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Experts say Minsk talks are likely to be frozen in 2017

September 05, 12:33 UTC+3 MOSCOW
After two years of talks the peace process is at an unclear stage
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Center for Current Politics head Alexei Chesnakov

Center for Current Politics head Alexei Chesnakov

© Artiom Geodakyan/TASS

MOSCOW, September 5. /TASS/. An indefinite downgrade of the negotiations process without resumed large military activities in Donbass is a most realistic scenario of how the situation in Ukraine will develop, experts of the Center for Current Politics said in a special report they prepared for the second anniversary of the Minsk accords.

"After two years of talks, we have to admit the peace process is at an unclear stage. The deadlock in carrying out of the Minsk’s political part and a lack of any evident progress in other items requires a revision of scenarios of how the conflict will develop in late 2016 and in 2017," the Center’s head Alexei Chesnakov, who presents the report at TASS, said on Monday.

Optimistic scenario

The expert calls little probable an optimistic scenario, where Donbass could re-integrate with Ukraine in compliance with the Minsk accords before the end of 2017.

"This scenario may be possible only in case of a coordinated and mighty pressure on Ukraine from the EU and US," the Russian expert said. "However, even in that case, for the domestic reasons, Ukraine may even risk to worsen for some time its relations with the West by refusing to observe Minsk-2."

A catastrophe scenario, namely resuming of military actions or having ongoing permanent clashes, which block the entire negotiations process for uncertain time, the center said, is not that probable, though cannot be ruled out.

"Nobody nowadays is really interested in the scenario of resumed military activities, despite the regular tough statements by Ukraine’s and Donbass’ leaders. Neither Kiev, nor the republics have sufficient resources to change greatly the military situation to the own benefit. Besides, breaching the truce and an attack of a side may launch another round of the confrontation between Russia and the West, may cause further tougher sanctions and so forth," the expert said.

Probable scenario

A most probable scenario is chilling of the negotiations process for an uncertain period of time, he continued.

"This is the scenario, which all parties to the settlement process seem to consider more probable now, as it is a less expensive (in political instruments) alternative," he said. "The Minsk agreements formally remain in force, but neither the Normandy Four nor the Contact Group will insist they are observed since a lack of accord regarding ways to reach certain parameters of the settlement. Hence the number of talks will decline."

In order to avoid this scenario and keep the Minsk agreements as an effective and working instrument for the settlement, all parties to the peace process will have to apply great effort within 2017, the expert said.

"The West does not have any more variants but multiply the pressure on Ukraine in order to have it change the current legislation," the expert said in conclusion. "The situation around the Ukrainian reforms proves the US and EU have every opportunity to obtain the results they need.". 

Results and expectations

According to the Russian expert, over two years the negotiations on the settlement of the conflict in the east of Ukraine have yielded four important results. First, the political settlement has been launched and continues. Second, clear parameters for a peaceful settlement, which are recognized and supported by the international community, have been fixed with the "Normandy Four" mediation.

Third, large-scale hostilities in Donbass have been stopped. Fourth, international formats and tools for regular talks between the conflicting parties, for verification of the fulfilment of the agreements and de-escalation efforts have been created.

However, according to the report authors, the conflict sides during the negotiating process have failed to reach a number of important and necessary results. First of all, over two years the conflict has not been fully transferred to the political settlement area. In addition, the Contact Group (on the Ukrainian conflict resolution) has not turned into an effective negotiating platform. The conflict sides still do not recognize each other as the legitimate political actors.

Also, the report says, the "Normandy Four" itself, due to the Ukrainian side’s blocking, cannot fulfill a number of obligations that were fixed on February 12, 2015 in the Declaration of the four countries’ heads in support of the Package of Measures for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. This is, first of all, the obligation to restore the banking system in the areas affected by the conflict and negotiations between the EU, Ukraine and Russia in connection with the signing of a free trade area agreement between Ukraine and the European Union.

"Finally, after two years we have to admit that the Minsk agreements still remain unfulfilled," Chesnakov said. "And the current dynamics of the negotiations and the fact that as of September 2016 only the last point - No 13 (on the intensification of the Contact Group activity) has been fulfilled, lead us to the conclusion that the agreements will not be completely fulfilled by the end of 2016."

No alternatives to Minsk

"At the same time, it must be admitted that there is no alternative to the Minsk-2 accords at present. For various reasons, the situation is such that none of the negotiators can draw a line under the Minsk agreements, admitting their failure. Refusal from the agreements runs counter to the spirit of Resolution 2202 of the UN Security Council and gives carte blanche to the supporters of the resumption of full-scale hostilities. Therefore, the extension of the Minsk agreements for 2017 on the results of 2016 should be recognized as the most likely outcome of the events," the expert said.

The director of the Center for Current Politics also believes that many of the reasons that have so far prevented the sides from abandoning the Minsk-2 accords may prove to be not so significant in 2017. "This does not mean that the sides will necessarily break them and therefore the risk of the resumption of war between the (self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk) republics (DPR and LPR) and Ukraine will disproportionately increase. However, this, with the formal preservation of the Minsk agreements, threatens to reduce the whole peace process to rare and fruitless contacts," Chesnakov said.

Members of the Contact Group for the settlement of the situation in the east of Ukraine at a meeting in Minsk on April 29 agreed on a complete ceasefire in Donbass starting from midnight on April 30. It is an eighth ceasefire agreement since the autumn of 2014. The sides however continue accusing each other of ceasefire violations.

Kiev’s security forces in the people’s militia responsibility zone have been repeatedly violating the truce, opening fire from mortars and tank weapons, which had to be withdrawn in accordance with the Minsk agreements.

On August 26, Martin Sajdik, the special envoy of the OSCE for the Ukrainian crisis settlement, said parties to the Contact Group for settling the armed civil conflict in eastern Ukraine have come to terms on the importance of an indefinite 'peace and quiet order' along the line of contact, which separates the pro-Kiev armed units and the forces of the self-proclaimed unrecognized Donetsk and Lugansk republics, as of August 31. He said particularly that the ceasefire should be indefinite. "The ceasefire depends on the will of all the political forces," Sajdik said.

The Package of Measures to fulfil the September 2014 Minsk agreements, known as Minsk-2, that was signed in Minsk on February 12, 2015, envisaged a ceasefire regime between Ukrainian government forces and people’s militias in the self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Lugansk (DPR and LPR) starting from February 15, 2015 and a subsequent withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of engagement. The deal also laid out a roadmap for a lasting settlement in Ukraine, including local elections and constitutional reform to give more autonomy to the war-torn eastern regions.

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