Political analyst Taras Stetskiv analyzes the threats represented by the Minsk agreements and discusses possible alternatives in an interview with Anton Borkovskyi on Espreso TV, February 8. Stetskiv is a former member of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Parliament), development director at the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, and one of the authors of the August 13, 2015, appeal to President Poroshenko not to change Ukraine’s Constitution in order to provide special status for Russian occupied territories in the Donbas.
– We understand that the Minsk agreements have reached the so-called “0 hour” and that everything is to be resolved sooner or later. What are the results of President Poroshenko’s meeting with Chancellor Merkel?
Most likely Ukraine’s president was forced to explain to the German chancellor why Ukraine has not complied with paragraph 11 of the Minsk II agreement dealing with changes to the Constitution which provide for special status of the Donbas. Why do I say that? Because all the rhetoric of the Normandy 4, members, especially Putin, Merkel and Hollande, leaves no room for doubt. It is obvious this is a question of forcing Ukraine unilaterally, once again, to implement this point of the Minsk agreement.
It is enough to see what Hollande said when he spoke to the French diplomatic corps and to pay attention to Putin’s statements and the rhetoric that was adopted by Gryzlov, Putin’s new representative in the negotiating group. What is obvious is that three out of four participants want to force the president of Ukraine and through him the Ukrainian parliament to humiliate themselves again and to cooperate with Russia. In turn, Russia will promise to fulfill the Minsk agreements sometime in the future.
– Well, we understand this was confirmed by signature.
Yes this presents a problem, even though in reality the Minsk agreement does not have international legal standing; this is not a document …
… this is not even the Budapest Memorandum
But, unfortunately, there is Kuchma’s signature. Kuchma apparently was authorized by Poroshenko, but to this day we cannot determine how this authorization came about? Generally, to sign international agreements the directive of the head of state is required. Here there are no such directives.
We saw the document authorizing Kuchma. It only indicates that the president of Ukraine has delegated his representative Leonid Kuchma to take part in the negotiations in Minsk. There are no other documents that grant Kuchma the right to sign. And this is why we are currently being held hostage by this piece of paper. I look at it as an informal agreement between four people. Specifically, four people who have signed a packet of measures.
The presidents of Ukraine, Russia, France, and the German chancellor signed a memorandum that endorses a packet of measures. This is some kind of abracadabra that is probably unique in modern diplomacy — abracadabra of two documents that is now being used to pin Ukraine against the wall.
– Well they have already pushed Ukraine against the wall because at one time (Ukraine) signed and accepted (Minsk II), and later everyone began to understand and discover that this is really a time bomb.
Yes, this was discussed even then. But at that time Poroshenko reassured everybody that this would bring peace for Ukraine, that the militants were advancing and it was necessary to prevent the killing of civilians and that (the agreement) had to be signed. But we can see now, a year later, that peace has not arrived. Our people continue to die as before.
Perhaps Poroshenko hoped that in a year something would happen, either the mighty (Russian) ruler would croak, or the situation would change. But Russia still stands and Putin now brings up the Minsk agreements and thrusts them in Poroshenko’s face: “Look, you signed the commitment and signed that you would change the Constitution! Is it written here that the Donbas must have special status? Yes it is. Is it written that these changes to the Constitution must be approved by the DNR LNR militants? Written. Then execute!” And the president of Ukraine has no choice, in fact. He made a promise to Putin, he made a promise to the West, and now they’re demanding it.
But, fortunately, there is a so-so Verkhovna Rada in this country on which everything depended really: provide 300 votes for the Constitution and secure the special status of the Donbas or not. Since the Verkhovna Rada did not muster the 300 votes and the president ended up in an impasse, he had to call on judges to get him out of the fix twice. First he turned to the Constitutional Court to figure out if it is the next session, or the one that follows the previous one, or simply the subsequent one. This is ridiculous in terms of common sense. Because if today is Wednesday, for example, then tomorrow will be Thursday and not Friday. And the problem is that neither the president nor the speaker of Verkhovna Rada noticed that there is already a Constitutional Court decision on the matter. It was already there in 2002. ( refers to the requirement that a draft law on introducing amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine, which are considered by the Verkhovna Rada and not adopted, cannot be revisited sooner than in a year. –Ed.)
– But if Verkhovna Rada removes it from the agenda or does not vote, then that is it — the issue fails. Then how would Ukraine look in international eyes?
Well if that happens I would consider this a manifestation of the sovereign position of the Ukrainian Parliament. I am convinced that regardless of the reaction in the East or the West, the Ukrainian Parliament is obligated to act that way. It must reject these amendments to the Constitution. And why should the Ukrainian position on the issue of the war in the Donbas need to depend on whether there are sanctions or not and the price of oil is $25 or $50 or $70?!
Well, if the Ukrainian side is hoping only for this, then that is to its shame. I think the Ukrainian side should have an option as to when the sanctions are imposed and when they are lifted. And most important, every Ukrainian politician must remember that no adverse external situation, no support or lack of support of the West can force us to give up our national interests. We have no right to integrate the Donbas into Ukraine on Russia’s terms.
– I agree with you, but what if the Verkhovna Rada does accept these changes?
