Ukraine — Fragile Peace threatened by Growing Turmoil
This piece is by guest blogger John Ratliff of Massachusetts Peace Action and was originally published here.
Minsk 2, the agreement signed in February 2015, was designed to end a devastating civil war in the Russian speaking Donetsk and Luhansk regions of east Ukraine. It was called Minsk 2 because it followed in the foot-steps of a failed agreement signed in the same city less than a year before. The Minsk 2 agreement was developed by the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. The initial efforts to implement the agreement led to a reduction in hostilities but for its first six months, a conflict continued albeit at a subdued level, with each side blaming the other for daily artillery exchanges and loss of life. This September, after the passage by Kiev of legislation promised in Minsk which would allow for some level of self-governance in the regions which have been fighting for federalization, observers on the ground reported a much more substantial reduction in military exchanges. The foreign ministers of the four countries which are parties to the agreement convened again in Minsk eight months after the Minsk 2 signing to assess its current status.
The foreign ministers hailed the recent near cessation of hostilities as a ground breaking first step for the construction of a new sustainable relationship between the Kiev government and the two regions which are still reluctant to recognize it. The Ministers agreed that it was time that the central government and representatives of the two regions begin direct negotiations to reach agreement on a path for peaceful resolution of the sharp differences which still haunt efforts for peace.
Many media sources indicate that the progress in implementing Minsk came only as the western powers were persuaded to pressure Kiev to pass the legislation extending greater power to the regions and to pull back major weapons from the front lines in the Donetsk region. Russia similarly insisted that the regional governments withdraw weapons and accept the Kiev legislation as a step forward toward implementation, even though they were not consulted in its development as had been envisioned in Minsk 2. The economic disaster which threatened Kiev as its debts became due provided the European powers the leverage, according to these reports, to insist that the legislation be passed.
The move toward allowing greater autonomy was a political lightning rod in Kiev. The most nationalist forces bitterly opposed the legislation and violent street demonstrations were led by many of the same ultra-nationalist and neo-nazi groups which had been the shock troops of the Maidan protests and coup which had initially placed the Kiev regime in office, overturning the elected government in 2014. Different sections of the Ukraine national guard exchanged fire, but the President, acting in a fashion supported by Germany, France, and the United States, prevailed on the passage of the legislation. Shortly thereafter, the IMF and EU came through with a major new bailout avoiding Ukrainian default.
Sadly the bitterness engendered by the civil war which has rocked the Ukraine will make the road to resolution a very difficult one. Besides the near 8000 casualties in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, over a million Ukrainians have been forced to adopt the bitter life of refugees mostly in Russia, but also in Ukraine and Israel. This week armed and masked individuals, presumed by the media to be connected with the notorious Azov battalion of super nationalists, attempted to attack the Mayor of Karkiv, viewed as an advocate of the end to hostilities. Relations between the government and some of the right wing groups are increasingly fraught and speculation in the media grows of possible moves by pro-war elements against Kiev.
U.S. role threatens precarious progress
Sadly, the role of the United States in the search for peace in Ukraine has been at best ambiguous. The U.S. military has increased its training commitments to the Kiev regime, announcing a hoped for permanent military relationship. At the same time Victoria Nuland, the notorious neo-conservative U.S. diplomat who boasted of the U.S. role in promoting the coup which established the Kiev regime, returned to Kiev when the regional legislation was being debated and actually worked on the floor of the Rada to help secure the passage of the critical legislation.
The U.S. peace movement has a critical role in pressing our government to allow the Ukrainian people, both those supporting Kiev and those whose language is Russian in Donetsk and Luhansk, find their own way to peace.