On November 23, the Russian state news agency TASS published a story about the latest developments in the negotiations to end the war in Ukraine’s Donbas region, where government forces are still engaged in sporadic fighting with proxy forces armed, supplied and led by Russia.
The story mentions a November 20 response from the leadership of Russia’s two pseudo-states in Donbas, the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR ), to Kyiv’s Joint Plan of Action to end the conflict.The plan was first announced on November 5 and later proposed during the November 11 videoconference of the Trilateral Contact Group, which was formed in 2014 between Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
“In comments to the document, DNR envoys underlined that it vastly contradicts the Minsk agreements, concluding that Ukraine doesn’t demonstrate a true intention to achieve peace.”
This is false.
While the Ukrainian action plan does contain points not specifically covered in the Minsk II agreements that were intended to halt the conflict in early 2015, nothing in Kyiv’s plan contradicts anything in the agreements and several of the main points essentially match those in Minsk II. The main points of Kyiv’s proposals are as follows:
- Removal of “foreign troops, mercenaries, and illegal armed groups” by early 2021
- Cancellation of Russian policies that directly interfere in the affairs of Ukraine in those territories outside of its control, specifically the simplification of procedures to obtain Russian passports
- Restoration of Ukrainian government control over the border with Russia and an increase in personnel for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission (OSCE SMM) to monitor the border
If these conditions are fulfilled, Kyiv would go forward with the fifth point on the proposal: carrying out local elections in the territories currently outside of government control, in accordance with Ukrainian law.
The issue of removing foreign troops from Ukrainian territory is a specific point of the Minsk II agreement.
“Withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, as well as mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under monitoring of the OSCE. Disarmament of all illegal groups,” Point 10 of the Minsk II agreement reads.
The second point in the action plan, relating mostly to Russian passports for Ukrainian citizens in occupied Donbas, isn’t covered in Minsk because it relates to a policy enacted by Russia in 2019, well after the original agreement was signed in February 2015.
However, it should be noted that Russia has for years officially denied involvement in the conflict (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary), insisting that it is a civil war and an internal affair of Ukraine. Therefore, Russia’s insistence on maintaining a law that directly interferes in Ukraine’s internal affairs casts doubt on its claim of non-involvement.
Next is the point about restoration of Ukrainian government control over the border.
Point 9 of the Minsk agreement says that control of the border should be restored the day after local elections are held in the occupied territories in Donbas. However, it also stipulates these elections must be held “on the basis of the law of Ukraine and constitutional reform.” Since Minsk II, Russia’s proxies have held several unrecognized pseudo-elections on the territory they control, but these are not held in accordance with Ukrainian law, naturally.
Furthermore, the question of restoration of control of the border before or after local elections in the occupied territories of Donbas has been a sticking point throughout the negotiation process, and therefore this position in Kyiv’s action plan doesn’t contradict the previous position on this matter.
Part of the confusion over the order and manner of holding elections in the territories outside of Kyiv’s control was because of the vague wording of many of the Minsk II agreement’s points.
However, since 2016 a proposal from former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was designed to break this deadlock. Under what became known as the “Steinmeier formula,” control of the border would be restored to Kyiv after local elections were held under Ukrainian law and their results certified by OSCE election monitors.
Ukraine effectively signed onto the formula on October 1, 2019, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stressed the point that the elections had to be held according to Ukrainian law and monitored by the OSCE. Theoretically, there is nothing stopping Moscow’s proxies in Donbas from fulfilling these points under the Steinmeier formula but so far they have refused.
On the question of whether certain points of Minsk should be implemented before others if not specified, it should be noted that the first point of Minsk is “immediate and comprehensive cease-fire in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine and its strict implementation as of February 15, 2015.”
Not only was this point violated at that very time (Russian-led forces continued their offensive to capture the city of Debaltseve despite the cease-fire), but cease-fire violations continue up to the present day, as multiple OSCE SMM reports show. For example, one report from November 21 stated:
“The SMM recorded 32 cease-fire violations in Donetsk region and two in Luhansk region. In the previous reporting period, it recorded 23 cease-fire violations in Donetsk region and none in Luhansk region.”
The TASS article does not specify which part of the Ukrainian action plan supposedly “vastly contradicts” Minsk. More importantly, it makes no mention of Russian involvement in Donbas, without which the pseudo-states and their armed forces would not be able to prosecute their war that has gone on for six years now.