The End of Minsk-2: Poroshenko’s New Gamble


August 30, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold – 

According to the Ukrainian President’s representative in the Verkhovna Rada, Irina Lutsenko, Kiev intends to officially declare Russia an “aggressor country.” Such a provision is being enshrined in a bill on “re-integrating” Donbass which, according to Lutsenko, is already “99.9% ready” for registration in parliament. In her recent interview, the Ukrainian President’s representative also added an important detail: Kiev has consulted with the Normandy Four countries and the US on drafting this legislation, which is to be put to a vote in September. 

Russia’s reaction was not slow in coming, as various Russian diplomats, politicians, and political analysts have offered their critical commentary. Before offering our assessment of the document and various expert commentaries, let us analyze the document itself more attentively.

Back on June 19th, President Poroshenko announced plans to submit a bill to the Verkhovna Rada on “re-integrating Donbass”, an initiative purposefully put in quotation marks for reasons we will explain below. Among other things, the document spells out a new legal framework for Ukrainian military operations. The existing so-called Anti-Terrorist Operation denotes the conflict in Donbass as an internal one, in accordance with which the ATO falls under the jurisdiction of the SBU, Ukraine’s counter-intelligence and political police. Yet herein lies a crucial contradiction: from the standpoint of Ukrainian legislation, the Ministry of Internal Affairs should control the ATO, a fact which would greatly increase the role and capacity of the ministry whose minister, Avakov, is one of Poroshenko’s main opponents who wields serious power and political resources. 

The Popular Front Party and the Petro Poroshenko Bloc make up the ruling coalition in the Verkhovna Rada, and any withdrawal of the PF from the coalition would render early elections necessary. Given the low rating of both the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and Poroshenko himself, this would be an unfortunate turn of events. But PF’s ratings are also plummeting, and the so-called opposition is interested in early elections, first and foremost Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of Batkivshchyna who also leads in ratings among political leaders. 

At any rate, Poroshenko is too closely dependent on his necessary allies who, besides boasting the second largest faction in the Verkhovna Rada, also control a number of ministerial posts and regions. I believe that it is for this reason that Poroshenko first opted to transfer control over the ATO from the interior ministry to the SBU. Another important factor is the significant control which the Americans exercise over the latter. 

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According to the legislation being prepared deep within the Poroshenko Administration, the operation in Donbass will be taken over by the General Staff, i.e., the military. All military and civil organizations in the conflict zone would be subject to the Ministry of Defense. If such a document is a adopted, martial law would be introduced on the breakaway territories of Donbass (i.e., on the territories of the DPR and LPR), the right to impose which the president does not have without the approval of parliament. Martial law would restrict freedoms of movement, the press, political freedoms, and others. Needless to say, martial law would cancel the Minsk Agreements even from the most purely formal, legalistic point of view. 

Transferring such authority from the SBU to the army would fundamentally change the Ukrainian government’s interpretation of the legal nature of the conflict in Donbass. According to the bill, the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ enemy would be not only the Donbass republics, but Russia. After all, an army is used to fight an external enemy. It is no coincidence that back in June Poroshenko’s entourage were speaking not of a fight against “terrorists”, but about a “de-occupation” of Donbass.

Alongside the draft bill, appeals to Western countries and the NATO bloc are being prepared. Verkhovna Rada Speaker Parubiy’s statement from July 21st on the possibility of using Ukrainian territory for US military bases should be seen in this context. On the one hand, a law treating the conflict in Donbass as external aggression (and not as a manifestation of separatism) is being prepared, while on the other Ukraine is appealing to the West, first and foremost the US, for military, political, and financial aid. 

The events of recent days – particularly the Pentagon’s confirmation of its intention to supply Ukraine with legal weapons – suggest that Kiev’s appeals will not go unanswered. It is difficult to dispute the view that this legislative initiative by the Ukrainian presidential administration and military aid plans (for supplying arms, opening military bases, and holding joint war games and training exercises, etc.) are all part of one plan. 

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This plan, however, is not even Kiev’s. 

Continued in Part 2

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