Poroshenko Sets Out Cease-Fire Plan for East Ukraine

The Associated Press | Jun. 18 2014

The Ukrainian president on Wednesday announced a plan to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine, promising a unilateral cease-fire after discussions with the Russian and German leaders, a potential major development to bring peace to the country.

Petro Poroshenko’s plan would offer pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern provinces that form the nation’s industrial heartland a chance to lay down weapons or leave the country. It could also help ease the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War, which was triggered by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea that followed the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russia president.

President Vladimir Putin discussed a possible cease-fire in a phone conversation with Poroshenko late Tuesday, the Kremlin said. Poroshenko also discussed his peace plan with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, their offices said.

"The plan will begin with my order for a unilateral cease-fire," Poroshenko told reporters in Kiev. "I can say that the period of the cease-fire will be rather short. We anticipate, that immediately after this, the disarming of the illegal military formations will take place."

He said that those who lay down arms and haven’t committed grave crimes will be granted amnesty.

Poroshenko made repeated promises of steps to restore peace before and after winning May’s election. In his inaugural address June 7, he said he was willing to negotiate with people in the region, but not with "terrorists" with "blood on their hands."

Rebel leaders have remained defiant, saying they would demand the Ukrainian troops withdraw from the east as the main condition for talks.

Denis Pushilin, one of the insurgent leaders in Donetsk, said on independent Russian television channel Dozhd that Poroshenko’s latest offer was "senseless."

"They cease fire, we lay down weapons, and then they will capture us weaponless," he said.

Poroshenko has said before that he wanted a cease-fire, but Wednesday was the first time he said government forces will be the first to halt hostilities, which has been Russia’s main demand.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Baku, Azerbaijan, said that any cease-fire should be "comprehensive," not temporary. However, he said that if it was followed by negotiations "then it could be the step President Poroshenko has promised and which in general we were all waiting for."

The announcement of a unilateral cease-fire seems to be part of a carefully choreographed plan with Russian and German involvement, coming at a time when key leaders of the mutiny were meeting with Russian officials.

In another move that would help appease Moscow, Poroshenko nominated Pavel Klimkin, currently ambassador to Germany, to replace Andriy Deshchytsia as foreign minister. Lavrov had said he would never speak again to Deshchytsia after he joined in an obscene anti-Putin chant as he tried to calm protesters who besieged the Russian Embassy in Kiev last weekend.

Poroshenko did not say when the cease-fire could be declared, but the country’s Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval, was quoted as saying it could begin "literally within days."

Poroshenko has said previously that a cease-fire should follow securing the border with Russia, and Ukrainian officials said Wednesday they were completing the effort.

Russia has denied Ukrainian and Western claims that it was fomenting the insurgency in the east by sending troops and weapons, insisting that Russian nationals among the rebels are volunteers.

If Poroshenko’s plan is implemented, that would allow the Kremlin a face-saving way out of the crisis. Putin appears to be eager to de-escalate tensions with the West and avoid a new round of crippling economic sanctions, but has been increasingly under fire from nationalist groups at home who have demanded that he send troops into eastern Ukraine.

An end to fighting and a safe exit for rebels would allow Putin to say that Russia has fulfilled its goal of protecting Russian speakers in Ukraine. Poroshenko, in his turn, also would be able to claim victory over the rebellion.

For Ukraine, an end to hostilities in the east would be essential to shore up the struggling economy and try to mend the rift between the eastern regions where most residents want close ties with Russia, and the west where the majority wants a quick integration into Europe.

If Poroshenko’s plan succeeds, that would allow him to consolidate his power and help set ground for early parliamentary elections he has demanded.

Any such cease-fire, however, would raise the question of whether the separatists would respect it, and whether Russia had the desire or the ability to persuade them to do so. Top rebel figures visited Moscow Tuesday and met with senior officials and lawmakers.

Alexander Borodai, a Moscow political consultant who is self-proclaimed prime minister of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, attended a meeting with lawmakers in the Russian parliament’s upper house on Tuesday, thanking Russia for "a steady flow of volunteers coming from Russia who fight for the interests of people of Donbass."

