by Rene Wadlow
There has been of late a good deal of sabre-rattling along the Russian-Ukrainian frontier. There has been talk of war if the Russian troops were to invade Ukraine or to reinforce the separatist areas of Ukraine that call themselves the People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Luhansk.
President Putin has created a strawman against which to fight – the most unlikely event of Ukraine joining NATO. He has recently shown his resolve for public appreciation by saying “We are concerned over prospects of Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO, as it will definitely result in the deployment of military contingents, bases and weapons posing a threat to us.” The sabre-rattling has been loud enough that the Ukraine situation was an important part of the 7 December videoconference call between Presidents Biden and Putin, and the subsequent mission of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried, responsible for European and Eurasian affairs, to Ukraine and Russia and then to Brussels to meet European Foreign Ministers and others.
There are long historic and strategic roots to the current crisis. The external and internal roots of the situation in Ukraine run deep. Security crises are deeply influenced both by a sense of history and by current perceptions. Nevertheless, we can use 2014 as a crucial starting point with the annexation by Russia of Crimea. “Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia” said President Putin at the time. The Western response to the annexation has been to impose economic sanctions which are still in place and have had important consequence of the Russian economy.
Shortly after the Crimea annexation, there was a change in government leadership in Ukraine leading to a policy that some felt was unjust to the people in eastern Ukraine who were largely Russian speaking and turned economically and culturally toward Russia. Thus a violent separatist movement took form, most likely helped by Russia, leading to the creation of the People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Luhansk. Fighting broke out between the armed sparatists and the regular Ukrainian army and police.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) quickly sent a Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine to monitor the situation. The Mission is still in place and issues daily reports on the violations of ceasefires. Thus in its 15 December 2021 report in the Donetsk region between 10-12 December there were 444 ceasefire violations and in the Luhansk region 104. However, the freedom of movement of the Mission’s observers is restricted. The number of violations, usually exchanges of small arms fire, is probably higher.
In 2014, the mandate of the OSCE included not only observation but also efforts at negotiations. Thus on 12 February 2015, there was negotiated what has been called the Minsk Agreement. Under this Agreement, Ukraine would not be divided but the the areas covered by the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics would be given a “special status” set out in a new constitution. Beyond a rather vague discussion on decentralization, the nature of the “Special Status” has never been made clear, and no administrative measures have been put into place.
In order to facilitate negotiations, there was created the “Normandy Format”, growing out of a meeting of government leaders in Normandy to mark the Allied landing in 1944. The Normandy Format brings together the representatives of Ukraine and Russia and France and Germany to facilitate negotiations. So far, there has been no visible advance on the special status discussions within the Normandy Format. However, with the new German Foreign Minister, the ecologist Annalena Baerback, recently in Paris, there may be new initiatives. It is also likely that as a result of the discussions between Presidents Putin and Biden, the U.S.A. will play a more active advisory role.
The Association of World Citizens has always stressed the importance of developing appropriate forms of government as crucial aspects of the resolution of armed conflicts. The Association has particularly highlighted the possibilities of con-federalism and the need for trans-frontier cooperation. The need to progress on the structure of Ukraine stands out sharply at this time when there are real possibilities of escalatory risks. There is a need for confidence-building measures to reach out to different layers of society in a cumulative process. Advances on the Special Status would be an important step in the de-escalation of tensions. Discussions on the Special Status must be carried out by those living in Ukraine. However, government representatives as well as non-governmental organizations in Russia, Germany and France can also contribute actively.