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Minsk deal needs to be implemented, not reviewed — Ukrainian opposition

He said that "there can only be one [alternative to the Minsk agreements] - to lose Donbass as part of Ukraine, to lose its residents."
Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk Sergei Bobylev/TASS
Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk
© Sergei Bobylev/TASS

KIEV, February 13. /TASS/. The Minsk accords on reconciliation in eastern Ukraine need to be implemented rather than reviewed as the Kiev government wants to, Chairman of the political council of Ukraine’s Opposition Platform - For Life party Viktor Medvedchuk said.

In an interview with 112 Ukraine, NEWSONE, ZIK and Inter TV Channels, the opposition lawmaker said that "lately, especially after the arrival of [Ukrainian] President Vladimir Zelensky’s team, there have been numerous discussions, analysis and statements… by government members. They say that the Minsk agreements must be reviewed to make their implementation possible," he said. "There have been many similar statements - contrived statements, I’m sure - but, at the same time, the new team of Mr. Zelensky do not realize that there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements."

He said that "there can only be one [alternative to the Minsk agreements] - to lose Donbass as part of Ukraine, to lose its residents, who are citizens of Ukraine." "Sadly, that’s the only option that we have," the lawmaker added.

Medvedchuk said that his initiative to create the inter-parliamentary dimension of the Normandy Quartet, which envisages dialogue of lawmakers from Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany, is now being put into practice and might provide useful assistance to the Quartet leaders.

"This is an auxiliary factor that would promote the implementation of the Minsk deal," he said, adding that the intiative's goal is to "provide [the four leaders] with more resources for implementation of the Minsk agreements."

On January 23, Medvedchuk met with lawmakers of the French parliament’s both chambers. On January 28, he presented his concept of the Normandy Format’s parliamentary dimension to members of all major factions in the German parliament.

Bringing people back

Under the current political situation, residents of self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics in eastern Ukraine (DPR and LPR) would hardly want to become Ukrainian citizens again, Medvedchuk said.

"The main strategic mistake is President [Vladimir] Zelensky’s declared intention to return territories and people. It’s the people who must be returned first, it’s their minds. [We] need to give them security guarantees, to make them want to return. This is what we mean when we speak of Donbass’ return to Ukraine and Ukraine’s return to Donbass," the opposition lawmaker said in an interview with 112 Ukraine, NEWSONE, ZIK and Inter TV Channels.

Medvedchuk referred to a survey conducted among residents of the self-proclaimed republics.

"The results are terrible. If we believe those figures, they [DPR and LPR residents] absolutely cannot imagine them being a part of our country. They just cannot accept this. We need to create conditions to make them want to return," he said.

The lawmaker believes that the incumbent government is not even trying to create conditions for return of Donbass citizens to Ukraine.

"What about our NATO aspirations, which they totally reject? What is done about the discrimination of the Russian language, spoken by 80-90% of people there? What about the closure of Russian-language schools, and other present-day trends in our country: dissemination of radical nationalism, encouragement of actions - sometimes, even criminal deeds - committed by radical nationalists? How can we explain them that it is really better to be a part of our country?" Medvedchuk asked rhetorically.

Changing the agreement

Lately, Kiev has frequently expressed its desire to review the Minsk agreements by changing the sequence of measures stipulated by the deal. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky raised the issue during the latest Normandy Quartet summit in Paris.

Kiev’s envoy to the Trilateral Contact Group’s political subgroup Alexei Reznikov said that by the Quartet’s next meeting, tentatively scheduled for April, his country would prepare its proposals to amend the internationally accepted deal. He suggested the following sequence of events: disarmament of illegal armed groups in Donbass, total ceasefire, withdrawal of all illegal armed groups from the territory of Ukraine, return of the entire eastern border under the Kiev government’s control, regional elections.

Foundation for Donbass reconciliation

The Minsk Agreements, which remain the only basis for peaceful settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, envisage not only ceasefire, disengagement, amnesty and resumption of economic ties, but also a profound constitutional reform in Ukraine that should lead to decentralization of power and special status for certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

As part of the Minsk peace process, Ukraine is supposed to carry out a constitutional reform which would grant the war-torn Donbass Region a permanent special governance status. However, constitutional amendments submitted for the parliament’s consideration still have not been adopted. Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) earlier passed the law on the special status but it is effectively frozen until elections are held in the region. Moreover, the permanent nature of the special status is not guaranteed by either the constitutional amendments or the special status law.

Back in October 2014, Ukraine’s President Pyotr Poroshenko signed a law on self-governance in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, establishing a special status there for three years. However, while the law was never implemented in Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada extended its effect every year. In March 2015, Poroshenko violated the Minsk agreements, introducing amendments to the law which effectively halted its implementation. The law’s effect was repeatedly extended by Ukrainian authorities and this time was supposed to lose its force on December 31, 2019. However, the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) once again extended the law for another year on December 12.

In late 2015, then German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier put forward a plan that later became known as the "Steinmeier formula". The plan stipulates that a special status be granted to Donbass in accordance with the Minsk Agreements. In particular, the document envisages that Ukraine’s special law on local self-governance will take effect in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions on a temporary basis on the day of local elections, becoming permanent after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) issues a report on the vote’s results. The idea was endorsed at the Normandy Four meeting in Paris on October 2, 2015, and has been known as the Steinmeier formula since. Ahead of the Normandy Four summit in Paris held in December 2019, Russia insisted that Ukraine assumed the obligation to enshrine the ‘Steinmeier formula’ into law as a compromise mechanism of granting the special status to Donbass.

In late 2019, the formula was once again sealed in written form by members of the Contact Group, including Ukraine.

Despite that, Ukraine has been reluctant to encompass the Steinmeier Formula into its legislation, citing security issues and demanding that first it should regain control over a stretch of the Russian-Ukrainian border now controlled by self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. Kiev ignores the fact that, in line with the Minsk agreements, this can happen only after elections are held in those regions.