Anna Myroniuk: Peace in Donbas can’t mean capitulating to Russia
Editor’s Note: This opinion piece was written based on the experience of Kyiv Post staff writer Anna Myroniuk, a native of Donetsk, on a trip to Paris at the invitation of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which sponsored a visit by Ukrainian journalists in early February. In Paris, the reporters had a chance to speak with top-level decision-makers and hear their views on how to end Russia’s war in the Donbas.
For almost six years, I have watched as presidents, diplomats and their advisers decide the fate of my home, the Donbas.
Like many others, I have followed decisions surrounding the war-torn land on the ground and have covered the meetings of the Normandy Four leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France and the consequences of their negotiations on the Donbas as a reporter.
When the Minsk Protocol peace plan was signed in September 2014, I saw it fail as a news correspondent for a television channel working on the Donbas front line.
In mid-January 2015, my colleagues and I were on our way back to our hotel after reporting a story about how Ukrainian soldiers were responding to the peace plan. As we were passing a town named Schastia, which means happiness, artillery shells started falling and exploding everywhere around us. Blastwave hit the car we were in. Miraculously, our driver managed to get us out uninjured. Not everyone was so lucky. One local citizen died and three were injured at that very moment.
The Minsk peace plan was not working. As the situation at the front line escalated, in mid-February 2015 Ukraine agreed to sign Minsk 2, an amended peace plan that satisfied Russia’s demands more than the previous version. Back then, it appeared to help cool down the conflict. But, in hindsight, it has turned out to be the main stumbling block to the entire peace process.
Some people appear not to see that. Among them, as I learned recently, are top officials of France, Ukraine’s key partner.
“We understand Ukraine’s frustration with Minsk 2, but there is no alternative,” one French official told me during my trip to Paris at the beginning of February. He asked for anonymity so he could speak freely. I disagree with him. To me, there is never only one path forward, and if something is not working then it is time to come up with a better idea.
Talking with the French officials left me feeling that they are trying to force Ukraine into peace, not Russia. I do not think France is doing this out of a negative attitude toward Ukraine. Rather, Paris understands that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is easier to force to compromise than his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. At the same time, France by no means wants to be Russia’s enemy. So, as a mediator, it is interested in one thing — ending the conflict while keeping Russia as an ally.
But Paris may be forgetting that Ukraine attacked no one. It was Russia that seized Crimea and portions Donbas. It is fair that Ukraine wants its land back.
Minsk 2: Suicide for Ukraine
In Paris, I was told that Ukraine has to follow Minsk 2 and comply with its prescribed order of events. The plan mandates that Ukraine must hold local elections in Donbas before regaining control of its border with Russia. Only after this will “foreign mercenaries,” a reference to Russian soldiers, withdraw from Ukrainian territory.
But here’s the problem: there is no way the Russian army will go home after local elections. Along with Russian-led separatists, they will run for local office and win. After legitimizing themselves as members of the local authorities, some will go further and run for parliament to influence Ukrainian politics from the inside.
“It is suicide for Ukraine to fulfill [Minsk 2],” said Tatiana Kastoueva-Jean, head of the Russia-NIS Center at the French Institute of International Relations. “Concerning the political resolution of the conflict, we have the Minsk Protocol signed. The day after, when I saw it, I said that this peace plan could not be implemented because it is a threat to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine,” she added. “It is clear why Ukraine signed it. There was no other option in the given conditions back then.”