Q.: Do you see any progress in implementing the decisions made by the Normandy Four (N4) Summit in Paris on December 9, 2019?
A.: Last year the N4 leaders drafted a final statement. The document had two main sections: “immediate measures to stabilize the conflict zone” and “measures to implement the political provisions of the Minsk agreements”. In total, seven specific measures were outlined and due to be implemented by April 2020. Only two of them were implemented and only partially.
On December 29, 2019, Kiev and the Donbas in the presence of the Red Cross (ICRC) personnel swapped 200 detained persons. On April 16, 2020, 34 more persons came home. The sides, however, failed to continue this practice. Moreover, the Ukrainian authorities failed to fully comply with their obligations with regard to legal clearance of the swapped. In some cases charges were not dropped and records were not withdrawn.
On July 22, the Contact Group (CG) reached an agreement on “measures to reinforce the ceasefire”. Despite, by the way, certain resistance from Kiev. The measures came into effect on July 27 and foresaw a ban on offensive, intelligence and commando operations, use of any UAVs, opening of any type of fire, including sniper and backfire. Finally, a direct contact was to be set in case the ceasefire is broken. In general, the sides adhere to the agreement, though not at 100% capacity (the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission recorded 1,600 shots fired in August-October).
Q.: And what about the other five measures?
A.: These are yet to be implemented. And the Ukrainian authorities bear responsibility for that. To begin with, Kiev avoids negotiating legal aspects of the special status of the Donbas with Donetsk and Lugansk. Furthermore, the Steinmeier Formula is yet to be incorporated in the Ukrainian legal system (the Formula envisages that a law on the special status of the Donbas comes into force on the day local elections take place there). Kiev sabotages discussions about new disengagement areas at the contact line (the CG is considering 4 potential locations). Demining areas are still to be determined (the coordinates of 19 locations are on the negotiating table).
Finally, new crossing points near Shchastye and Zolotoe in the Lugansk region have not been opened. The opening of these crossing points on the contact line (scheduled for November 10) was sabotaged by Kiev. In accordance with the parameters coordinated between Ukraine and Lugansk, the Shchastye crossing point was to be used exclusively by vehicles, including humanitarian convoys. However, Kiev abandoned the agreement right before the opening of this crossing point. It was opened for pedestrians instead. The Ukrainian side knew that Lugansk was not prepared to operate the crossing point in this format. It is not surprising that Lugansk regardeds this as a provocation. The authorities in Kiev cynically exploited the people’s desire to return home to see their families. As a result, they had to wait in vain at the crossing point.
Kiev has not responded to numerous calls for coordinating the details of the agreed bus crossing at Zolotoe. There is a further 3 km stretch of the neutral zone to cover. By refusing to coordinate the details of the bus crossing and to ensure normal conditions there, especially in light of the approaching winter, Kiev has demonstrated disregard for its citizens, most of whom are elderly people with health problems.
Kiev also persistently delayed the coordination of conditions for an ICRC humanitarian convoy to go through the Shchastye crossing point towards Lugansk, which was scheduled to take place on November 17.
Q.: Do you believe that Kiev is still willing to implement the aforementioned measures - maybe later?
A.: We can hardly predict that. One thing is already certain: the team of V.A.Zelenskiy fails to create political environment that could contribute to a peaceful settlement of the intra-Ukrainian conflict in the South-East.
For example, the authorities in Kiev continue to discriminate ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking citizens. The current language policy in the country that promotes Ukrainian at the expense of other languages - most notably, Russian - violates numerous international norms.
We also witness some openly provocative steps. The Verhovnaya Rada adopted a resolution on July 15 that scheduled the local elections in the country for October 25. The document blocked the work of the CG. The parliament called elections on the entire territory of the country except Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Elections there were supposed to take place only after Kiev regains full control of these territories. This contradicts the Minsk agreements. In response Donetsk and Lugansk refused to discuss other matters.
Q.: Could a new N4 summit give an impetus to implementation of the remaining measures?
A.: Convening such a summit seems to be appropriate only after all the Paris decisions are implemented. Ukraine’s attempts to organize a meeting of the leaders have no ground. Kiev should better focus on other things. To start with, stop criticizing the Minsk agreements. Avoid distorting the order in which its provisions are to be implemented. As for our American colleagues who tend to support the Ukrainian point of view - please keep in mind that the Minsk agreements became a part of the international law after the UN Security Council had adopted the resolution 2202. The US was at the table and voted “for” without any objections to the order of the provisions.
As a reminder: Ukraine regaining control over the border with Russia is the last step that should take place only after the special status of the Donbas is incorporated in the Ukrainian legal system and local elections there are held. Kiev should also refrain from attempts to marginalize the Contact Group and substitute it with the N4 talks. Finally, let’s not forget that Russia is not a party to the conflict. Thus, a direct dialogue between Kiev and Donetsk and Lugansk is the only way to settle it. After all, it all started in Kiev as the coup d’état took place in February 2014.