Merkel, Macron and Putin agree on implementing Minsk Accord, Tillerson visits Ukraine

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines of the G20 in Hamburg and agreed that the Minsk Accord on Ukraine should be implemented. On July 9, after the G20, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be visiting Ukraine and reportedly assure Ukraine about the United States support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and ability to defend itself. The situation in Ukraine shows the urgent need to discuss the equally valid principles of territorial integrity and self-determination and their implementation without conflict.

Macron_Putin_Merkel_G20_Hamburg_Germany_2017The meeting between Merkel, Macron and Putin on the sidelines of the G20 in Hamburg, Germany did not result in statements about future initiatives and steps with regard to Ukraine – few would have expected that from a meeting on the sidelines of the G20. It is, however, worth noting that the trio agreed on the necessity to fully implement the Minsk Accords on Ukraine and to continue working within the so-called Normandy Four format.

The Minsk Accord and the at least relative calm in Ukraine was brokered by the Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, with the EU and OSCE on the sidelines, and in the Belarus capital Minsk. As important as the “who was there” when the ceasefire was reached was the “who wasn’t”. The de-escalation within the Normandy Four format succeeded, according to may analysts, “because” it didn’t involve the UK and USA. A European approach rather than an “Atlantic-Axis” approach to speak.

The conflict about the rebelling / separatist, predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas republics in eastern Ukraine was de-escalated after the signing of the Minsk Accord, but violations are reported from both parties to the conflict on a regular basis.

On June 22 the United States accused “Russia-backed separatists” of violence and harassment of OSCE observers in eastern Ukraine, allegedly preventing them from reporting violations committed by the “rebels”. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert commented that Washington was deeply concerned about the situation, describing the militants in the Donbas as “Russian-led, Russian-funded, and Russian-trained”.

Germany and France, for their part, are not ignorant about “Russian support” for the “rebels” nor about the fact that the situation in Ukraine and the presence of now NATO-backed troops along its borders forces Russia’s hands.  France and Germany’s diplomacy is more based on understanding each others’ security imperatives than the UK’s and USA’s.

Petro Poroshenko and Rex Tillerson in Washington, June 20, 2017.

Petro Poroshenko and Rex Tillerson in Washington, June 20, 2017.

It’s therefore telling that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will arrive in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Sunday, July 9 to meet President Petro Poroshenko and other high-ranking officials.

The U.S. State Department affirmed on July 5 that Tillerson  will “reaffirm America’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, while encouraging the government of Ukraine to continue implementing reforms that will strengthen Ukraine’s economic, political, and military resilience.”

The office of Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko said on July 4 that Poroshenko will discuss with Tillerson ways to strengthen relations between Kyiv and Washington and further coordinate efforts to counter Russia’s actions against Ukraine.

The Atlantic Axis – Conflict in Ukraine and Eurasian Trends

Besides the dispute in Ukraine’s Donbas region there is the question of Crimea that continues to fuel tensions between Ukraine and Russia, as well as Russia and the USA – and to a lesser degree Russia and the EU, France and Germany. All of the conflicting and otherwise involved parties are aware that any threat to Russia’s access to the Black Sea via Crimea would be an unacceptable existential threat for Russia.

Click on map to enlarge.

Click on map to enlarge.

The differences between the “Atlantic” and the “European” approaches in addressing the issue may at least in part be informed of the fact that a conflict in Europe is far removed from the shores of the United States. Moreover, many analysts agree that tensions between Russia and the EU ultimately strengthen the influence of the Atlantic Axis (USA – UK) over Europe, while weakening Eurasian trends. It’s worth noting that the “crisis” has cost more than 10,000 lives since April 2014 and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Crimea dispute highlights flaws in international law, its interpretation and implementation

The Ukraine insists that the Russian Federation, in March 2014, illegally annexed the Crimea and violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia, for its part, insists that Crimea acceded to the Russian Federation, legally, after a legal referendum in Crimea. Objectively-speaking, both are partially right and partially wrong.

International law guarantees the right to territorial integrity. International law also guarantees the right to self-determination. The people in Crimea had the right to call for a plebiscite on Crimean independence and Crimea’s accession into the Russian Federation, but the accession is not fully legal without the approval from the Ukrainian government.

Here's the "what to report that won't get you into trouble" with Moscow. Photo, courtesy of ITAR-TASS

Here’s the “what to report that won’t get you into trouble” with Moscow. Photo, courtesy of ITAR-TASS

The Ukrainian government in Kiev, for its part, violated Crimean’s right to self-determination when it tried to prevent the plebiscite with so-called “anti-terrorism operations”. The Russian Federation, for its part, violated Ukraine’s right to territorial integrity when it approved the accession of Crimea into the Russian Federation without an approval from Kiev.

The UN’s Declaration of Principles from 1973 clearly states that the right to territorial integrity and the right to self-determination have equal standing and validity, but that the one cannot be implemented at the exclusion of the other.

Needless to say that the situation in and about Ukraine – security imperatives included – has been complicated by the fact that the USA, UK, EU members, as well as Russia fanned the flames of violence and discord. The situation in Ukraine — Crimea and Donbas included – clearly shows that there is a need for mechanisms that would facilitate the implementation of the Declaration of Principles while avoiding conflict.

Two starting points for a much-needed discussion on the subject would be how such mechanisms could guarantee that plebiscites can be held and monitored without undue interference from any of the conflicting parties (and their allies), and whether any of the two principles – territorial integrity vs right to self-determination – should have primacy above the other.

CH/L – nsnbc 09.07-2017

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