At the same time, he acknowledged that "part of the Russian establishment does not want Donbass and other regions of Ukraine join Russia."

Borodai added that he does not see any peaceful steps on Kiev’s behalf, only "efforts to suppress the will of the people of Donbass and their choice of self-determination."

The insurgency in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions flared up in mid-April, with rebels, emboldened by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, seizing government buildings and declaring independence for their provinces after controversial referendums that were rejected by Ukraine and the West. They have pushed for joining Russia, but Putin has stonewalled their demands.

Ukrainian government forces have struggled to suppress the insurgents, who on Saturday shot down a military transport plane, killing all 49 on board.

The United Nations says at least 356 people, including 257 civilians, have been killed since May 7 alone. There have been more than 200 reports of torture, and 81 people were being held on June 7 as the conflict raged in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russia separatist rebels and the government in Kiev.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said in Wednesday’s report that the country’s "climate of insecurity and fear" has displaced 34,000 people. "Abductions, detentions, acts of ill treatment and torture, and killings by armed groups are now affecting the broader population of the two eastern regions," the report said.


Rebels Reject Ukrainian Leader’s Cease-Fire Idea
NYT | JUNE 18, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine — After Ukraine’s new president, Petro O. Poroshenko, told reporters in Kiev on Wednesday that he might soon order a temporary, unilateral cease-fire as part of a broader 14-point peace plan, it took all of several seconds for pro-Russian militants to rule it out.

“I am a condemned man,” said a stick-thin fighter who, like many others here, identified himself only by an alias, Tarik, for security reasons. Sipping tea in the gloom of the lobby of Donetsk’s rebel-occupied administration building on Wednesday afternoon, he patted the magazine of the automatic rifle slung across his chest.

Any cease-fire would certainly be violated by the Ukrainian Army, he said, adding that he and other pro-Russian separatists would be arrested the minute the government had the opportunity.

“What peace can they possibly offer me?” he asked. “If they want peace, then they can leave.”

Tarik and a dozen other rank-and-file fighters here reacted to Mr. Poroshenko’s proposal with a dark, belligerent skepticism. Most rejected the idea of disarming until a patchwork of amorphous conditions were met, suggesting that a truce would be awfully difficult to achieve.

Some demanded that the Ukrainian military leave the region, called Donbass, while others wanted a war tribunal for Ukraine’s newly elected leaders. Most said they wanted the restoration of “stability,” the precise definition of which remained elusive.

“Maybe there was a way back when this all just started, when the people were out here with the flags to make their point, and before the killing,” said Denis, a separatist fighter from Makeyevka, a depressed industrial town outside of Donetsk, when asked how and when the conflict might be resolved.

Another fighter jumped in helpfully. “The Third World War,” he said to nods of assent.

The responses seemed to afford little hope that, as Mr. Poroshenko urged, a cease-fire “should receive support from all participants in the events in Donbass.” Toward that end, the president’s office announced that Mr. Poroshenko would meet on Thursday with what his office called the “legitimate” leaders from the east, including mayors and business representatives.

The Russian government has called repeatedly for Ukraine to stop its military crackdown on the separatists but has also insisted that it does not control, or speak for, the separatists.

But rebel leaders, some of whom were in Moscow on Wednesday, quickly dismissed Mr. Poroshenko’s proposal. Denis Pushilin, one of the leaders of the political wing of the Donetsk People’s Republic, said in television appearances in Moscow that he thought it was “pointless,” suggesting that it was the latest trick by Kiev to subdue the fighters.

Another rebel commander, Igor Strelkov, told Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Russian newspaper that regularly carries his statements, that Ukraine had already violated the cease-fire, though officially it had not yet even been declared.

In Kiev, Mr. Poroshenko told reporters that he planned to announce the cease-fire as part of a wider peace plan to end the more than two months of fighting in eastern Ukraine, where, the United Nations reported on Wednesday, at least 356 people are known to have died.

Mr. Poroshenko’s discussion of the peace plan followed a phone call late Tuesday with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, in which both sides said the cease-fire was a main topic.

