Valdai International Discussion Club | 17/07/2014
By mid-summer, Russia changed the vector of its policy towards the crisis in Ukraine. The probability of an armed interference has decreased relative to the spring, and Russia is now advocating the idea of a Russian-German-French contact group on Ukraine. The Kremlin is responding to Kiev’s military operation mildly in the hope that Paris and Berlin will help it find a compromise solution.
The first such contact group was created during the Bosnian crisis in the mid-1990s. After the conflicting sides in Bosnia – Serbs, Muslims and Croats – rejected the UN Security Council initiatives in 1993, the Clinton administration proposed a contact group on Bosnia and Herzegovina. It consisted of the US, Russia, the UK, France, Germany and Italy. In 1994, the group prepared a peace plan that proposed creating a confederation of the Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. That plan was included in the Dayton Accords on November 12, 1995.
Russian diplomacy has attempted to apply this scenario to Ukraine. The developments of the past few months have indicated a high degree of understanding between the US and the EU. On the other hand, France and Germany, the leading countries in continental Europe, often mediated in US-Russian conflicts during and after the Cold War era. The agreements reached by the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany in Berlin on July 2 showed that the Kremlin and the White House need this mediation again.
However, the potential of a contact group on Ukraine is lower than the potential was in Bosnia. First, the great powers wanted to settle the Bosnian crisis as soon as possible. Second, the US, unwilling to be involved in a large-scale war, was ready to accept a German compromise scenario. Third, despite the “Slavic unity” rhetoric, the Bosnian issue was much less painful to Russia than the crisis in Ukraine. There are none of these prerequisites in Ukraine, and EU diplomacy has less room to maneuver than 20 years ago.
Judging by statements made by Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel, there is a choice of three compromise scenarios.
The first scenario provides for a ceasefire, to be monitored by international observers. The Poroshenko administration has so far refused to consider a unilateral ceasefire but said it would not use military planes or artillery against Donetsk, a city with a population of about a million. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin mentioned the possibility of accepting a compromise Paris-Berlin peace plan under OSCE guarantees.
The EU could also offer a slightly different solution within this plan – send an EU police mission to eastern Ukraine. The EU sent such missions to Congo, Macedonia and Georgia. The EU police would not have a peacekeeping mandate, but would only monitor compliance with the ceasefire agreement. The signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement on June 27 created the conditions for this.
Under the second scenario, the sides would sign an agreement on humanitarian corridors, which the media often describe as providing safe passage out of Ukraine for “Russian militants” and the civilians who want to leave. In fact, humanitarian corridors are used to deliver humanitarian aid and medical assistance to areas of hostility. They should be monitored by missions of humanitarian organizations and can only be safe and useful under a ceasefire.
The third scenario provides for starting peace talks and is the most difficult to implement. Moscow demands that “Novorosiya,” formed by the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics, attend the talks as equals. But this is unacceptable to Kiev. The Poroshenko administration fears this would amount to admitting that Ukraine has no inherent prerogative to determine its territorial structure. The most it would agree to in this scenario is the drafting of a crisis settlement roadmap.
Russia should keep in mind that the contact group’s agenda on Ukraine could be expanded to include the Crimean issue. The US could argue that Russia should discuss Crimea with Ukraine, and if Moscow agrees, Washington could say that this amounts to a promise to talk about Crimea’s status.
A contact group has so far remained a hypothetical proposal. The Poroshenko administration, encouraged by its achievements in early June, has opted to continue the military operations. But it will have to consider external mediation if hostilities in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions continue.
Russia needs to avoid an “enforced consensus,” that is, a search for compromise on US conditions, and so it should closely monitor the drafting of a roadmap for peace talks in the EU.
Alexei Fenenko is Leading Research Fellow, Institute of International Security Studies of RAS, Russian Academy of Sciences.
This article was oroginally published on www.ng.ru
Border With Russia Helps Luhansk Republic Hang On
By Sukhov Oleg
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | July 19, 2014
Since the Ukrainian government reestablished control over the eastern city of Slovyansk on July 5, the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic has been on the defensive.
Ukrainian forces have been pushing to isolate the city of Luhansk and to cut the insurgents off from access to the border with Russia. But the going has been slow, the authorities say, because of increased supplies of weapons and volunteers coming across the frontier.
