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MOSCOW, December 11. /TASS/. Plans for another meeting of the Minsk Contact Group for settling the armed conflict in Ukraine between the authorities in Kiev and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics, which may take place within days, have riveted the international community’s attention.
The agenda of future talks in the Belarussian capital, alongside the ceasefire regimen, includes the gradual lifting of the economic blockade from Donbass and the effecting of the law on its special status. If and when agreements on all these items have been concluded the conflict in the south-east of Ukraine may gradually evolve from the hot phase into a political one, where it would be possible to formulate practical decisions to restore life to normal, the director of the Center for International Security under the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexey Arbatov, has told TASS.
“Most probably at their third meeting in Minsk the Contact Group members will be discussing the disengagement of the Donetsk and Luhansk forces, on the one hand, and the Ukrainian army, on the other, in order to ensure the security and freedom of movement for the OSCE monitors along the line of disengagement between the rival factions,” the analyst said.
“Claims by NATO officials to the effect Russian troops and tanks are present in the territories of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics are the stumbling block in the way of achieving such an agreement. The Russian Defense Ministry dismisses these allegations. For the sake of achieving an agreement on the disengagement of the warring factions in Ukraine this ‘blank spot’ must be cleared up and eliminated,” Arbatov said.
“Another obstruction in the way of ceasefire and reconciliation agreements is the existence of Ukrainian army-controlled enclaves inside the territories of the self-proclaimed republics, such as the Donetsk airport, still controlled by the Ukrainian army, the national guards and volunteers fighting for money. It is unclear how these encircled forces can withdraw military equipment and retreat beyond the disengagement line. That’s a really stark question on the agenda in Minsk. Possibly, the discussion may encompass an exchange of territories controlled by the Donetsk and Luhansk militias, on the one hand, and the authorities in Kiev, on the other,” the analyst said.
Arbatov recalled that Russian and US experts met on Boisto Island, Finland, last summer with the Finnish Foreign Ministry providing technical assistance to produce a document, eventually published in both Russia and the United States, containing a road map for steps to end the hostilities in the south-east of Ukraine.
“The Boisto plan road map envisaged a ceasefire, the placement of the OSCE observers along the disengagement line between the rival forces, the deployment of a UN peacekeeping contingent as a guarantee against violations of armistice, the maximum autonomy and special status for the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine, the resolution of post-war reconstruction issues, the establishment of economic relations between Russia and Ukraine and measures to ensure its neutral military and political status,” Arbatov said.
“Many of the Boisto Plan provisions have proved practically useful and, as one may speculate, were used by the negotiating parties in drafting the Minsk protocol of September 5 and the Minsk Memorandum of September 19. However, these first important steps have failed to break the deadlock. Artillery attacks are continuing, civilians as well as representatives of international organizations and the media are being killed. In many places the forces have failed to be withdrawn to the agreed distance. Ukraine has been building up forces along the line of the conflict. On the other side the militias and volunteers have been redeploying, too. Kiev and the West stubbornly keep calling them “regular Russian troops,” Arbatov said.
“Many of the Minsk provisions have not been implemented to this day. In the first place this concerns the enforcement of Ukraine’s law on the special status of the two districts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the recognition of early elections in these areas, the adoption of a law on preventing the persecution of participants in the conflict, the removal of illegal armed groups from the conflict zone, effective monitoring by the OSCE along the disengagement line and along the Russian-Ukrainian border, the beginning of an inclusive national dialogue and Kiev’s adoption of a special program for the economic recovery of Donbass,” Arbatov said.
“However important the political negotiations between the authorities in Kiev and the Donetsk and Luhansk leaders on all mentioned items on the agenda, the chief task to be addressed at the forthcoming meeting of the Minsk Group will be to achieve lasting truce, the disengagement of the rival factions and the removal of heavy armaments and armed conflicts from the zone of the conflict,” the analyst said.
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