By Rene Wadlow
The start of 2017 has seen an increase in military action and tensions in the separatist areas of Ukraine, especially in the Donetsk and Lulansh regions and around the city of Avdiyivka. There has been high-caliber artillery fire along with small arms and morters. There had already been a sharp increase throughout the spring and summer of 2016, with an average of 1000 exchanges a day, as monitored by the some 1,100 staff members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) posted to the area. The Secretary-General of the OSCE, Lamberto Zannier, has recently called for respect of a cease-fire already negotiated through the OSCE’s Minsk group.
The possibility of a new “Cold War” with its military buildup, lack of cooperation, and the stilling of opposition voices is real. The politically divided and potentially more violent Ukraine highlights broad social, economic and geopolitical orientations that will have long-range consequences. The current situation in Ukraine and Crimea does not led itself to calm considerations or compromises.
The OSCE has tried to develop conflict-reduction steps in addition to monitoring the situation on the ground. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has tried to promote dialogue between Russian and Ukrainian civil society groups; the OSCE Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings has tried to raise awareness of local authorities about the threat of human trafficking in eastern Ukraine especially among internally displaced persons, and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has organized an expert discussion on minorities’ linguistic rights.
However, we are still far from a satisfactory resolution of the conflict and the political tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and the NATO alliance. Western economic sanctions against Russia are still in place, harmful to the Russian economy but not harmful enough to modify Russian policy. The Western economic sanctions still operative were followed by Russian economic sanctions on European Union food products causing difficulties for EU agricultural production.
There is a need to move beyond the current deadlocked and tense situation. Ukraine faces real internal problems: political, economic, and social. There is a need for dialogue, trust-building, and reconciliation within the country – all stepping stones to stable internal peace. There is also need for de-escalation of international tensions.
At the start of the armed conflict, on 17 April 2014, there was a one-day negotiation in Geneva between the US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergy Lavrov. The Association of World Citizens proposed to them a federal-decentralized government for Ukraine that would not divide the country on the pattern of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia or Transnistra in Moldova but would foster local and regional autonomy. At a press conference following the Geneva meeting Sergy Lavrov said that the Ukrainian crisis must be resolved by the Ukrainians themselves and that they should “start a nationwide national dialogue within the framework of the constitutional process which must be inclusive and accountable.”
The Association of World Citizens proposal warned against simplified concepts in the Ukraine discussion. Federalism is not the first step to the disintegration of the Ukraine. But federalism is not a “magic solution” either. Since the Geneva meeting there has been a certain degree of decentralization but not a real federal structure. There has been a proclamation of a Donetsk People’s Republic and a Luhansk People’s Republic.
Those of us outside the Ukraine must help facilitate discussions of national governmental structures for the Ukraine and regional security cooperation so that common interests may be found and current tensions reduced.