In the middle of June, Ukrainian government forces entered the city of Shchastya and established control over part of the border with Russia. On July 14, the army took control over Metalist, Oleksandrivsk, and other towns in the vicinity of Luhansk.
At present, the separatists control only the southern part of Luhansk Oblast, including the city of Luhansk.
It is a far cry from the heady days of April, when militants seized the local headquarters of the state security service. Three weeks later, on April 28, the loosely organized fighters proclaimed the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), and on the next day they seized other government buildings in the city.
Two weeks after that, on May 11, 96 percent of locals — according to results released by the separatists — voted in a disputed referendum to support LNR’s independence.
Although the LNR is usually lumped together with the other breakaway region in eastern Ukraine, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), and the two have signed an agreement forming the Novorossia confederation, they are quite different, analysts say.
The leadership of the LNR is "more centralized," says local political analyst Oleksiy Blyuminov. Although there are factions as there are in the DNR, the LNR has a dominant president in Valery Bolotov. Blyuminov says the governing structure there is "a military junta in the best sense of the word."
Yuliy Fedorovskiy, another local political observer in Luhansk, tells RFE/RL’s Russian Service that LNR is a "military democracy." He notes that Bolotov and his inner circle are all veterans of the Union of Paratroopers of Luhansk Oblast. They are more "leftist" than their comrades in Donetsk, and Bolotov’s statements often have a distinctly Soviet feel.
In June, Bolotov formed a State Security Committee (KGB), with a counterespionage arm called SMERSH, after the Stalin-era antispying program.
Bolotov’s power is balanced to some extent by a group surrounding Aleksey Mozgovoi, a local commander who is formally subordinate to Bolotov in the political hierarchy and simultaneously to Novorossia military commander Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, militarily and operationally. He opposed Bolotov at a demonstration on April 21 at which gathered protesters "elected" the LNR leadership.
Fedorovskiy also notes that the Cossacks from Russia’s Don River region have considerable influence in the LNR. The group of Don Cossacks is headed by Russian Nikolai Kozitsyn. Fedorovskiy says Kozitsyn controls the stretch of the Russian-Ukrainian border that remains in militant hands and "does not want to recognize Bolotov as the sole leader."
‘Less Russian Influence’
Blyuminov says that, apart from the Cossacks, Russian citizens have less influence in the LNR than in the DNR and have managed to secure fewer high-level official posts. However, Russian political strategist Marat Bashirov was named LNR acting prime minister earlier this month. He is a well-known Russian spin doctor with ties to Putin-connected oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.
LNR Deputy Prime Minster for finances Dmitry Semyonov is also a Russian, as are about 10 senior people in the so-called power ministries (defense, interior, emergency situations, etc.).
By all accounts, local Ukrainians control the so-called Luhansk Army of the Southeast. Ukrainian military expert Oleksiy Orestovych estimates the force consists of several thousand fighters, of whom some 30-40 percent are Russian volunteers or mercenaries. Blyuminov, on the other hand, puts the total force at 12,000-15,000, of whom about 10-15 percent are Russians.
Bolotov’s political dominance of the region means that there is no single military commander of the stature of Strelkov, which often translates into a lack of tactical coordination.
The region’s main advantage — or lifeline — is its physical connection with Russia. Military analyst Orestovych estimates that the number of separatist fighters in the area has increased, rather than decreased, since the Ukrainian government began its offensive there. He believes the government’s "antiterrorism operation" has been less effective than Kyiv claims.
"The situation is not improving," he says. "[The government] does not have sufficient forces or power."
The intensified fighting has made the situation inside the city of Luhansk more tense for local residents.
"It is dangerous to walk around the city," says a young man who identified himself only as Ihor. "Not only for activists, but for ordinary people as well During the curfew, men found out on the streets are often forced to go into the Army of the Southeast."
Another local named Petro told RFE/RL that he has heard of at least 30 people who have been abducted by militants.
Ihor used to run a local art center and exhibition space. He says that during one event, militants came and said it was a curfew violation.
"They started shooting into the paintings," Ihor says. "But some of the girls spoke with them, gave them a drink, and they settled down."
Shortly afterward, Ihor closed the space because most of his colleagues and clients had fled Luhansk.
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