Ukraine/Russia politics: Calling a bully a bully
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- Economist Intelligence Unit
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Ukraine: Calling a bully a bully
Legislators bicker, diplomats gab and conflict rolls on in eastern Ukraine
AFTER nearly four years of war in eastern Ukraine, and more than 10,000 deaths, reports from international monitors in the region sound like a grim broken record. On January 19th: 340 explosions. On January 20th: 240 explosions. On January 21st: 195 explosions and two middle-aged civilians hit by rifle fire while travelling in a bus near a separatist checkpoint in the town of Olenivka. "One had blood covering the left side of his face and was holding gauze to it and the other had gunshot wounds in his neck and left cheek," the monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported this week. One of the men ended up in hospital; the other died at the site of the attack.
The Minsk agreements, a peace plan signed in early 2015, are meant to prevent such incidents. Yet an end to the conflict in the Donbas region remains a distant dream. Russia bears the brunt of the blame for failing to rein in its separatist allies in the area and secure a ceasefire. But Ukraine in turn has balked at taking some political steps outlined in the deal, saying they are impossible until security improves; many in Kiev see the accords as a raw deal. Western negotiators hope that keeping dialogue with Russia open may yet bear fruit. A quiet day on the front on January 23rd shows "peace is possible with political will," says America's special representative to the conflict, Kurt Volker. On January 26th Mr Volker will meet his Russian counterpart, Vladislav Surkov, in Dubai for the first time since the American government approved plans last year to provide lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, a move that then-President Barack Obama had long resisted.
The meeting will also come on the heels of a contentious new Ukrainian bill aimed at redefining national policy towards the Donbas. President Petro Poroshenko, who pushed the bill, says it will "pave the way for reintegration of the occupied Ukrainian lands". The legislation declares Russia an "aggressor", and calls the separatist-controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk "temporarily occupied territories", like Crimea--thus making it crystal-clear that Ukraine blames Russia, not local elements, for the secession. It also shakes up the local command and expands presidential authority to conduct operations there without imposing martial law. Critics of Mr Poroshenko argue that the bill gives him unnecessarily far-reaching powers, and protestors clashed outside parliament ahead of its passage. Analysts expect the measure to have little effect on the ground. Instead, it looks more like domestic political posturing by Mr Poroshenko, who faces a tough re-election fight in 2019.
Unsurprisingly, Russia reacted with indignation. "You cannot call this anything but preparation for a new war," declared Russia's foreign ministry, warning that the bill risked "a dangerous escalation in Ukraine with unpredictable consequences for world peace and security". Russian officials say the bill undermines the peace plan. "Kiev has gone from sabotaging the Minsk agreements to burying them," said Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the foreign-affairs committee in the Russian parliament's upper house. Most would say the Minsk agreements have long been on life support, if they are not dead already.
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