As the OSCE Ministerial Council met in Milan on December 6-7, no one said that OSCE Special Representative for Ukraine and the Contact Group Martin Sajdik presented a concept for Donbass settlement on the sidelines of the event. The information leaked already in January.
First, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin said on January 16 that the point at issue is the UN-OSCE joint mission that envisions an international civil administration as well. Later, on January 23, the Ukrainian state-run news agency Ukrinform reported with reference to Sajdik’s office that the coordinator of the subgroup on political affairs of the Contact Group from OSCE Pierre Morel and the coordinator of the security subgroup Ertugrul Apakan (who is also Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine) contributed to the document’s project as well.
Meanwhile, the office noted that all three authors served “in their personal capacity”, while “the contents of the document and the exchange of views on it were not disclosed.” However, the very next day the Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung published an interview with Sajdik, in which he revealed the nature of those proposals, without clarifying though that he serves in his strictly personal capacity here. But it appears due to little popularity of the paper (though it is the third largest-circulating in the country), the publication was only revealed on January 28 both in Russia and Ukraine.
By the end of the interview it gets clear why Sajdik’s concept is articulated at this particular time. Christian Wehrschuetz, a journalist, asks: “Can we take it that the time of the election campaign will be used for making that idea seep out so that when the political situation in Ukraine clears up again, the document could be used as a basis for entering into serious talks?” And the diplomat replies: “That is true.”
As for the essence of proposals, three points should be marked here.
First, a new settlement document. Sajdik’s words show that it is suggested to keep what is stated by Minsk Agreements, though that is reached through a treaty to be signed at the level of the Normandy Four leaders and ratified by the Russian and Ukrainian parliaments. And one can’t help but agree with the Austrian diplomat who says that once the settlement is shifted to the format of a full-fledged international agreement, the document will gain greater political weight. However, such a document defines the conflict already as a Ukrainian-Russian, while the leaders of DPR and LPR are not anticipated to sign it, even in personal capacity as in Minsk Agreements. That definitely benefits Kiev, but not Moscow.
Second, the UN-OSCE joint mission headed by UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy. As known, the Minsk Agreements say nothing about such a mission. Sajdik explains its necessity not only due to security issues, but first of all due to the fact that “Minsk Agreements do not clarify everything.” “An important factor is that outside assistance is required for implementing the key element, conducting local elections. We have jumped to the conclusion that the UN is the only option. The task of OSCE is to form an opinion about elections, which is why it cannot carry out elections,” he said.
However, Minsk Agreements themselves make no remark about outside assistance in organizing elections. The plan proposed by the coordinator of the subgroup on political affairs of the Contact Group Pierre Morel that emerged in September 2015 and was approved by the ‘Normandy Four’ but later blocked by Kiev, did not mention it either. Finally, in 2016, the same Four discussed the idea of a police mission to be provided by OSCE precisely for the elections’ period, to ensure security. But as it appears from Sajdik’s interview, the point at issue is not only assistance in conducting them. It puts it bluntly about an international UN interim administration. Such structures are involved not only in organization of elections, but overall in civil management on respective territories, as well as peacekeepers’ command. Which means that virtually the issue is about the format of a ‘peacekeeping occupation’, similar to that proposed by the US Department of State Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker, only Sajdik has packaged the idea in diplomatic, not adversarial terms. The American emphasizes that ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ are quasi-republics that should be liquidated. Whereas Sajdik says that according to Minsk Agreements, “representatives of the so-called separate regions from Donetsk and Lugansk should participate and be heard in the process.” “We assume that after a comprehensive agreement is adopted that should also be the case.”
It is unclear though which mechanisms are provided for making Donetsk and Lugansk be heard, all the more so as the third key point of the interview is selective reference to political provisions of Minsk Agreements. For instance, Sajdik speaks about elections, amnesty and language self-determination. But he does not mention either the constant special status of Donbass, or related amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine, or the need to agree both that status and the election legislation with representatives of ‘separate districts’ of Donbass. Nothing is said about the fact that Ukraine itself should assume certain steps, while reintegration of those territories into it is simply suggested as a movement towards Kiev. Meanwhile, it is not noted that the question is about reintegration into a completely different legal framework compared with what existed before part of Donbass moved away from control, meaning that Ukraine was not a country with institutionalized Russophobia before Minsk Agreements were signed. It is clear that the document proposed by Sajdik should be wider than his interview. But still, first, an interview presents key takeaways of his proposals. Second, speaking about the Donbass settlement, other western representatives inevitably mention the elections, but usually do not say anything about the special status or other issues also ignored by the Austrian diplomat.
All in all, Sajdik’s concept means OSCE’s separation from the traditional public arms’ length principle regarding the sides of the conflict. While the fact that he now laid it bare has effectively played into the hands of Petro Poroshenko’s election campaign. He has to highlight if not the progress on the Donbass settlement, then the prospects of that progress (naturally, under Kiev’s terms) prior to the election. With Poroshenko’s conception, the UN peacekeeping mission is the key element of settlement, which implies handover of power in Donbass to an international interim civil administration. That idea has also been voiced by Kurt Volker, though his talks with Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov were suspended quite a while ago. Whereas the fact that Sajdik is publicizing his concept offers a strong news peg for speculations that the settlement under Ukraine’s terms is given renewed momentum, since OSCE backs the idea of peacekeeping occupation.