Time to re-examine Minsk Agreements, says Waschuk

Roman Waschuk

Marco Levytsky, National Affairs Editor.

It’s time to re-examine the Minsk Agreements which were designed to lead to peace in the Donbas war, says Canada’s former Ambassador to Ukraine.

“If you’ve been talking about something for six years and nobody has been able to successfully interpret or implement what’s been agreed (upon), maybe this format ain’t working and maybe there is a need to re-examine the format and re-examine the underlying assumptions behind them,” said Roman Waschuk during the Crimea and Donbas webinar, sponsored by the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union (SUSK), May 25.

The first Minsk agreement was signed in September 2014 but collapsed within four months. A new package of measures meant to stop fighting in the Donbas, called Minsk II, was agreed to on February 12, 2015. It was developed during a summit in the Belarusian capital on February 11, 2015 by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany, known as the Normandy Group. The talks that led to the deal were overseen by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). As reported on December 27, 2018 by the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, not a single provision of the Minsk deal had been fully implemented.

Waschuk added that it may be difficult for France and Germany to accept that the Minsk Agreements are not working, but if more countries were involved “maybe that would help break the logjam”.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Canada, Andriy Shevchenko, who joined Waschuk for the webinar said Ukraine is open to other formats and would also like to see the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada involved in the peace negotiations.

“We believe in diplomacy and… we want the whole world to know that we are ready to work towards peace and we are ready to sit down with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin if necessary, but that also means that we have very strict red lines for this conversation,” he said.

“We will not compromise on our land and our people,” Shevchenko explained.

Waschuk noted that “friends”, like France and Germany, can push Ukraine to make concessions because it is easier than pushing Russia. That creates an “appearance of progress for appearances sake” which is not good.

He added that Russians refuse to take Ukraine seriously, thinking that independence is a temporary thing, but the aggression has backfired.

“Since 2014… Ukrainian consciousness – not necessarily ethno-linguistic, but political consciousness has been strengthened across the country. So, by making the wrong assumptions about Ukraine President Putin has got largely the opposite of what he had been counting on.”
Asked whether the self-styled Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics should be declared terrorist organizations, Shevchenko said they are such and it is important to call them so for many reasons, including legal ones.

One of the legal avenues Ukraine is pursuing against Russia is to hold that country responsible for financing terrorism and there is an international framework that this can be processed through.

Waschuk said declaring them terrorist organizations will give moral satisfaction but won’t change much in practical terms. The real power behind them are the Russian forces and entities.

“Russia is a kind of terrorist state and its sidekick Belarus has proven that.”

Waschuk also noted that Ukraine is at a disadvantage “because of the international engagement, everyone expects Ukraine to play by all the rules” while its opponents have no need to do so.

As a result, “you are dealing with Russia and its puppet entities with one hand tied behind your back.”

Ukraine also needs to intensify its deterrent capacity.

“If Russia realizes that Ukraine is no pushover, that there is international backing for it, then the negotiating table isn’t quite level, but it has levelled off slightly and allows for more effective negotiations,” explained Waschuk.

Responding to a question on whether things may change after Putin’s departure, Shevchenko quashed the idea that once Putin is gone, so will the problems.

“I think that Putin is not the source of the problems we have with Russia, but he is in many ways a reflection of the Russian ruling class and he is a reflection of Russian society which means bad news for us. Which means we will have to deal with this kind of Russia, maybe for generations and maybe for decades,” he explained.

Waschuk took a more optimistic tone, pointing to the perestroika period when more openness was introduced into Russian and Soviet society. Once the process of change starts it may be hard to hold it back.

“There are societal problems, but Putin’s departure will provide some opportunity for redirection,” he stated.

On the subject of NATO, Waschuk called the 2008 decision to leave NATO membership open at some future date for Ukraine and Georgia “Half-baked”. Since that time support for NATO has tripled in Ukraine but had membership been offered then relations with Russia would have been better now.

Shevchenko said Ukrainians see themselves as the “de-facto eastern flank of NATO, defending the free world and Europe from Russian aggression” and would like to see Canada have a strong voice in discussions regarding Ukraine’s accession to NATO. Canada is in a special place as far as this discussion is concerned because of its military presence in Ukraine, he noted.

Asked how serious the threat from pro-Russian parties in Ukraine is, Waschuk referred to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decision to sanction pro-Russian oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk. There was no groundswell of support for Medvedchuk, instead Zelenskyy’s own popularity increased. That is because Ukrainians “like to see nasty rich people brought down”.

A bigger problem is the “famous and infamous Ukrainian infighting”, which has hampered Ukraine’s development throughout history.

“That is an eternal challenge for Ukraine” said Waschuk, but added that when it comes to politics, Ukraine has become a more mature society.

The webinar was moderated by Maya Pankiw, Media Director for SUSK and was part of that organization’s Russian Aggression Awareness Month, designed to bring attention to the ongoing invasion in Ukraine.