Can the Minsk agreement be saved?

Note kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia

The fragile accord signed in Minsk[1] in the morning of Thursday 12th of February between Mrs Merkel, François Hollande, Vladimir Putin and the Ukrainian President M. Poroshenko is presently clearly in a state crisis. Attention is focusing on the question of the cease-fire. It is an important one, but it may be hiding others, even more serious. For instance, the Kiev government indicated that it did not intend to apply the « federalisation » of the country, to which it had yet committed itself. It is possible also that political troubles will affect the Kiev forces, and even that a coup d’état coming from the most extremist fraction may occur in the weeks to come.

The question of the cease-fire

The cease-fire should enter into effect on Sunday, February 15 at 0h00. For the time being, combats are continuing. This is due to each party’s determination to “scrounge” off the front line, but also to the progressive elimination of the Kiev forces which are encircled in the Debalstevo « pocket. » The main problem is that the Kiev forces must withdraw their heavy weapons beginning from the front line whereas the insurgents must do the same beginning from the line of September 19, 2014. The idea seems to have been to give satisfaction to both parties and to create a « buffer zone. » But if one wants this buffer zone to play a role (and avoid new bombings targeting the civilian populations of the insurgent cities of Donetsk and Lugansk), a corps of observers, capable to do interposition between the two adversaries, will imperatively need to be created. The OSCE, which is designated by name in the accord, does not have the means to do this. Moreover, its legitimacy could be contested. The only stable solution would be the constitution of contingents of « Blue Helmets » of the United Nations. But such a solution must be accepted by the Kiev government and must be validated by the Security Counsel, which implies an accord of the United States. This is where one can measure the limits of the Merkel-Hollande solution. In fact, the United States are today directly a part in the conflict. They must therefore be associated in its settlement, or show by their attitude that they have made the choice of war. As long as a stable, observed and verified cease-fire will not be in place, the accord will necessarily be most fragile.

The question of the status of the insurgent zones and of the sovereignty of Ukraine

But there are other reasons to think that this accord may well never be applied. The terms of the accord are very clear: a statute of large autonomy must be conceded to the insurgents and, on this basis, the Kiev government will be able to regain control of the border between Ukraine and Russia (articles 9 and 11 of the accord). However, the Kiev government has indicated its refusal to consider a « federalisation » of the country, in a rewriting of the Constitution, which should come to fruition by the end of 2015. Similarly, the Kiev Minister of Justice, M. Klimkin, has declared his opposition to a general amnesty [2]. However, this amnesty is one of the conditions of the accord (article 5).

Very clearly, at the time being, the Kiev regime has no intention of applying the political clauses of the accord. However, it’s easy to understand that if these clauses are not applied, war will inevitably restart, except if one moves in the direction of a solution of the type « neither peace, nor war, » what is called a « frozen conflict. »

However, such a solution of a « frozen conflict » can only be contemplated if interposition forces take position between the belligerents. This brings us back to the question of a hypothetical contingent of “Blue Helmets” and to the question of the insertion of the United States in the process of an accord. Here again, one measures the limits of the option taken by Mrs Merkel and M. François Hollande. In pretending that the Europeans could on their own strength find a solution to this conflict, they have shut themselves up in a dead end. The discursive position which they have adopted, consisting in heaping the “fault” of non-application onto Russia, is beginning to wear thin. This is nevertheless the way we are going, with the reinforcement of sanctions taken by the European Union. [3] The more so that one is now seeing considerable rifts opening inside the Kiev government, very probably at the instigation, if not of the United States, at least of American influences.

Towards a coup d’état in Kiev ?

One must, in this regard, look very closely at what the leader of the “Right Sector,” Dmitro Yarosh, one of the most extremist groups (and often openly pro-Nazi) in the political space at power in Kiev is up to. This group has been directly suspected in the massacre of Maïdan Square [4]. Yarosh has a charged political past, having been some sort of parliamentary attaché of V. Nalivaïtchenko, a deputy whose links with the government of the United States are well known. Yarosh has been injured in the fightings in Donetsk. The group he is leading, while being much in minority, is very influent in the National Guard and provides many combatants to the latter’s “punitive battalions.” This is where he got tied up with a Ukrainian oligarch, I. Kolomoisky[5]. The latter has constituted himself a real little private kingdom out of Dniepropetrovsk, and especially Odessa, from where he finances several of these « punitive battalions. » The links of Kolomoisky with the United States are numerous and important.

As it happens, no later than the evening Thursday 12, Yarosh announced that his movement would not recognize the Minsk accords and that he intended to establish a « General Headquarters » in parallel with the one existing under the orders of General Muzhenko. The latter has attracted the hostility of Kolomoisky, who is trying to have him replaced by one of his men. What is important here is that Kolomoisky, not being content with financing the punitive battalions of the National Guard, has also recruited between 400 and 900 mercenaries[6], by way of American companies of military contractors. This indicates that, besides his links with the United States, Kolomoisky wishes to build for himself a military power, maybe not over the whole of Ukraine, but certainly at the scale of the country’s South. This implies, from his point of view, that war must continue so that he can go on reinforcing himself.

But there is another aspect to this question. Presently, the Kiev government is politically divided (Petro Poroshenko appearing in this regard as relatively « moderate ») and especially technically more and more dependent on the United States. American counsellors occupy several storeys in the various ministries. Given the history of Yarosh’s links with the United States, it cannot be exclude that he may present a threat of a coup, should by chance the present government oppose itself to American interests.

This shows that the United States, whether or not they are delivering « lethal » weapons to Ukraine, are already an interested party in the conflict, and in a certain way have acquired a determining position in the Kiev government. This clearly exposes the illusions of Mrs Merkel and M Hollande, but also shows us that as long as the United States will not have given their explicit assent to any accord, the latter has no chance of being respected. But, maybe they can be compelled to do it.

The economic question.

As we know, Ukraine is virtually in default. Granted, the International Monetary Fund has evoked the possibility of a loan of 17 billion dollars. But this sum, if it is paid out, which depends on the reality of the cease-fire, will not solve anything. At best, if it is paid out, it will insure the financial stability of Ukraine until the end of the year, no more. This money will not replace a healthy economy, and strong trade relations with Russia as well as with the European Union. The future of Ukraine is therefore depending on an accord between the Russians and the Europeans. More directly, the immediate survival of the country depends largely on the aid consented by the European Union.

This could permit Germany and France, if they dared speak up clearly in Washington, to compel the United States to engage themselves in a decisive manner in the peace process. Otherwise, the full cost of Ukraine would rest on the United States, and it is obvious in this case that Congress would refuse to finance such expenses, which over the next 5 years could reach in the 90-120 billion dollars.

The economic question is maybe what could permit to reach a realistic application of the Minsk accords, but on two conditions: that Germany and France insist upon their conditions in Washington, and that the two countries abandon the sterile and stupid game of consistently rejecting the fault on Russia when it is quite visible that the war mongers are in other places.

[1] See here the final declaration of the 4 leaders: http://interfax.com/newsinf.asp?pg=3&id=571367

[2] http://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=2351431

[3] http://top.rbc.ru/politics/13/02/2015/54dd2aec9a79475c523efc2e

[4] Katchanovski I., « The Separatist Conflict in Donbas: A Violent Break-Up of Ukraine? », School of Political Studies, Université d’Ottawa, text prepared for the international conference “Negotiating Borders: Comparing the Experience of Canada, Europe, and Ukraine,” Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Edmonton, October 16–17, 2014

[5] Rosier R., « L’oligarque genevois qui défie Poutine », la Tribune de Genève, 30/05/2014,

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBAQJ_b6j8w

 


Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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