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Ukraine: Confederal Solution Looms

Proposals by the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics and comments by Kerry and Steinmeier suggest confederal structure just short of outright partition is the best Ukraine can now hope for.

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

In the absence of any proposal for constitutional reform from Kiev, the space is being filled by the Russians and by the two regions in the Donbass that are resisting the authority of the Maidan government -- the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

There is little doubt the two People’s Republics are coordinating the proposals for constitutional reform they have just announced with the Russians and that the proposals have been agreed with the Russians.

<figcaption>A split nation.</figcaption>
A split nation.

It is also a virtual certainty that Merkel and Kerry were informed of these proposals during their recent visits to Moscow and Sochi.

An Interfax dispatch outlines what is proposed.  In brief:

1. The People’s Republics would be authorised to set rates for local taxes and fees for local administrative services;

2. They would draw up their own budgets and have a say over the drawing up of the central Ukrainian budget in Kiev;

3. They would control the law courts and prosecution services within their territories;

4. They would regulate their own borders and be entitled to sign economic agreements with foreign states and individual regions of foreign states;

5. They would be authorized to call local elections and referendums, which would in effect entitle them to form their own local bodies of power, distinct from those in Kiev;

6. They would be empowered to permit the use of Russian and other languages in their territories.

Over and above these provisions the two People’s Republics also propose formal non-bloc status for Ukraine by "making an amendment to the Constitution of Ukraine, for instance supplementing Article17 or 18, with the following words: 'Ukraine shall not be a member of any military bloc or alliance, maintain neutrality and refrain from participation in hostilities outside its territory,' and/or bringing out a law of Ukraine to enshrine the non-bloc, neutral status for Ukraine.”

These proposals are not just intended as part of the temporary “special status” Ukraine was supposed to grant these regions before the end of March pending a final solution of the conflict.  

They are intended to form the basis of the permanent solution of the conflict, to be enshrined in the new Ukrainian constitution, which the February Minsk Memorandum said should be agreed by the end of December 2015.

These proposals, if implemented, would mark the end of the Maidan project. They would transform Ukraine from a unitary state, not into a federal state, but into the loosest possible confederal state.

They would also put an end once and for all to any possibility of Ukraine ever joining NATO or the EU.  

The proposed provision for Ukraine's neutrality or non-bloc status would preclude forever Ukraine joining NATO, while the provision allowing the People's Republics to control their border(s) and to forge economic links with foreign states or regions of foreign states (meaning of course Russia) would be incompatible with Ukraine's membership of the European Single Market and of the EU.

These proposals are of course completely unacceptable to the present Ukrainian government and to the Maidan movement.

They are however exactly in line with what Der Spiegel tells us Putin and Merkel agreed, both in public and in private one to one discussions, in February in Moscow and Minsk (see Merkel in Moscow and Minsk: Der Spiegel Says Putin Has Won, Russia Insider, 18th April 2015),

The fact that Kerry has now formally committed the U.S. to support Minsk 2.0 and is now warning the Ukrainians against any resumption of military action (see Kerry in Sochi a Huge Win For Russia as US Backs Minsk 2, Warns Kiev, Russia Insider, 13th May 2015) might mean the realists in Washington have finally won, and that the U.S. is now also, however grudgingly, signed up to this plan.  

The fact that German foreign minister Steinmeier is now talking about a “breakthrough” might also mean that the Germans are now confident that the peace process agreed by Putin and Merkel in February, of which the proposals just announced obviously form part, is now finally on track, with the U.S. on side.

None of this of course means that the Ukrainian conflict is over. The Ukrainians will bitterly resist these proposals. It is far from certain that the Western powers will pressure the Ukrainians to accept them, even if they have in private pledged to support them. They must know, as of course do the Russians, that the present Ukrainian government would not survive if these proposals were ever implemented, and that that is reason enough for the Ukrainians to resist them.

Whilst undue optimism would therefore be misplaced, the latest moves do reinforce the impression that the Western powers have grudgingly accepted that the objectives they set themselves when they supported the Maidan coup are unachievable, and that they are now looking for ways to disengage themselves from the conflict.

If so then this in turn might mean that if the Ukrainians not only reject the proposals but opt for war, then they will find themselves on their own, and that even the largely rhetorical support they have had up to now from the West will be toned down.

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