Ukraine and Russia see opportunity in Easter ceasefire

An Orthodox church in Ukraine. [Georgi Gotev]

Ukraine told the UN Security Council yesterday (28 April) that a fragile ceasefire must be strengthened before progress can be achieved in political talks on solving the two-year conflict in the country’s east.

Deputy Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said the Orthodox Easter holiday on Sunday (1 May) would provide an opportunity to shore up the truce after a surge of violations in recent weeks.

“If we can start with that, we can then proceed to withdrawal of forces and resolving of all the problems – demining, humanitarian problems – all the way down to a political resolution,” he said.

The 15-member council held its first meeting on Ukraine since December following a rare pause after a series of marathon talks last year that often led to clashes between Russia and the United States.

Ukraine requested the meeting to discuss the ceasefire violations in the eastern Donestsk region that OSCE monitors say have reached worrying levels over the past weeks.

Foreign ministers from France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia are expected to meet in early May to try to push forward the peace effort outlined in the Minsk agreement.

More than 9,300 people have died in eastern Ukraine – known as Donbass – where pro-Russian rebels are fighting Kyiv’s forces since April 2014.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of providing military backing for the separatists, a claim Moscow rejects.

“Russia has organized and deployed in Donbass a 34,000-strong hybrid military force consisting of the regular Russian troops as well as of foreign and local militants,” Prystaiko said.

“Russian generals and military officers provide direct command-and-control of this illegal military entity impressively heavily armed,” he added.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin criticized Ukraine’s appeal to the council as “very disappointing.”

“There is a lot of rhetoric but no specific plan about how to implement the Minsk agreement,” he said.

Asked by reporters about prospects for firming up the ceasefire over the weekend, Churkin said: “I hope it will happen. Easter is one thing that continues to unite us, Russia and Ukraine.”

Read about the conflict in eastern Ukraine in the Links Dossier below:

Post-Soviet ‘frozen conflicts’

The number of post-Soviet frozen conflicts has only grown, as a result of the failure of international mediation to solve them. After Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria and Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it seems that eastern Ukraine also qualifies as a frozen conflict.

A deal to establish a ceasefire, called the Minsk Protocol, was signed on 5 September 2014. The agreement was drawn-up by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, which consisted of representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE.

In the two weeks after the Minsk Protocol was signed, there were frequent violations of the ceasefire by both parties to the conflict. Talks continued in Minsk, and a follow-up to the Minsk Protocol was agreed to on 19 September 2014.

A new package of measures meant to stop fighting in the Donbass, called "Minsk II", was agreed to on 12 February 2015 by the between the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine (the so-called Normandy format), after 17 hour of negotiations.

The four leaders committed to respecting Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a joint declaration.

On 2 March 2015, European leaders said that they agreed that the OSCE needed a broader role as observers of the ceasefire, and weapons removal.

On 2 October 2015, the leaders of the Normandy format admitted that it would take time to organise elections in Ukraine which respect international standards and as a result, the so-called Minsk peace process would run into next year.

The EU placed friendly pressure on Kyiv to deliver on the Minsk agreements. Ukraine’s position is that as long as numerous ceasefire violations by Moscow-supported separatists in eastern Ukraine continue to occur, it is impossible to talk about political decentralisation of  Donetsk and Lugansk, and local elections.

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