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Clusters of Reconciliation or Formula of Surrender? Ukraine Concerned about Possible ‘Remix’ of Minsk Agreements

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Civil society representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions prepared a statement warning about a dangerous scenario for Ukraine: “In the light of concentration of Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders and escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian military conflict in Donbas, we see several ominous trends which could lead to internal destabilisation in Ukraine and the transformation of the interstate conflict in the East into a civil conflict. The question is possible attempts by Germany and France to persuade Ukraine’s leadership to reconcile with the Kremlin by signing and trying to implement ‘Key Clusters for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements’ which are humiliating for Ukraine and contrary to its legislation and the Constitution.”

The starting point for talks about “Key Clusters” was an article in the Russian newspaper “Kommersant” published in late March. Citing their own sources, the newspaper journalists reported that advisers to the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany had prepared a new project for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and presented it to the Ukrainian and Russian parties in November last year. According to “Kommersant,” there are three versions of the so-called clusters: Ukrainian, Russian and French-German. The latter contains 11 clusters (security, politics, economics, humanitarian issues) which provide for the implementation of Steinmeier’s formula, preservation of “people’s militia” units, enshrinement of a special status of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the Constitution of Ukraine, conduct of local elections, procedure for establishing control over border, etc. Russian and Ukrainian versions are quite contradictory: Moscow seeks to define the conflict as “internal” and to force Kyiv to start a direct dialogue with the self-proclaimed republics. Such a scenario remains unacceptable for Ukraine. The division into clusters involves the disjunction of implementation of the Minsk Agreements in order to fulfill those points in which consensus can be reached.

The fact that this information leaked to the Russian media indicates that Moscow itself was interested in “depressurising” the closed dialogue on the settlement of the situation in Donbas. The escalation that began shortly after the article about the clusters may indicate that Moscow is thus emphasising the lack of alternatives to its position in the negotiations.

The cautious and more restrained, compared to American ones, calls of European leaders for de-escalation in Donbas (appeals to both sides of the conflict) may be indirect evidence that these “clusters” do exist and are seen as a tool for resolving the conflict.

However, even if “clusters” are published officially as a road map, it will be difficult to implement them. Suffice it to recall the case of Steinmeier’s formula, which many in Ukraine perceived as an overture to surrender. It seems that perception of “Key Clusters for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements” is a similar case. According to the aforementioned statement by civil society representatives, “We warn the political leadership of Ukraine, as well as representatives of France and Germany, that no agreements based on the principles of pandering to the Russian aggressor, granting the occupation administrations subjectivity, and arbitrary interpreting security priority over any issues of political nature will be condemned by civil society and will provoke effective resistance offered by us and all patriots of Ukraine.” Another search for a compromise with the separatists on Russian terms could turn into a political crisis inside the country.

Stepan Nazarenko

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