How Ukraine’s Presidential Hopefuls Plan to Deal with Donbas
14 February, 2019

Generally speaking, there are two main scenarios for the Donbas war resolution proposed by Ukraine's presidential candidates: applying pressure on Russia and waiting for it to give in or negotiation. This photo shows the pedestrian crossing sign near the destroyed by war Donetsk international airport on March 2, 2015. Photo: EPA / LUCA PIERGIOVANNI

It has been four years since the Minsk agreements came into force. In February 2015, the presidents of Ukraine, France and Russia, as well as the German chancellor, agreed on a new version of the document that was supposed to bring an end to the war in Donbas. Active hostilities in eastern Ukraine have ceased, however Russia has failed to comply with even the first requirement – a complete ceasefire. Therefore, in practice, the agreements have not been fulfilled.

The war in Donbas remains one of the main problems facing Ukraine. 30% of Ukrainians regard this as the priority issue. The country goes to the polls in just a few weeks and most of the presidential candidates have already outlined how they would achieve peace in Donbas if they were to win. This is evident in the pre-election programs, which the candidates have submitted to the Central Election Commission.

There are a lot of contenders in the presidential race, however their proposed “peace plans” hardly differ. Generally speaking, they include two basic scenarios: wait until Russia is pressured into meeting halfway, or negotiate with Russia, either directly or through mediation from international partners.

Incumbent Petro Poroshenko, in essence, favors the former.

He stands for introducing a UN peacekeeping mission in Donbas. Ukraine’s international partners support this idea, however, Russian President Putin is in no hurry to commence discussions on the matter.

Poroshenko, as a co-author of the Minsk agreements, supports their implementation, but in a way that Putin, again, will not agree with. In Poroshenko’s view, the first thing that needs to happen is the withdrawal of Russian troops from Donbas, then elections can be held there in accordance with Ukrainian legislation, and control over the borders can be established.  

Seeing as Putin refuses to implement the Minsk agreements in this order, Poroshenko also proposes building up the army and strengthening international sanctions against Russia.

The rest of the candidates with more or less decent ratings in the polls propose negotiation.

Yuriy Boyko, the candidate for the Opposition Platform - For Life party, is standing for negotiations with Putin and the Donbas militants.

Oleksandr Vikul, Boyko’s main contender in terms of candidates from the east and south, has slightly different views. He proposes implementing the Minsk agreements and holding elections in the occupied territories in accordance with Ukrainian legislation. He suggests that peacekeepers should be the ones to maintain order during the elections, however not UN peacekeepers. He believes they should come from “friendly and neutral countries.” Exactly how Vilkul plans to persuade Russia to agree to this scenario has not been specified.

Politicians from the so-called patriotic opposition camp also propose making a deal. However, they envisage doing so with the presence of international mediators and not under the conditions of the Minsk agreements.  

Yulia Tymoshenko, who was leading in the pre-election polls up until recently, sees the Minsk agreements as a “victory” for Putin. Tymoshenko is appealing for another document, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which, as a result of Ukraine’s agreement to abandon its nuclear weapons, guarantees the inviolability of the country’s borders, and it’s co-signatories include the U.S., U.K. and Russia. But Ukraine learned the true value of these guarantees in 2014, when the U.S and the U.K. failed to help prevent Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Tymoshenko has not outlined how she intends to force Russia – which is a guarantor of security on paper, and an aggressor state in practice – to comply with the Budapest Memorandum. She has promised to hold an international conference in Kyiv on the matter.

Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who took the top spot in the polls in January, has also declared his commitment to the Budapest Memorandum, along with the right-wing Radical Party’s Oleh Lyashko and Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi.

Alternatively, Anatoliy Hrytsenko of the Civil Position party promises to return the occupied territories using diplomatic, military, economic and sanctionative means, without the territories being granted a “special status” after. However, he does not state how exactly he will do it.

The remaining candidates do not show any signs of originality when it comes to the Donbas issue. They mostly repeat sentiments of adhering to the Budapest Memorandum or the introduction of some form of peacekeeping mission.  

/By Maksym Kamenev

/Translated by Sofia Fedeczko