Kyiv has, again, descended into violent confrontation.
As many had predicted, the government’s attempt to pass constitutional amendments further decentralizing power and granting more autonomy to the separatist regions of the Donbas – a central requirement of the Minsk-2 agreement – has provoked a split both in the Rada and on the street. This is, of course, what the Minsk accords were designed to do, at least from Moscow’s perspective.
For the facts, see the very able reporting of Oliver Carroll in the Independent and Andrew Kramer in the New York Times. But for analysis, I have so far found nothing that surpasses a brief comment written yesterday by Igor Klyamkin, professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and director of the Liberal Mission Foundation, a thinktank that was recently declared a ‘foreign agent’ by the Russian government (despite not receiving any foreign funding). Klyamkin writes in Russian, but I bring you a translation (with his permission) here:
On the events in Kyiv today
And so, with 265 votes on the first reading the Verkhovna Rada approved changes to the Constitution involving the decentralization of power, including amendments concerning the status of the Donbas territories that are outside of Kyiv’s control.
Thus Ukraine maintains in the view of its Western allies the appearance of a country that takes seriously the obligations it has taken on. And that is all that it means. Because the amendments concerning the Donbas territories will remain exclusively on paper: their implementation will be blocked by the impossibility of agreeing with Russia on other points of Minsk-2, chiefly on the conditions under which local elections can be held in these territories. And without legitimating elections, these lines in the Constitution will have no force.
The Deputies who voted ‘nay’ (and, before that, tried to block the voting) justified their behavior by arguing that the Donbas amendments are a unilateral concession to the Kremlin, which will bring neither peace nor territorial integrity to Ukraine. And they’re right – it won’t. As a result, forces arrayed against Kyiv were able to bring people out into the streets and provoke bloody confrontations with the police. The growing conflict within the ruling coalition also creates an atmosphere conducive to provocations.
This growing conflict stems not from differences of opinion on how to resolve the conflict (there is no way to resolve the conflict). Rather, it stems from differences over the importance to Ukraine of maintaining the appearance of a reliable negotiating partner and, thus, maintaining Western support versus Russia, while Moscow has not and will not agree to compromises acceptable to Ukraine. Indeed, Moscow is not even satisfied with the amendments to the Constitution on which the Rada just voted (the very same ‘unilateral concessions’). And neither Kyiv nor the European capitals seem to have any idea what Western peacemakers can deliver to Kyiv in return, other than rhetorical approval of its exemplary behavior and condemnation of the Kremlin’s lack of good faith in negotiations.
The situation thus remains unsettled. How long this can last is beyond anyone’s ability to predict. Ukraine maintained appearances today but is unlikely to do so again when the amendments come up for second reading, which requires 300 votes. Unless, of course, the West increases its pressure on Moscow and is successful in doing so, which is what the government in Kyiv is counting on. But if that doesn’t happen? Then, most likely, Ukraine will not be able to adopt a new Constitution, which it is obligated to do under Minsk-2 by the end of the year.
Truth be told, it is possible that local elections will be held in the DNR and LNR before the second reading, having been announced for 18 October and 1 November. Judging by the recent writings of political observers close to the Kremlin, Moscow expects these elections to go ahead. That, in turn, will be a clear violation of the Minsk accords and will release Kyiv from its own obligations. And that will be another story – a post-Minsk story – entirely.