It seems Ukrainian topic somewhat lost the attention of international community, partially because of the other important topics on the international agenda and partly because “Ukrainian Crisis” (which we in Ukraine know is not a crisis, but a consequence of Russian aggression, but still many authors use this term) remains a frozen conflict with some hopes that Minsk agreements will bring the solution.
Minsk agreements are not working just like Budapest Memorandum didn’t work.
Let’s start with brief definition of Budapest Memorandum.
The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances is a political agreement signed in Budapest, Hungary on 5 December 1994, providing security assurances by its signatories relating to Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Memorandum was originally signed by three nuclear powers, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom. China and France gave somewhat weaker individual assurances in separate documents (1)
Since Russian aggression against Ukraine and occupation of Crimea, the Budapest memorandum was lots of times referenced by politicians, experts, diplomats, and other people. Recently it was even mentioned by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who said that Russia didn’t violate this document because it didn’t threaten Ukraine by nuclear weapon (2). Such statement shows either lack of knowledge or the desire to treat this document in its own way. Although Russia refrained from the use of nuclear weapons, it broke all other parts of Budapest Memorandum, and Putin said that they were ready to use nuclear weapons in a film “Crimea: The Way Home” which in details tells the story of Russian occupation of Crimea (3).
Putin’s Russia broke Budapest Memorandum, so why should Ukrainians and the international community believe that the same administration won’t brake Minsk Agreements? Moreover it is breaking them since the beginning – all the time Russian-backed terrorists (separatists) are not keeping the ceasefire. Ukraine is constantly suffering and many Ukrainians are still on front-line, because full-scale Russian aggression is still an option, even though it seems Russia chose other methods for it’s hybrid war. This situation is not favorable for the so-called “re-integration of Donbas” into Ukraine.
Russian-backed terrorists should not dictate Ukraine their will
Can you imagine that France would change it’s Constitution counting on ISIS recommendations? And the international community would say: There is no other alternative, you need to give amnesty to terrorists, you need to sponsor financially the rebuilding of certain areas and you need to make elections for them, so they will come to power in semi-legal way, they will continue to have its own troops (which would be called militia), will have option for their own foreign policy. This is hard to imagine as well as the law “On the special status of certain areas of Paris” which would create the semi-autonomous terrorists-controlled anthrax in a state. But Putin proposes similar law to Ukraine, and the Russian side blames Ukraine for not implementing amendments to Constitution in time.
First of all, why should Constitutional amendments relate to Minsk agreement? I can’t remember any case in history when terrorist groups (or a country which controls them) dictated a sovereign country to implement Constitutional amendments.
No wonder that there is no political will among Ukrainian Members of parliament to vote for the Constitutional amendments which include the special status for certain territories in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
Ukrainian army can destroy terrorists’ enclave, but Ukraine can’t wage a full-scale war against Russia. The reason why Minsk agreements were negotiated – is that Ukrainian leadership was afraid of full-scale attack of Russian army. It’s really hard to tell what was the probability of such attack, but such plans existed and still exists, they were mentioned both by Russian politicians, experts and leaders of terrorists’ groups in the East of Ukraine. Good simulation was proposed by Stratfor (4).
Now because of economical situation in Russia, because of Russian involvement in Syrian war, in conflict with Turkey, it’s less and less probable that such full-scale attack will happen.
At the same time Minsk agreements are not working and despite the fact many politicians say there are no other alternatives, such alternatives always exist.
ALTERNATIVE 1. International Diplomatic War on Terror
The term “International Diplomatic War on Terror” can sound strange, but that’s what is needed on the international level. Ukraine can eliminate terrorists as soon as Russia stops supporting them. So the role of international community should focus on international diplomatic pressure on Russia.
Terrorists organizations DNR and LNR are no better than ISIS or Al-Qaeda. They are recognized as terrorist organizations by Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office (5) and Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) (6) and in Ukraine it’s understandable for everyone. Even many Russians acknowledge them as terrorists, and don’t want to support them, however Russian propaganda machine mostly describes them as rebels.
It’s hard to imagine that Russia suddenly stops supporting these pro-russian terrorists. But it’s possible. From time to time Russian side imposed it’s influence to rotate the terrorists’ leadership, in some cases Russians killed some groups of terrorists forces, which went out of control.
The powerful international pressure can make Russia to focus on something else.
This pressure needs to start with political will of other countries, who need to answer 1 question: Are we going to help Ukraine’s War on Terror?
ALTERNATIVE 2. Next President of USA and Re-evaluation of American geopolitics
With the next US president (be it Republican or Democrat) comes the new approach to US foreign policy. New President can have another view on US’ obligations according to Budapest Memorandum and have better approach to facing geopolitical challenges.
In this case Ukraine can count on bigger American support or even on some kind of security treaty (for example like US have with Japan – Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan)
If US will use all its diplomatic, economic and military mechanisms – Russia can stop supporting self-proclaimed terrorists republics.
ALTERNATIVE 3. Baltic-Black Sea Axis
Right now the ideas of bigger cooperation in Baltic-Black Sea area are more and more popular. It’s too early to tell either at can be an alliance like The Visegrad Group, or it can develop into bigger project, even into military union.
Countries from Finland to Turkey which in one or another way feel the Russian expansionism and some perspective danger from Russian Federation, can work more together on security issues. Ukraine, the biggest victim of Russian post-soviet horde-style imperialism, would be in center of this military union and freeing Donbas and Crimea would be the first steps of returning the historical truth and the rule of international law.
ALTERNATIVE 4. Unpredictable Opportunity and separation of Russia
Some “Black Swan” event may occur, which almost nobody expected, but which can change a lot. Russian can be drown into Syrian war, or go into another adventure for example in Arctics, or will start a war with Turkey (Many senior Russian politicians openly proposed to wage war against Turkey after Russian plane was taken down).
Any global or local event which will weaken Russia, can become opportunity for Ukraine to regain its control under Russian-occupied territories.
Most of Ukrainians agree that frozen conflict like now is better than re-integration of Donbas on Putin’s conditions. To understand this – you can only imagine setting free terrorists and putting them to live in your neighborhood. Would you feel yourself comfortable?
Donbas (parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) deserves to return to Ukraine on better conditions. Thousands of Ukrainians there became victims of terrorism, thousands flew from homes escaping terrorism and thousands remain there being silent as it is dangerous there to have pro-Ukrainian position.
Putin’s Russia is still negotiating its position and right now it’s very important for the whole international community to have strong position condemning terrorism. Minsk agreement which is not working has alternatives – I listed only few of them. The option of “International Diplomatic War on Terror” seems to be quite realistic, as recent history showed that it’s not a problem to show deep concern, but even this deep concern can be helpful if it goes with other diplomatic, economical and political tools and pressure.
Writer, Advisor to MP, Founder of GRUNT think-tank
Co-founder of NGO “International Initiative to Support Ukraine“