Europe, US Praise Kyiv After Donbass Framework Extended

October 09, 2017

Key Western diplomatic figures, including US special representative Kurt Volker and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, praised Ukraine late last week for extending by one year the country’s law that governs relations with the territories of Eastern Ukraine occupied by pro-Russian separatists. The law was extended on Friday (Oct 7) in Parliament at the urging of President Poroshenko and National Security Council (RNBO) head Oleksandr Turchinov by 229 votes, just 3 more than the minimum, with violent protests taking place outside the Parliament building on Thursday while the measure was being discussed and fights occurring among parliamentarians inside the building. The extension was pushed through over the objections of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna faction and Lviv mayor Andriy Sadoviy’s Samopomich faction, with the latter immediately expelling one of their own MPs who voted in favor of the measure. Along with non-affiliated nationalist MPs, the opposition argued that the Donbass law offers too many concessions to Russia and to the authorities of the occupied territories. The extension was pushed over the line by support from the OppoBloc, the successor to ex-President Yanukovich’s Party of Regions. Failure to approve the extension would have closed the door on Kyiv’s commitment to abiding by the Minsk peace accords signed in early 2015, which sharply slowed the Donbass fighting.  

Pushing through the compromise on the Donbass, and thus paying the minimum lip service to Minsk and avoiding any steps that could lead to military re-escalation was an absolutely critical step in maintaining Western support for Ukraine, as the West has zero interest in backing Ukrainian ideological nationalism and is primarily focused on keeping the peace. Importantly, the Donbass extension is a political defeat for Moscow, which was rooting against passage in the hopes of seeing new political instability in Kyiv. It should be noted that while the violent protests outside Parliament were a serious event, they were considerably weaker than when the Donbass law was first approved two years ago, when 3 National Guardsmen died defending the building. The vote also demonstrates the significance of Turchinov as a key Poroshenko ally against Turchinov’s own longtime political partner Tymoshenko. This vote shows even more clearly that Batkivschyna, Samopomich and the “independent” hardline nationalist MPs like Volodymir Parasiuk are far more focused on hot-button ideological issues than they are on Western-style reforms or real anti-corruption measures. Increasingly, the pairing of hard-line nationalist ideology with so-called anti-corruption crusading and opposition to IMF-mandated economic measures, which is embodied by Samopomich in particular, looks like a losing political formula, and we think this could open the door for a less ideological anti-corruption party in the next election. 

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