Wealthy Nations Daily Update - Ukraine

In February this year the Minsk II ceasefire agreement was signed to try and resolve the Ukrainian conflict. The agreement incorporates a 13 point plan to remove heavy weaponry, create a buffer zone and devolve powers to the separatists. After a series of four way conference calls between Petro Poroshenko, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande this year on its implementation the four leaders attended a summit in Paris on October 2 to resolve some outstanding issues. One key focus of the talks was the local elections in the separatist areas. This had become a contentious subject as the rebels had threatened to hold their own elections on October 18 and 1 November in Donetsk and Luhansk which would not have complied with the terms of the Minsk II agreement; these were already being dismissed by the Ukrainian government as “fake elections”.

The official release from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with details of Francois Hollande’s post summit press conference, states “we wanted the possibility of elections, local elections, being held according to Ukrainian electoral law, but also being organized in the framework of a working group and in such a way as to enable the ballot to be indisputable.” Thus, “elections must be organized, and to that end an electoral law must be passed, and that electoral law must also be debated in the framework of this working group. Once the electoral law has been passed, a 90-day period will begin for the elections to be organized.” Moreover, “There's also a very important provision on amnesty that is due to come into force on the very day of the elections, and immunity that is due to be granted to all the candidates during the election period. The very important point was the status of the eastern regions, known as the special law for the regions, and on that point we agreed it would apply from the day of the elections.”

Encouragingly, the separatist regions announced on 6 October that they will postpone the elections until February next year giving time for the process to legitimise the elections to be put in place. However, there are still areas for debate in that there seems to be differences in the degree of autonomy envisaged by Russia and the separatists compared to Kiev under Minsk II. Plus, the separatists are looking for a ‘blanket amnesty’ but Kiev wants to award it on a more selective basis.

The Minsk II agreement is due to expire at the end of the year but Francois Hollande noted “If I wanted to sum up what we've done in the course of the day, it's been to assess the Minsk agreements and continue the process, taking into account all the realities so that, beyond the timeframes initially planned, we can succeed in every dimension of the Minsk agreements.” But once international observers declare the election legitimate, under the Minsk agreement, Russia and the separatists must then cede control of the border to Ukrainian forces.

Following this summit, the Ukrainian forces have been pulling back from the front line in a manoeuvre that is expected to take 14 days. Separatists in the Luhansk region have announced the start of their withdrawal and the Donetsk People’s Republic has announced that its withdrawal will start on October 18, provided the ceasefire holds.

Merkel and Hollande seem to be focused on resolving the situation in the Ukraine through elections and the devolution of power to the separatist regions. Interestingly, the Crimea is increasingly a ‘non-issue’; reports quote Alexei Pushkov, the head of Foreign Affairs at the Russian Duma, as having tweeted “Important: After a meeting in Paris, Merkel for the first time admitted that Crimea won't return to Ukraine. That means the crisis is only about the east of the country.” At the end of the day, Russia is too important from a geopolitical point of view to ignore; finding a solution to the Syrian problem has also become more pressing for Europe and Russian co-operation will be required for this.