The Russian government’s decision to recognize election results in Luhansk and Donetsk sets up a potentially divisive debate over the future of the Minsk Agreement. In a worst-case scenario, it could lead to new hostilities in the region.
It remains to be seen if the controversial parliamentary elections in Eastern Ukraine will hamper Russia-West attempts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. Pictured: Elections in the Luhansk People's Republic Photo: RIA Novosti
On Nov. 2 the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk in the east of Ukraine held elections for local administrative and legislative posts. The elections have been condemned as an illegitimate farce by the Ukrainian government and the EU. The Russian government, however, has voiced its support for the elections, setting up yet another significant disagreement over the situation in Ukraine.
The EU has signaled that Russia’s position on the Nov. 2 election is dangerous and that the EU could take further actions against the Russian Federation. Both Ukraine and the EU have voiced opinions that the election is a direct violation of the Minsk agreement and will derail the uneasy peace process in the east of Ukraine. Yet, the representatives of the Russian government maintain that the election is absolutely legitimate. Moreover, according to the Kremlin, Ukraine’s denial of this election is a “violation” of the Minsk agreement.
So where is this so-called “violation”?
The Minsk Agreement, signed on Sept. 5, created a 12-point road map to peace in Ukraine. Among these points are the provisions for the increased independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions from the central Ukrainian government. Specifically, points 3 and 9 of the agreement address the decentralization of power and implementation of early elections in the Eastern Ukrainian regions.
On Sept. 16 the Verhovna Rada, Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, adopted President Petro Poroshenko’s law granting special status to the two regions. This was the Ukrainian government’s step toward meeting the points of the agreement and marked another important step forward in the peace process. The law granted autonomy to the Luhansk and Donetsk regions for three years. It also called for early elections in the regions to be held on December 7, 2014.
The law, however, was not kindly received by the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics and Russia. They particularly decried the arbitrary date for the election, which was allegedly settled upon without consultation with the rebel leaders. As such, the election of Nov. 2 was called for after the leadership of the republics agreed on electoral rules and procedures.
The government of Ukraine did not recognize these rules and procedures, which are not in line with the constitution of Ukraine. Thus, the Ukrainian government and its allies see the election as a violation of the Minsk agreement as well as Ukrainian law. Russia and the leaders of Eastern Ukraine's rebelious republics, or Novorossiya [also known as "New Russia" - editor's note] see the election in full compliance with the provisions of Minsk. President Vladimir Putin stated that, according to the language of the Minsk agreement, the early election should be done “in coordination with and not in line” with Ukrainian law.
The dispute is more than a semantic disagreement, however, and might have serious consequences.
The possibility of peace in Ukraine is under serious threat. The shaky cease-fire that followed the agreement is still in effect; however, violations occur daily and lives on both sides, including those of civilians, are still being lost. During the Nov. 2. elections, reports of violence through the region continued.
The elections, which take place in such unstable and militaristic circumstances, raise questions about the freedom of choice and transparency of the election and, by extension, the legitimacy of its results. The presence of armed men and the haphazard nature of the election makes it reminiscent of the controversial referendum in Crimea and raises questions about the commitment of the rebel leaders to the peace process and the Minsk Agreement.
Moreover, the Ukrainian army has voiced its concerns about the continued mobilization and “intense deployment” of ammunition from Russia across the Ukrainian border. The news reports on Nov. 2 indicated that a convoy of some 90 military trucks without insignia and loaded with heavy ammunition was seen in eastern Ukraine. These reports highlight the possibility of intensified violence in the region. The new legitimacy that the leadership of Novorossiya could claim after the election will give it the increased sense of authority to use violence in its fight for further independence from Ukraine.
The role of Russia in the Ukrainian civil war continues to be an important question. While Russian government representatives, including President Vladimir Putin to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have denied any involvement or military assistance for the rebel forces, the ideological support is undoubtedly there. The backing of this election signals further support for the rebel’s agenda, which might include the escalation of hostilities. Thus, the Russian government’s commitment to a peaceful solution of Ukrainian crisis is questionable at best.
For Moscow, this means further deterioration in its relationship with Ukraine, the EU, and the U.S. The EU has threatened Russia with further economic sanctions. The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, denounced the elections and the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, voiced concerns over the Russian government’s position. Yet, the Russian government’s position remains unchanged. The election in the self-proclaimed republics is now a matter of fact.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.