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Lukashenko says normalization in Donbass depends entirely on Kiev

The Belarusian leader stressed that he had always considered Ukraine to be a fraternal nation and had always offered his assistance as a mediator
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko Nikolai Petrov/BelTA/TASS
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
© Nikolai Petrov/BelTA/TASS

MINSK, April 20. /TASS/. Settling the Donbass conflict depends entirely on the Ukrainian authorities who need to remain committed to the Minsk agreements, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday.

"I will tell you in total frankness: the normalization of the situation in Ukraine’s problem areas, first of all in Donbass, depends entirely on Ukraine," BelTA quoted him as saying at a meeting with Yevgeny Shevchenko, a member of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, or national parliament.

He noted that even if some of Ukraine’s interests could be infringed upon should it strictly abide by the Minsk accords, "Ukraine will only win in the medium-term perspective."

The Belarusian leader stressed that he had always considered Ukraine to be a fraternal nation and had always offered his assistance as a mediator. "You know my position on Ukraine. It remains unchanged. I would like Ukraine to join us so that we, the three Slavic brotherly peoples could be together. In the interests of our peoples. No one is going to subjugate anyone of them. No one is going to pressure anybody," Lukashenko said, noting that he always answered requests to act as a mediator. "We are close kin, I am convinced of that. That is why I have always done that. I have spoken a lot with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Ukraine. <…> We speak about what is going on in and around Ukraine with regret."

According to the Belarusian president, he discussed possible ways out of the conflict with Ukraine’s former President Pyotr Poroshenko. Lukashenko said that if Poroshenko had followed the peace plan, many of the current problems might have been resolved by now. "I understand that everyone wants to save face. But it should be understood that Russia is a huge country and it can help Ukraine a lot in terms of restoring Donbass and so on," the Belarusian leader said. "There were such initiatives from Putin. He asked me to convey them to Poroshenko. I did. But back then I fully understood for the first time that Ukrainian politicians, and the Ukrainian leadership were not independent. <…> I saw it with my own eyes. It is not Putin who is to blame. He offered initiatives, good initiatives. But the [Ukrainian] former president turned them down."

He emphasized however that regardless of who might be in power in Ukraine, the two countries had been having good neighborly relations. "There were different situations," he noted, recalling that former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich had refused, under the West’s pressure, to receive him in Ukraine on the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident. However, in his words, he had "very good relations" with Ukraine’s ex-president Viktor Yushchenko. "You know, whoever was Ukraine’s president, despite our diametrically differing positions, we always had good relations," Lukashenko noted.

However, in his view, the conduct of and statements voiced by Ukraine’s former President and now its chief negotiator in the Contact Group Leonid Kravchuk are rather unclear. "I don’t want to speak about your first president. He is behaving bizarrely. He doesn’t know me at all and, as a former Soviet national, [he] should know Belarus better. Nevertheless, he allows himself to make such a statement. I don’t understand why," he added.

Conflict in Donbass

Following the coup d’etat and ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich in February 2014, grassroots opposition to the new, unelected authorities in Kiev erupted in Ukraine’s eastern regions, populated mostly by Russian speakers. In response, Kiev officials launched a military operation in Donbass in April 2014. Massive shelling of residential areas triggered a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe in the region.

A peace settlement to the conflict in Donbass rests on the Package of Measures, known as Minsk-2, that was signed by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine comprising senior representatives from Russia, Ukraine and the European security watchdog OSCE on February 12, 2015, after 16-hour marathon talks between the leaders of the Normandy Four nations, namely Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine. The 13-point document envisages a ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and the people’s militias in the self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Lugansk and the subsequent withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact. The deal also lays out a roadmap for a lasting settlement in Ukraine, including amnesty, prisoner swaps, resumption of economic ties, local elections and constitutional reform to give more autonomy to the war-torn eastern regions.

The plan has remained unimplemented to this day, largely due to Ukraine’s stance. Already under Ukraine’s previous president, Pyotr Poroshenko, Kiev refused to act on the political items of the agreement until security issues were addressed in defiance of the sequence of steps established under the Minsk Accords.

The situation has not changed under the current president, Vladimir Zelensky. Kiev is still reluctant to amend Ukraine’s constitution to set Donbass’ special status and insists on being given control over the section of the border with Russia, something that is to be done only after the local elections. It also demands the disarmament of the self-proclaimed republics and their dissolution.