Well, there are not enough votes now and I don’t think they will be there. But if that suddenly happens then there will be people in Ukraine who will put this issue to a referendum. I believe that no parliament or president can decide that kind of question without taking into account the views of the Ukrainian people. And then we will go to a referendum. And I assure you that this referendum will be won by the opponents of special status (for the Donbas).
– Even if Ukraine regains control of the border, I don’t know how Ukraine will be able to control all these gangs of thugs.
It won’t be able to. There are several dangers. The greatest danger is if there is a special status in the Donbas. It won’t be difficult to guess that other regions will also demand special status for themselves. For example, Zakarpattia, Bessarabia and possibly even Halychyna will also begin to demand autonomy.
Second, if we legalize special status, then it is clear who will be chosen in the occupied territories. And these thugs will begin traveling around in Ukraine with the badges of local council deputies. And these thugs will have immunity. And this bacteria, this gangrene, will begin to spread throughout Ukraine.
– It would be similar to 2006, after the Maidan victory, when they allowed the former Regionals (members of the Party of Regions, the party of Yanukovych and company — Ed.) to receive the badges that provide immunity.
They were provided with indulgences and so will these people. And what did we hear at the recent talks in Minsk? Gryzlov, on behalf of Putin, announced additional requirements. Now they want quotas for themselves in the elections to Verkhovna Rada because wearing the badges of a local council deputy is not enough. They want to have deputies in Verkhovna Rada and they want veto power over foreign policy decisions of the Ukrainian state.
This is the main thing that interests Putin. He is pushing the special status of the Donbas in order to block Ukraine’s move into Europe and NATO. And the fact that Gryzlov announced it really opened my eyes. I thought they would still keep this (requirement) till the end. But something is forcing them to put these cards on the table right now. And, in reality, the real Putin plan has been revealed. He is not interested only in the 18 paragraphs on the transitional provisions for the Ukrainian Constitution where the special status is prescribed. Putin is interested in obtaining the right to veto Ukraine’s move to Europe by using Donbas. And I really regret that the president of Ukraine does not understand this or pretends not to understand this.
– Well what if there was a way to help Poroshenko — to say: “Dear Mr. President it would be better for you to do such and such in this situation.” Does he have any room to maneuver? He cannot pretend to be deaf and blind because the Minsk agreements are practically in place. Angela Merkel told him “Petro, execute what you have agreed to.” And he has to, of course, not willingly.
The president of Ukraine is currently deaf to a dialogue with Ukrainian society and representatives of Ukrainian organizations. I mean that so far we have not been able to reach him. I was one of the initiators of the appeal to the president on August 13 last year that was signed by more than 200 Ukrainian intellectuals and public figures. They included the heroes of Ukraine Ihor Yukhnovskyi, Levko Lukianenko, Stepan Khmara, Volodymyr Vasylenko — in other words, people who represent the intellectual face of Ukraine. We appealed to the president to hear us, not to take this step. But the president did not react very positively. Instead of engaging in a dialogue with the signatories, he invited several of them and the meeting turned into a monologue.
– Have you analyzed the amnesty issue?
Amnesty is completely unacceptable for us. Because it is clearly stated in the Minsk agreements that all the people who took part in the events that took place in 2014 in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are subject to amnesty. All the people who took part in the events… Therefore, all the events that took place in 2014 in the occupied territories are included in this definition and therefore all persons, without exception, are to be subject to this amnesty.
And to arguments by the Ukrainian side that we will not grant amnesty to those who committed crimes, Putin will answer — “nothing doing, dear friends, read the Minsk agreements. It is indicated there without exception that it applies also to events that took place.” And how will we get out from that? There is no way. We can only get out of this and the special status only if the president and the Verkhovna Rada clearly take a position to exit the Minsk agreements. I would not be afraid to take the position that Ukraine is walking out of the Minsk agreements since Russia is not abiding by them and that Ukraine is asking the Western community and the UN to seek another format.
– But if I were president, I would say Mr. Stetskiv, you are throwing Ukraine under the Russian tanks because the whole world will blame Ukraine for breaking the Minsk agreements.
I would take the risk that we could be blamed for this. But Ukraine has its sovereign position, after all. If the president is not enough, then this could be through a special decision by the Verkhovna Rada, which under the constitution determines the key elements of foreign policy — not the president. I would recall the Ukrainian delegation from Minsk and decide that Ukraine is withdrawing from the Minsk negotiations and with the help of a decision by the Verkhovna Rada I would propose another format, for example, the Budapest one — an international conference as a way to resolve the war in the Donbas.
– But wouldn’t any voting on the special status of the Donbas finish off the parliamentary coalition?
I think it is more likely there would be a better chance to reach consensus, when the Parliament takes the position to reject the Minsk agreements. Power can be consolidated on the basis of this position.
– What do your fellow deputies say?
The deputies will unite much faster behind the rejection of the Minsk process than behind the president’s position. What will be more divisive? The division of both society and parliament will be greater if the president does not abandon his position that there are no alternatives to the Minsk agreements. And if we take the position that the Minsk agreements need to be rejected, there will be much better chances for consolidating the parliament and society.