Today, October 7th, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s representative Vladislav Surkov met with the US State Department’s Special Representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker in Belgrade. The backstory of this meeting is the Ukrainian parliament’s adoption of two bills on October 6th in their first readings, namely, no. 7163 (known as the “reintegration of Donbass bill”) and bill no. 7164. The latter extends for another year the bill on “special self-government” for the regions of Donbass uncontrolled by Kiev, which was adopted back in 2014 following the first Minsk Agreements and which was supposed to expire on October 18th.
To recall, “Minsk 1” was initiated by Kiev in order to save the Ukrainian Army from final defeat at Ilovaysk and Izvarino and was seen as a temporary respite needed to restore the combat capacity of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. “Minsk 2” practically repeated the fate of Minsk 1, having been adopted for the same reason – the Donbass militias’ defeat of Ukrainian forces – and the same failure to implement the conditions of the ceasefire.
In this light, bill no. 7164 formally confirms Ukraine’s commitment to a ceasefire – but only formally. A law granting “certain districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions” (Ukrainian legislative jingo for the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics) a special political status has still not been adopted by the Verkhovna Rada over the past three years.
Yet even Ukraine’s purely formal adherence to the truce is completely overshadowed by bill no. 7163, which we described back in July when it was first submitted to the Verkhovna Rada as a bill entailing no more nor less than war with Russia. Today’s adoption of the bill with some amendments features even more tightened wording, but the main provisions of the document remain:
1. Cancelling the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” (ATO), and instead introducing “martial law”, the responsibility for which will be transferred from the SBU (Ukraine’s secret police) to a new special Joint Operations Headquarters of the UAF to which all other departments, including the National Guard and police, are to be subordinated. The right to impose martial law in any region of the country is the exclusive prerogative of the President of Ukraine, and under such all local authority at all levels in the area of martial law is terminated.
2. Fixing Russia’s “legal status” as the “aggressor country”, and using the term “occupational administration of the Russian Federation” to refer to the governments of the DPR and LPR.
Indeed, it is on the urging of the “patriotic” deputies of the Verkhovna Rada that the bill excludes any mention of the priority of implementing the Minsk Agreements for the sake of resolving the conflict. The paragraph on this point contained in the original version of the bill has been removed.
In other words, Ukrainian authorities’ interpretation of the nature of the conflict in Donbass has undergone a fundamental transformation. Instead of “separatist regimes” in Donetsk and Lugansk, the document proclaims the presence of an “occupational administration”, and instead of separatist groups, “Russian occupation troops.”
Thus, on the legislative level, Russia is now in official legal terms an “aggressor” occupying a part of Ukrainian territory. The ruling Poroshenko regime will actively push this central provision of the bill on the international political and diplomatic arena. However, Kiev has also left itself a loophole. The thesis that Russia has “occupied Donbass” would seem to imply an immediate declaration of war against the “aggressor,” which, of course, in practice would mean a swift and final defeat of the Ukrainian Army. The question of “de-occupying” Donbass, has thus been left hanging in the air, while Ukraine reserves the right, at any moment most convenient, to declare war on the aggressor. Of course, for now it is in no hurry to do so for the sake of maintaining its army and receiving IMF loans.
Both of the bills in question have been adopted on the same day, literally just before the announced meeting between Volker and Surkov. Ukrainian deputies’ legislative activism has been met with an altogether one-sided appraisal from the US’ Special Representative for Ukraine, who has tweeted: “Special status extension shows Ukraine taking tough steps for peace. Hope Russia now acts to make peace – time to end conflict.” Thus, the US has not “noticed” that Ukraine’s bill no. 7163 literally negates the Minsk Agreements.
What’s more, the Poroshenko regime’s legislative balancing act has become, for Volker, a pretext for launching a new round of accusations against Russia, faulting the latter for allegedly frustrating peace efforts in Donbass.
In my article on Volker and Surkov’s first meeting, I said that Volker’s job boils down to pushing ultimatums against Russia, namely, demanding that Moscow leave Donbass. Volker’s rhetoric on the adopted bills, I think, confirms this conclusion. Kurt Volker, after all, is a frank and super-rigid lobbyist for the Poroshenko regime. The much-anticipated restart in Russia-US relations following Trump’s victory has not taken place and, on the contrary, the White House’s position has somewhat hardened.
In fact, Volker’s rash words during his telephone conversation with Russian pranksters Vovan and Lexus, who pretended to be Ukraine’s Secretary of the National Security and Defense council, Turchynov, reveal the US’ strategic aims in Ukraine. In particular, Volker categorically stated that a new Ukrainian offensive on Donetsk and Lugansk is inadvisable.
This shows that the US’ tactic in the former Ukraine currently boils down to simulating a negotiations process and putting forth new demands and allegations against Russia as if it were a party to the conflict in Donbass. All the while, the DPR and LPR continue to be shelled and economically blockaded in blatant violation of the Minsk Agreements, and new sanctions are being imposed on Russia. Thus, the conclusion I drew in my previous article is fully applicable to the present situation, which has only furnished new evidence.
Originally published on fort-russ.com