Ukraine: Cease-fire ?
Kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia
The announcement made today Wednesday September 3rd of an agreement in principle for a cease-fire in Eastern Ukraine, between the President of Russia, Mr Putin, and the President of Ukraine, Mr Poroshenko, following a phone conversation, must be greeted as good news. But a number of precautions are in order before one can truly rejoice.
- For the time being, only President Poroshenko is talking of a cease-fire accord. The communiqué released by the Russian Presidency mentions only an agreement in principle about a halt in the fighting. It must be reminded that Russia is not directly involved in the fighting. From this point of view, it doesn’t make much sense to talk, as does Poroshenko, of an « accord » between him and Vladimir Poutine.
- Any EFFECTIVE cease-fire implies on the one hand DIRECT negotiations between the insurgent authorities (of the Popular Republic of Donetsk or PRD, and the Popular Republic of Lugansk or PRL) and the Kiev government, and on the other hand, that it be respected by all of the forces of Kiev, that is, not only by the Army but also by the National Guard.
We can see therefore that, if one may have reasons to be optimistic as to a stop of the fighting, the latter can ONLY intervene within the framework of direct negotiations between the insurgents and the Kiev government. This will be tantamount to a de facto recognition of the insurgents by Kiev, something which Kiev has precisely refused to do since the beginning of the crisis. One can understand the reasons which push Mr Poroshenko to present the cease-fire as « negotiated » between him and Vladimir Putin. But the reality is that he will have to negotiate with the authorities of the PRD and of the PRL. It is not impossible therefore that combats will continue for a few more hours, even a few more days.
A cease-fire or a truce ?
The real question at present is to know whether we are in the presence of a true cease-fire, which is a prelude to political negotiations on the substance, or if we are only dealing with a provisional truce. The motives of the Kiev government are rather clear: its army is in a rout and has lost a lot of men and materiel. It knows that it will not be able to count on the active support of the United-States, who have excluded any military intervention, nor on the countries of the European Union. He needs time to rebuild his forces. On the other hand, Mr Poroshenko hopes to be in a position of force after the legislative elections of October 26. These facts are not conducive to optimism. One can well fear that, in the mind of Mr Poroshenko, this cease-fire is in reality only a truce. But other facts could incite him to conclude a cease-fire more seriously. Ukraine is economically, and therefore fiscally, worn out. It will experience in 2014 a depression of at least -6,5%, and this, in addition to several bad years following the 2008-2009 crisis. It needs to wait for money from the IMF in order to round out its end of the month payments, and the IMF itself cannot support all . Under these conditions, it is clear at present that there must be strong pressure from economic circles to put an end to combats. It is possible therefore that Poroshenko is seeking to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. This might end up not in a cease-fire but in a provisory truce. However, it is not sure that this solution will be to the taste of the insurgents.
On the side of the insurgents, it is clear that they would want to capitalize on the victories of these past days. But it is clear also that the insurgent forces are not numerous enough to be able to profit from the situation of military and political vacuum which is presently constituting itself in the South of Ukraine. There are practically no longer any military forces between the insurgents and the Dniepr. If the Russian army, as maintained by the rulers in Kiev, were deployed for the benefit of the insurgents, it would already be on the Eastern bank of the river. Yet, one can see that, although the insurgents are advancing towards Beryansk, West of Mariupol, their advance is slow because of the lack of men and of means. The insurgents have therefore objectively a stake in a cease-fire, but at the condition that the latter be stable.
The conditions of a stable cease-fire.
In these conditions, it is evident that only direct negotiations are able to lead to a true cease-fire, which Kiev seems to be reticent to accept. But it is also necessary that guarantees be found, on either side, in order to avoid a rapid resumption of hostilities. The insurgents will therefore probably demand that the artillery means of the forces of Kiev, automotive howitzers and multiple rocket-launchers, be withdrawn at distances from which they could not be used to hit cities and villages which are at the hands of the insurgents. This demand would be logical, taking into account the bombardments of civilian targets which have been undertaken by the troops of Kiev and which are responsible of a large majority of the 2500 dead which were counted since June. But it would have to be verifiable, and a credible cordon of security would have to be establish between the belligerents. All this calls for the United Nations to send forces of interposition into Ukraine. We can see that the establishment of a cease-fire demands in reality much more than direct negotiations.
If one may well view favourably the news of a discussion between Poroshenko and Putin, the establishment of a stable cease-fire will still demand much more than this. Still, the situation, military as well political, is presently favourable to an accord. We must hope therefore that it can be concretised in the coming days. If not, the logic of war will probably take over, until the elections of October 26.
I add to this paper proposals made by President Vladimir Putin yesterday. I have to add that as good as they are looking and whatever the logic of these proposals, which is perfect, I don’t see them as realistic till an interposition force will be mandated by UNO.
Vladimir Putin outlined the plan while speaking with journalists at the end of his working visit to Mongolia. link here
In order to stop the bloodshed and stabilise the situation in southeast Ukraine, I believe that the parties to the conflict should immediately agree on and coordinate the following steps:
- 1. End active offensive operations by armed forces and armed militia groups in southeast Ukraine in the Donetsk and Lugansk areas.
- 2. Withdraw Ukrainian armed forces units to a distance that would make it impossible to fire on populated areas using artillery and all types of multiple launch rocket systems.
- 3. Allow for full and objective international monitoring of compliance with the ceasefire and monitoring of the situation in the safe zone created by the ceasefire.
- 4. Exclude all use of military aircraft against civilians and populated areas in the conflict zone.
- 5. Organise the exchange of individuals detained by force on an ‘all for all’ basis without any preconditions.
- 6. Open humanitarian corridors for refugees and for delivering humanitarian cargoes to towns and populated areas in Donbass – Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
- 7. Make it possible for repair brigades to come to damaged settlements in the Donbass region in order to repair and rebuild social facilities and life-supporting infrastructure and help the region to prepare for the winter.