenging the implementation may be, such a revised sanctions regime will be proportional to Russia's violations of international law, and substantially increase Western leverage over Moscow to stop its aggression against Ukraine and diminish its threat to international security.

It will also free Ukraine from the toxic obligations of the dead Minsk agreements in which the Kremlin got to play the role of mediator rather than be treated as the party guilty of aggression.

The fact that Russia has been allowed to continue its unlawful war against a peaceful neighbour for almost half a decade without facing drastic repercussions is a spectacular moral and legal failing.

The West should finally exercise its full political and economic power to force Russia to end the war and to bring about a just and enduring peace to Ukraine.

Ariana Gic is an independent legal and political analyst, and writer based in Toronto. Roman Sohn is a legal expert, columnist, and civil society activist in Kiev

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