Minsk II -- Simply Another Form of Russian Aggression
Bohdan Vitvitsky: Resident Legal Advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine in 2007-09
as printed in the Huffington Post
The recent violence in Kyiv in connection with protests over Ukrainian parliamentary consideration of some sort of special status for the separatist part of the Donbas is unforgivable. But Minsk II, the hastily cobbled together peace treaty engineered by Germany and France under Russian pressure, is no less forgivable for having placed Ukraine in a near impossible situation.
Countries may have numerous interests, whether security, political or economic. But there is only one set of rights, the related rights to exist, not be attacked and, with respect to these rights, the right to be treated equally with all other nations regardless of size, power or influence. Those are the rights presupposed by all of the formal treaties into which European countries have entered in the post-war era, each of which treaties was signed by Germany, France and Russia's predecessor, the Soviet Union. Thus the Preamble to the foundational United Nations Charter of 1945, also signed by Ukraine, explicitly provides a reaffirmation of the "equal rights" of "nations large and small." The signatories of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 pledged to "respect each other's sovereign equality. . . as well as all the rights inherent in and encompassed by its sovereignty, including in particular the right of every State to juridical equality, to territorial integrity. . ." And the Charter of Paris for a New Europe of 1990 provides for "equal security for all our countries." This principle of equality of nations is the moral underpinning of the entire post-war order, an order built on the ruins of World War II with its fantasies of ubermenschen and untermenschen.
It is also a matter of common sense, as also reflected in legal principles, that the perpetrator of a violent assault does not, on the basis of said assault, get to extract concessions from the victim of that assault. And yet such concessions are exactly what Germany and France forced Ukraine, the victim, to accept.
The so-called separatists in Donbas have never had any legitimate basis for their separatism -- legitimate in the sense of real. When it was still possible to take public opinion polls, many of the polls taken showed that the majority of the population in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces wished to continue to remain part of Ukraine. There was no action by the new Ukrainian central government that in any way caused the inhabitants of those two provinces to do or not do anything differently. There is no controversy that the separatism was manufactured and led by Russia. That some locals have participated in the insurrection is of no moment. Furthermore, although as a general proposition decentralization is desirable and has been planned by Ukraine for a year, the concocted, albeit ambiguous, demands for special decentralization for parts of Luhansk and Donetsk in Minsk II are perverse in light of two facts. First, it was the inhabitants of Luhansk and Donetsk that voted for the previous Ukrainian regime of Viktor Yanukovych in greatest numbers, the same regime that centralized Ukraine as never before. Second, it is the separatists' sponsor, Putinist Russia, that completely reversed the decentralization efforts undertaken after 1991 and has now completely centralized Russia.
So why at Minsk did Germany and France surrender to Russia's demands against Ukraine, violate the central moral and legal principle of all of the post-war treaties that less powerful countries have the same rights as the more powerful countries, and, therefore, that the interests of the more powerful certainly do not trump the rights of the less powerful, and in effect reward the perpetrator of an assault? The off the cuff nature of the arranged talks, the somewhat surprising inclusion of France and the mystifying exclusion of Poland and/or Sweden, the two countries that have led the European Union's Eastern Europe policy, suggest either a complete absence of preparation, despite the earlier Russian occupation of Crimea, or amnesia about what it is that has produced generations of unparalleled peace and prosperity in Europe.
Where should Europe go from here? If additional rounds of negotiations take place, such negotiations should, for multiple reasons, include Poland. In addition to its leading role in implementing EU's policy in Ukraine, it is Ukraine's neighbor and would most directly be affected by renewed fighting in Ukraine because such fighting would likely cause new migrations, and, of course, Poland would directly be affected by Russian aggression against NATO's eastern flank. In terms of speaking about, conceptualizing and developing strategies for dealing with what has been happening in Ukraine, Europe should liberate itself from the miasma of pretending that what has been going on is anything other than Russian aggression. European countries should at long last begin spending the money they have failed to spend on maintaining their armed forces. And, Germany should lift its apparent opposition to Ukraine receiving lethal defensive weapons from the West.