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«Kozak-Yermak» Plan as the embodiment of Russian "peacekeeping" in the Donbas

As is known, on March 11, 2020, an Agreement on the creation of the Advisory Board was signed in Minsk within the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group for the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas, the so-called «Kozak-Yermak» Plan. According to this Plan, the Advisory Board should include 10 representatives from Ukraine and the "DPR and LPR" militants with a decisive vote, as well as one representative from the OSCE, Germany, France and Russia with a deliberative vote. The Board "fixes the subjectivity of the ORDLO" and gives Russia the status of a guarantor-observer on an equal basis with Germany, France and the OSCE. "The main task of the Board is to carry out dialogue, consultations and develop proposals on the draft political and legal solutions to resolve the conflict, in accordance with a series of measures, including the holding of elections in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine"[1]. The document also makes reference to the "need for a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict", but it does not say anything about the need for an immediate ceasefire, a stable regime of silence and ensuring all the security conditions necessary for the political process[2].

The composition of the Board shall be determined at least three days before the first meeting. The Office of the President of Ukraine stated that the decision to create the Advisory Board was made after consultations with representatives of the OSCE, France and Germany on the implementation of the agreements of the "Normandy Four" summit, which was held in December 2019[3]. The decision to create the Advisory Board should have been signed on March 25, 2020 after consultations with representatives of the OSCE, France and Germany.

Why did President Volodymyr Zelensky need to recognize the subjectivity of the ORDLO, if Ukraine had categorically rejected such «subjectivity» for 6 years? It is obvious that the end of the war with Russia, which he is so eager for, in the format of resolving the internal conflict in the Donbas by peaceful diplomatic means is not possible without reaching a compromise with the DPR and LPR or ORDLO. Without recognizing their subjectivity, such a compromise seems unattainable. That is why the «Kozak-Yermak» Plan provides for the recognition of their subjectivity through their inclusion in the «Advisory Board». In turn, the recognition of the subjectivity of these uncontrolled territories will entail determining their «special status» and then including them in the constitutional field of Ukraine. This will lead to the federalization of the state structure of Ukraine with subsequent fatal consequences for its state sovereignty.

The status of "guarantor" for Russia is an essential requirement for achieving such a compromise for this state, which is already provided for in the «Kozak-Yermak» Plan. Russia's fulfillment of the functions of the guarantor of security and peace in such a scenario, «unification» of the uncontrolled territories in Donbas with Ukraine will provide for the deployment of Russian troops in these territories, which in case of violation of «special status of the ORDLO», or terms of compromise can resort to large-scale military operation «peace enforcement», as it happened in the case of the 5-day Russian-Georgian war in 2008. At the same time, a prerequisite for maintaining peace will be the complete demilitarization of not only the uncontrolled territories of the Donbas, but also of the entire Ukraine, as already stipulated in the «Kozak Memorandum» in relation to Moldova. In this case, Ukraine will face the threat of complete surrender (Anschluss), the occupation of its territory by Russian troops, or the escalation of the conflict into a large-scale war with Russia.

Apparently, in this scenario, Ukraine will not regain the occupied territories and will not regain control over a section of the Ukrainian state border. The uncontrolled territory of Donbas will get ample opportunities to establish status of an independent quasi-states like Abkhazia, South Ossetia or East Timor, with further annexation by Russia, or to remain under its protectorate, or to serve as a military base for deployment of Russian troops to further attack and capture new Ukrainian territories.

Obviously, such a threat is realized, first of all, by the civil society of Ukraine, which has expressed a sharp protest against the implementation of the «Kozak-Yermak» Plan. This announcement even led to the formation of opposition in the ranks of the parliamentary majority of the ruling party «Servant of the People»[4].

The authorities responded to such a public reaction and the Deputy Prime Minister, Ministry for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, Oleksii Reznikov assured that on March 25, 2020, as previously planned, the decision to create the "Advisory Board" will not be made at a meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk according to the «Kozak-Yermak» Plan[5]. On the eve of the meeting in the "Normandy Format" scheduled for April 30, 2020, the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada,  Dmytro Razumkov said that there are no initiatives in the Parliament on the implementation of the "Steinmeier Formula" yet. The Speaker's assurances were confirmed by the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Policy, Andriy Merezhko, noting that there were no direct negotiations between Ukraine and ORDLO and will not be, and the Russian Federation will not receive any observer status[6].

For his part, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov spoke in defense of Yermak and accused Ukraine of disrupting the "Normandy Four" in Berlin. According to him, all issues agreed in Paris are blocked by the Contact Group, Ukrainian Parliament and Ukrainian government. Lavrov also noted that when Andriy Yermak "tried to break the deadlock in the negotiations on the Donbas"  during negotiations in Minsk, the authorities had “torpedoed Yermak’s attempts and made accusations of high treason”[7]. He also criticized Germany for having nothing on the agenda concerning the “Steinmeier Formula” at the online "Normandy Four" Foreign Ministers meeting and how to fix the special status of Donbas in Ukrainian legislation on a permanent basis.

