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For Ukrainians, Minsk Agreements 'Poison'

  • Luis Ramirez

Two years after the start of the Ukraine conflict, Ukrainians are coming under pressure from the West and Russia to comply with the Minsk agreements, and many here doubt the country will be able to enact the overdue constitutional reforms required to implement the peace deal.

Politicians and analysts say Ukraine is being cornered by both Russia and the West to implement the deal, which requires granting greater autonomy to the separatist-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions and take other actions they believe will eventually lead to the eventual loss of more territory.

“The West says we have to implement this Minsk agreement, which for Ukraine is poison,” Alexey Arestovich, a former Ukrainian intelligence officer and military analyst, told VOA. “It is not supported by society and is just not possible.”

Ukraine accuses Russia of failing to provide the necessary security conditions to implement the peace deal, especially as Russian-backed separatists intensify their attacks in the country’s east. Holding regional elections, as mandated by the peace deal, they say, is impossible as the fighting continues.

Ongoing war

Memorials mark the spots where demonstrators were massacred during the 2014 Maidan Revolution in Kyiv. (L. Ramirez / VOA)

Memorials mark the spots where demonstrators were massacred during the 2014 Maidan Revolution in Kyiv. (L. Ramirez / VOA)

The Minsk deal — signed in September 2014 under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) — calls for the decentralization of power and Ukraine’s adoption of laws providing for self-governance in some districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk, regions currently controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

Politicians warn that enacting reforms to allow autonomy to the regions will result in upheaval.

“You cannot do the peace talks and [create a] political situation to give more autonomy to some other region while other regions will say, ‘wait a second, why these guys took [up] weapons and secured more money, more power, and their own militias, while our guys are dying there for their having more power,’” Alex Ryabchyn, a member of Parliament from Donetsk, told VOA.

There is concern here that the European Union may not renew Russian sanctions this year if Ukraine does not implement Minsk. Ukraine worries that complying may ultimately result in loss of more territory and political turmoil.

Meanwhile, Russia points to Ukraine’s failure to enact the constitutional reforms as a sign Kyiv is not doing its share to meet the deal.

Memorials mark the spots where demonstrators were massacred during the 2014 Maidan Revolution in Kyiv. (L. Ramirez / VOA)

Memorials mark the spots where demonstrators were massacred during the 2014 Maidan Revolution in Kyiv. (L. Ramirez / VOA)

Western ambivalence

U.S. leaders watched with concern last month as the government led by reformist, pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko nearly collapsed as his Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament.

The United States has urged Ukraine’s leaders to do more to combat lingering corruption and has provided support for those efforts.

But analysts in Kyiv accuse the West and especially the United States of not having a clear strategy on Ukraine.

“It seems they don’t know whether they want to consider Ukraine as part of the West or not,” said Arestovich expressing long-standing complaints about the Obama administration’s refusal to provide weaponry to the country.

​Ukrainian leaders are worried that the rest of the world may be forgetting about the conflict in their country and see the pressure to comply with Minsk as a sign of impatience among E.U. members, especially Germany and France, as they contemplate lifting sanctions on Russia.

Ryabchyn said he will not support elections in Donetsk as long as Russian-backed forces are there to intimidate any candidate who is not pro-Russian.

“The question is what does the West want, elections according to past democratic standards or just resolve this election just to forget about Ukraine to do some kind of election, some kind of electoral process and just to forget about Ukraine, ” the lawmaker said.

Ukrainian officials say their government agreed to the Minsk protocols only as a result of pressure from the U.S. and the European Union.

Mykola Andrievsky, a Maidan protester, recalls how he helped carry corpses of demonstrators gunned down by ousted President Viktor Yanukvych's forces two years ago. (L. Ramirez / VOA)

Mykola Andrievsky, a Maidan protester, recalls how he helped carry corpses of demonstrators gunned down by ousted President Viktor Yanukvych's forces two years ago. (L. Ramirez / VOA)

Maidan anniversary

Kyiv last month marked the second anniversary of the bloody crackdown on protesters two years ago by former President Viktor Yanukovyh’s forces during the Maidan Revolution, also known as the “Revolution of Dignity,” which was largely about self-determination.

Maidan demonstrator Mykola Andrievsky returned to the square in central Kyiv on Tuesday, remembering how he helped carry away the corpses of his fallen comrades. He reflected on the pressure that Ukraine is now facing from both the West and Russia to act, some believe, against its national interests.

“It’s true the cost we have paid is enormous. Many lives were lost,” he told VOA. “Now, after two years from Maidan, it is difficult to say if these young men and women gave their lives in vain.”

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