Other elements of Mr. Poroshenko’s plan include sealing the border with Russia and amending the Ukrainian Constitution to allow for a “decentralization” plan that will give more authority to local governments.

The initial step, however, would be a halt to the Ukrainian military’s so-called antiterrorist operation against the pro-Russian militias, whose ranks include some Russian citizens who crossed the border to join the fight. Senior Russian officials have long insisted that any peace effort begin with such a step.

Also on Wednesday, Mr. Poroshenko nominated Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Pavlo Klimkin, as foreign minister, and asked Parliament to confirm him. Mr. Klimkin, a former deputy foreign minister, had an important role in negotiating the political and economic accords with the European Union that Viktor F. Yanukovych, then the president, refused to sign last November after long promising to do so, setting off months of civil unrest. Mr. Poroshenko has vowed to complete those agreements in the coming weeks.

Mr. Poroshenko also told reporters that he was awaiting a decision from lawmakers on holding early parliamentary elections, which he said were favored by 70 percent of Ukrainians.

Even on the eve of Mr. Poroshenko’s statements, heavy fighting in the Luhansk region on Tuesday left 27 injured and several dead, including two Russian state television journalists, according to a police spokeswoman for the region.

Correction: June 18, 2014

An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of the Russian president. He is Vladimir V. Putin, not Validmir.

Correction: June 18, 2014

An earlier version of this article misspelled both the given and surnames of the man nominated to be Ukraine’s new foreign minister. He is Pavlo Klimkin, not Pavel ​​Klimkina.

Andrew Roth reported from Donetsk, and David M. Herszenhorn from Moscow. Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva.



Poroshenko reveals controversial peace plan proposal for Donbas
Eurasia Daily Monitor
June 17, 2014 — Volume 11, Issue 109

Ukraine’s Crisis: Poroshenko’s First Lesson

On May 27, Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaliy Yarema promised journalists that the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) being conducted in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions (Donbas) would be greatly intensified shortly following Petro Poroshenko’s inauguration (Interfax-Ukraine, May 27).

However, during his inauguration speech on June 7, Poroshenko, the fifth president of Ukraine, revealed a peace plan to resolve the situation in the Donbas region. The plan proposes the disarmament of everyone who took up a weapon against the central government, an amnesty for all fighters willing to give up their arms, the arrangement of a corridor for the withdrawal of Russian mercenaries, broad peaceful dialogue and early local elections in Donbas, and a package of economic reforms for eastern Ukraine (president.gov.ua, June 7)

The ATO, which was launched in mid-April of this year, from the very beginning lacked everything, from funding and ammunition to preparation time and forward planning. According to Mykhailo Koval, Ukraine’s acting defense minister, the national armed forces had suffered from extreme degeneration under former president Viktor Yanukovych’s regime (5.ua, June 1).

But—perhaps even more importantly—Ukrainian troops and law enforcement personnel were not prepared psychologically to fight against their countrymen or even Russian mercenaries. There remained, according to National Defense Council Secretary Andriy Parubiy, a lot of people in both the army and police, who were sure that Russia was not Ukraine’s enemy and therefore would never attack it (radiosvoboda.org, May 30). However, a series of particularly bloody assaults by the secessionists (for example the May 21 attack in which 17 soldiers were shot dead in an ambush in Volnovakha, Donetsk region, then the deadliest day for Ukraine’s military), hardened many Ukrainians into a more resolute fighting stance.

Having modified their tactics toward greater use of air support, the ATO forces struck back heavily against the insurgents and recaptured the Donetsk international airport on May 26 (uatoday.info, May 26).

Another growing trend has been the formation of mobile volunteer detachments. The Donbas Battalion, for example, which was eventually merged into the Ukrainian National Guard, was instrumental in freeing four districts in western Donetsk region from the insurgents, and it has become a model of informal support to the state by patriotic citizens (see EDM, May 15).

Finally, Ukraine’s troops have enjoyed ardent support (including food supplies and monetary donations) from many compatriots, as sincere patriotism has surged all over the country (society.lb.ua, June 16).

