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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced June 18 that he is planning to order a brief, unilateral cease-fire in eastern Ukraine. His statement came a day after a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but separatist and Russian leaders still criticized it. Officials from the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic rejected the peace plan outright, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained that the cease-fire would not be permanent. Poroshenko will likely be able to implement some parts of his peace plan, but it will not stem the tide of armed separatist activity in eastern Ukraine.



Poroshenko's plan will be set against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations between Ukraine, Russia and the European Union over Ukraine's future. These talks will take time, and as the negotiations continue, Russia will support armed groups and low-level instability in Ukraine's east to preserve its influence in Kiev.




Poroshenko's plan includes the introduction of a temporary, unilateral cease-fire; the establishment of a 10-kilometer-wide (6-mile-wide) buffer zone along Ukraine's border; constitutional amendments introducing decentralization; early parliamentary elections; and early local elections in the Donets Basin region, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. Poroshenko has also discussed plans to offer amnesty to separatists who disarm and have not committed capital crimes, as well as allowing separatist fighters to leave Ukraine.



Poroshenko's decision to introduce the plan reflects Kiev's continued inability to regain control over Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. For weeks, Ukrainian troops have surrounded Slovyansk, a separatist stronghold in Donetsk province, but they have yet to enter the city. The Ukrainian border service has lost control of several border checkpoints, and Ukrainian forces abandoned sections of the border that they were unable to defend. At the same time, the Ukrainian military has suffered significant losses as separatist forces ambushed troops, took over buildings and shot down military aircraft. Morale is low among Ukrainian troops, and volunteer battalions are playing an increasingly large role in securing cities such as Mariupol and Donetsk.


The Kremlin and separatists will welcome some elements of Poroshenko's plan, such as decentralization, but his call for a cease-fire and disarmament will not sway most of the rebels. The armed separatist movement in eastern Ukraine includes local activists and organized, well-trained groups with deeper ties to Russia. Local separatists tend to be ideologically motivated and not directly under the Kremlin's control and thus are likely to continue operating regardless of political deals. Similarly, highly organized and well-armed groups such as the Vostok Battalion, which has close ties to Russia, will continue their operations in Luhansk and Donetsk because they are important tools for the Kremlin. Aiding the separatist movement is a way for Moscow to pressure Kiev on a range of issues, including decentralization and Western integration. Decentralization is one way Russia intends to achieve its broader goal of neutralizing Ukraine. As the Kremlin works to ensure Kiev's compliance with its policy demands, it will continue to support armed groups in Ukraine's east.


Although the peace plan is unlikely to stabilize eastern Ukraine, it is another critical piece in Russia's negotiations with Ukraine's European allies, especially Germany. Poroshenko has discussed his proposals with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has expressed her support. Although Russian energy giant Gazprom's June 16 decision to cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine will not affect European supplies in the short run, Merkel is committed to safeguarding regional energy security and Germany's business ties with Russia. Germany continues to support Ukraine's decision to sign the European Union's association and free trade agreements June 27 along with Georgia and Moldova, although Germany will still respect Russia's determination to keep Ukraine out of NATO. As a result, brokering an agreement between Russia and Ukraine remains a priority for German leadership.


Domestically, nationalist groups and elements of the Euromaidan movement will oppose Poroshenko's plan for a short cease-fire and amnesty for some separatists. However, political parties and groups across the political spectrum support decentralization. Although Poroshenko will be able to use his political capital as a newly elected and popular president to institute a temporary cease-fire and begin the process of moving away from Ukraine's unitary model, his plan will not achieve its goal of de-escalating the situation in eastern Ukraine in the short term. Separatist activity in Luhansk and Donetsk is a part of Russia's negotiating strategy. Ukraine's negotiations with Russia over the country's future will likely be a lengthy process, and the Kremlin will work hard to ensure that all its levers -- including support for armed separatists -- remain intact as the talks continue.



JUNE 19, 2014 | 0432





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