While the new version of the Minsk agreement will be made public soon, leaked provisions appear to include some variation of the following: First, the new lines between Ukraine and the Russian occupied regions will be updated to reflect the recent Russian army advances into Ukrainian territory. Second, an immediate cease fire will be put into effect and enforced this time by a 50 kilometer de-militarized zone (DMZ). Third, Kyiv will still be responsible for the social and economic costs of the occupied territories. Fourth, new elections will be held in the occupied territories. Fifth the occupied territories will be designated a special economic zone and have special relations with Russia. Sixth the OSCE will continue to monitor the “cease fire”. Seventh, Russian ”peacekeepers” will be mandated to keep the peace. Eight, Ukraine will hold a referendum on federalization and Russian language. Problems abound with all eight provisions except the creation of a DMZ. Then again, given Tuesday’s shelling of Kramatorsk by Russian rockets from more than 70 kilometers away (most likely Horlivka), a 50 kilometer DMZ is not enough to prevent the loss of additional lives. Russia will be rewarded with more territory for refusing to honor the September “cease fire”, Kyiv will continue to foot the bill for Russian occupied territories, new elections under Ukraine’s administration simply won’t take place due to lack of access from the Russian side, and the possibility of Russian peacekeepers threatens to make the lines permanent. Over the weekend, Poroshenko boldly announced that he doesn’t fear any referendums on federalization or Russian language because he was sure they would fail nationwide. However, due to Ukraine’s lack of ability to administer an election in the Donbass, the results in that region are likely to reflect the results dictated by the Kremlin. Obviously this will be used to justify Russia’s continued intervention in Donetsk and Luhansk as well ultimately be the leverage the Kremlin needs to thwart Ukraine’s membership in NATO and possibly even the EU. In short, when Poroshenko sits at the negotiating table on Wednesday, he will be urged by Merkel and Hollande to sign Putin’s new terms. If Poroshenko signs the deal he risks an internal revolt by some of the Ukrainian armed forces who may decide that he has sold them out. If he doesn’t sign the agreement, he risks further Russian aggression against Ukraine – and likely not just in the Donbass. With no American arms to save the day, Poroshenko faces the political equivalent of a Saudi Arabian death sentence: death by crucifixion or by beheading. Either way, the options don’t look encouraging…
• Diplomat Deficit: Meanwhile, while the Normandy Format of leaders is taking place in Minsk, some of Ukraine’s key G8 embassies lack ambassadors – specifically Canada and the United Kingdom. Give the recent emphasis on defense cooperation (with both the UK and Canada) and exceptional support that Canada has provided to Ukraine in the last year (as well as since independence), it would seem that these would be priority posts for the President and Foreign Ministry to fill. With rumors abounding that Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States, Oleksandr Motsyk, will soon be replaced – as well as the war and recession, it is no time to leave important vacancies void. Regarding the new Ukrainian Ambassador to the US, the name of Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Valeriy Chaly has surfaced. However it is believed that Poroshenko prefers to have him working in the Secretariat rather than in Washington. Two other undisclosed candidates are being considered at this time. In the meantime, Ukraine has opened an embassy in Australia which means that three of the four most powerful English speaking nations are without Ukrainian ambassadorial representation at this time. There is no shortage of qualified, committed and interested Ukrainians for these positions and the President and Foreign Ministry should immediately move to fill these important posts.
• Prosecutor Woes: Vitaliy Yarema was able to avoid a no-confidence vote in Parliament last week but made the decision to resign on Monday and not press his political luck any further. On Tuesday Parliament wasted no time in voting for Viktor Shokin as his replacement. Shokin has worked in the Prosecutor’s General’s Office since 1998 and was involved in the investigation of criminal cases against Borys Kolesnikov, Yevhen Kushnariov and even Ihor Kolomoyskyi (although none resulted in convictions). He chaired the investigation that won a conviction against Oleksiy Pukach for the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze. While the success against Pukach is notable, it should be noted that Shokin worked in the Prosecutor’s Office under Yanukovych as well. His nomination by Poroshenko received 318 votes, although only one vote from the Samopomich faction.
• Parliament Performs: Parliament overwhelmingly passed the removal of deputies immunity on the first reading and sent the bill to the Constitutional Court for review. While it will take three successful votes (with 301 votes) to finally eliminate the hated provision from the Constitution, it is an important first step. Following the 2007 Parliamentary campaign in which the Our Ukraine Bloc (Yushchenko) campaigned almost entirely on the issue but failed to get anywhere near the 301 votes necessary to make it law, this is a welcome sign. The projected timeline for the final vote, assuming the Constitutional Court decides the bill is Constitutional, is September.
Dates to Watch:
February 10-13: Parliamentary Voting Session Continues
February 12: Final Decision on New Russian Sanctions by the EU: The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, Fredercia Mogherini proudly proclaimed that the EU will decide on new sanctions for Russia only after the Minsk Talks on Wednesday to exert maximum leverage on Russia. She also stated that the conflict in Ukraine might be stopped due to “exhaustive diplomacy, including economic pressure with our sanctions”. Given the Russian shelling of Kramatorsk on Tuesday, her forecast seems quite optimistic.
February 12: Deadline for Naming the Head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau: With nearly 170 applicants, the new Anti-Corruption Bureau is sifting through the candidates. No one knows for sure who they will name as the new Head of the Bureau but coincidently, former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili is in Kyiv this week and his name continues to be touted for the post. This would cause a rift in Ukrainian-Georgian relations, which unlike the naming of other Georgian officials to posts in the Ukrainian government, Saakashvili is “Public Enemy #1” for the Garibishvili-Ivanishvili Georgian government. Ukraine maintains the upper hand in the relationship though as Ukraine is consistently one of Georgia’s top three trading partners (both in import and export) but Georgia fails to crack the top ten of Ukraine’s largest trading partners. Given Georgia’s unstable relationship with Russia as well, the Georgian government is likely to have to swallow their pride and accept whatever decision Kyiv makes regarding Saakashvili.
February 16: Court Hearing for 2 Berkut Officers Accused of Killing Euromaidan Activists:
February 20: the one year anniversary of the murder of 76 protestors on the Maidan by snipers:
February 27: Latest Anticipated Arrival Date of the Next IMF Tranche: the IMF mission stayed longer than anticipated but it appears the visit has been successful with positive results on the way for Ukraine. The visit is likely to result in approval of the next tranche of aid due at the end of this month, an agreement to essentially double the existing International Monetary Fund commitment to become one of the largest IMF lending programs ever, and coordination and planning of how to restructure Ukraine’s debts to avoid default. Few IMF missions have ever accomplished so much on a single visit.
October 2015: National Local Elections for Mayor and City Council