Thus, the ATO seemed to have finally gathered momentum. And closing the extremely porous Russian-Ukrainian border in order to cut off the continuous infiltration of armed men and weaponry into the rebelling regions appeared to be at the top of the agenda. The Ukrainian military was simply awaiting their new commander-in-chief’s order to tighten the ring round the enemy and finally crack down.

Instead, President Poroshenko instructed Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to hand his newly announced peace plan to the Russian MFA. Most likely, Poroshenko believes his proposal is the best possible solution considering Moscow’s pressure on Kyiv “to listen to Donbas” as well as the threat of a Crimea scenario being repeated in Ukraine’s eastern regions.

Moreover, his decision seemed to be encouraged by the Kremlin. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that his country was not going to bring its “peacekeeping contingent” into Ukraine’s east, as long as “there is a hope […] to stop the violence and start talks.” He added, “We know that the militia in the southeast are ready to cease fire, but it is the Kyiv authorities, who should, by all the rules, take the first step following the inauguration of Petro Poroshenko” (Interfax, June 12).

Although the Ukrainian president stressed he would accept only legitimate partners for dialogue and would not talk to bandits, his stance attracted criticism domestically. Alyona Hetmanchuk, the director of the Kyiv-based Institute of World Policy, warned that any possible talks between the Ukrainian government and secessionists would entail the transformation of Donbas into a second Transnistria. “As soon as Kyiv enters into negotiations with separatists, it will mean its acceptance of Russia’s view—that this is an [internal] Ukrainian crisis and that Russia is […] not a conflicting party in it,” she wrote in her blog on Ukrayinska Pravda on June 12. “Furthermore, in case of such a scenario, Russia will claim the role of mediator in the negotiating process, the political settlement’s guarantor and peacemaker, legitimizing its peacekeeping troops under this or that pretext” (pravda.com.ua, June 12).

But as Kyiv was waiting for Moscow’s response to its peace initiative, and as the Ukrainian Border Guard was preparing to seal the border, at least three Russian tanks and two trucks laden with weapons crossed into Ukraine from Russia (novosti.dn.ua, June 12). Furthermore, on the night of June 13–14, a Ukrainian IL-76 military transport plane approaching Luhansk airport was shot down by rebels (mil.gov.ua, June 14), plunging all of Ukraine into national mourning for the 49 killed paratroopers (Kyiv Post, June 14). More recently, Moscow has apparently resumed concentrating its military along the Ukrainian border, despite repeated promises to withdraw its troops. “There are now 16,000 Russian soldiers near Ukraine’s eastern frontier, 22,000 in Crimea and 3,500 in Transnistria,” National Defense Council Secretary Parubiy stated on June 16 (rnbo.gov.ua, June 16).

Nonetheless, President Poroshenko reiterated his peace initiatives during the June 16 meeting of the National Defense Council, proposing a cease fire as the beginning to a peace process (president.gov.ua, June 16).

Meanwhile many Ukrainian politicians and ordinary citizens object to halting the ATO. Instead, they argue, the government has to impose martial law in the eastern regions, finally close the border, and eliminate the terrorists. Furthermore, Ukraine’s defense, law enforcement, and all other government agencies need to be radically reformed. “Ukraine’s state machine has become obsolete and cannot withstand foreign aggression anymore. It needs to be rebuilt by resetting all its agencies. And this is the only precondition for a final win. Until then, there will be many months of marking time, victims and blood,” believes Donbas Battalion commander Semyon Semenchenko (pravda.com.ua, May 30).

“We will not defeat the enemy in Donbas, without having cleared the Kyiv ruling establishment of [its influence],” agrees Ukrainian parliamentarian Oleg Lyashko, who came in third in the May 25 presidential election and has recently been heading a volunteer detachment fighting secessionists in Mariupol (rpl.kiev.ua, June 15).

Both, these field commanders, as well as much of the public, believe that the process must start with early parliamentary elections. But this will open up a whole new set of challenges in the country as long as Donbas remains unpacified.

–Oleksandr Gavrylyuk


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