Having paused the creation of the "Advisory Board" according to the "Kazak-Yermak" Plan, at the next meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group on April 22, 2020 in the form of a videoconference, the Ukrainian side initiated the creation of a working group with representatives of the border and customs services of Ukraine and Russia and mediators from the OSCE to form a mechanism for Ukraine to restore control over the lost section of state control. At the same time, at this meeting, the Ukrainian side "categorically rejected" the possibility of fixing the "special status" of the ORDLO in the Constitution of Ukraine[8].

And despite the fact that the possibility of creating such groups is provided for in paragraph 13 of the "Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements", it is obvious that Russia will not allow such a mechanism to be implemented. The Office of the President of Ukraine can not be unaware. Therefore, most likely, the initiative to create a working group of representatives of the border and customs services of Ukraine and Russia is aimed at diverting the attention of Ukrainian society from the "Kozak-Yermak" Plan. It is also profitable for Russia to play along with this initiative, thanks to which it can improve its image as a “peacekeeper” in the eyes of international cooperation and as a "guarantor" of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. According to military expert, Mikhail Zhirokhov «it is quite possible that the Kremlin could have taken such a step in order to show Andriy Yermak and his peacekeeping efforts in a positive light»[9].

On April 11, 2020, President Volodymyr Zelensky, during a working visit to the zone of the Operation of the United Forces, said that he had "an increased desire to end the war and achieve peace." As for the April summit in the "Normandy Format", which was postponed to April 30, 2020, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba at his briefing on this day said that it is too early to determine the date of the next summit now[10]. But instead of a summit of heads of state, a meeting of the "Normandy Four" Foreign Ministers was held on this day in the format of a videoconference, which lasted half an hour. According to Kuleba, a certain part of the conversation was devoted to "attempts by the Russian colleague to bring the interpretation of reality into a direct dialogue between Kyiv and the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk". D. Kuleba noted that Ukraine is ready to talk with Ukrainians who live in the occupied territories, but not with illegal formations[11].

Later, on the day of the Trilateral Contact Group meeting in a videoconference format on April 22, 2020. Zelensky clarified the timetable during which he seeks to implement this vision: "I am sure that for my cadence we will end the war, I am sure personally." He attributes this confidence with the work of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk, which meets weekly via videoconference. "That is, we have accelerated this process, and there will be results. After each Minsk meeting, there should be a paper that we have agreed on something and we have made a step forward." According to him, «if the Minsk process does not work, then we will change tactics». «I said I am ready to wait one year, ready to work one year. If the Minsk process does not work, we will change our tactics. We are ready for this - the year has not ended yet»[12]

Based on such beliefs of the President the question arises: what results are planned to be achieved and what tactics will be chosen to achieve them? Intention stated by the President V.Zelensky testified that the tactics he chose to end the war and achieve peace in the format of resolving the internal conflict in the Donbas exclusively by peaceful diplomatic means are not capable to produce the results he expects, that is, the return of the occupied territories, the restoration of lost control over a section of the Ukrainian border and the achievement of peace. After all, the transition from classical to diplomacy based on non-public backstage agreements is a clear testimony of this.

Awareness of the fallacy of such a path is the first step for the way out of the deadlock in the paradigm of "resolving the internal conflict in the Donbas". In this sense, D. Kuleba's speech at the briefing after the "Normandy Four" Foreign Ministers meeting in the format of a videoconference looks hopeful, in which he outlined Russia in the Trilateral Contact Group as an aggressor state, not a "mediator", Ukraine as a state that defends itself from aggression, and the OSCE as a mediator. The institutionalization of Ukraine and Russia in such statuses corresponds to the existing reality, and thus opens up a distant prospect to end the war.


[1]Нові мінські протоколи. Документ.

[2]Там само.

[3]Там само.

[4]Ряд депутатов "Слуги народа" просят Зеленского вернуть минские переговоры в поле законодательства Украины: все договоренности должны вестись исключительно с РФ.

[5]Решение о создании "Консультативного совета" с ОРДЛО в среду подписываться не будет – Резников:

[6]Никаких прямых переговоров между Украиной и ОРДЛО не было и не будет: никакого статуса наблюдателя РФ не получит, - "слуга народа" Мережко:

[7]Лавров виступив на захист Єрмака і звинуватив Україну в зриві саміту “нормандської четвірки” в Берліні:

[8]Украина в Минске отвергла пожелания России по Донбассу.

[9]Минские переговоры: Эксперты не верят в работоспособность новой группы по возвращению.

[10]Визначати дату проведення зустрічі у «нормандському форматі» зарано – Кулеба:

[11]Зустріч голів МЗС “нормандської четвірки” тривала півтори години: що обговорили.

[12]«Упевнений особисто». Зеленський заявив, що закінчить війну на Донбасі до кінця президентського терміну.