The search for peaceful options to settle the situation in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine continues to be one of the main focuses of the Ukrainian media. The mainstream media has not forgotten the key role of Belarus in creating the most suitable conditions for direct contacts between Kiev and Moscow.
Two years ago, the escalation in Donbass was approaching a point of no return. However, with the active participation of Belarusian diplomacy and the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, a singular conceivable path for political interaction between Ukraine and Russia was established, named the ‘Minsk Process’. This process effectively muffled flare-up hostili hostilities in Donbass, opening the possibility to search for ways to resolve the conflict.
Ukrainian political experts have repeatedly noted that this extremely dangerous situation requires a compelling mediator who would possess the strength to bring the conflicting parties to the negotiating table. In the former nations of the USSR, at that time, it appeared there were only two political figures suitable for this responsible and challenging role: the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko. Alexander Lukashenko became the mediator.
In December 2015, the President of Belarus once again expressed his readiness to continue the peacemaking efforts of his country, stressing that a compromise in the situation in Eastern Ukraine is possible only through political means. According to Alexander Lukashenko, everywhere and always, the leadership of Belarus stands for peace. He noted that Belarus does not accept military conflicts, wherever they may occur — in Ukraine, Syria, Libya or Iraq.
The carefully considered position of President Lukashenko, as noted by Ukrainian politicians, cannot be called pro-Russian. This is despite the fact that relations between Minsk and Moscow (especially in matters of the economy) are very close. The President of Belarus did not support the annexation of Crimea by the Russians, and he did not recognize the statehood of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, who seceded from Georgia. Alexander Lukashenko has quite rigidly stated that Belarus does not intend to allow the Belarusian-Ukrainian border to be opened to weapons trafficking. Although Ukrainian matters seldom enter into the public rhetoric of the Belarusian government, many issues that are extremely sensitive to Ukraine are resolved positively. For example, in May 2016, the management of Belarusian Railways decided not to reopen busy routes in Russian Crimea during the summer; the Belarusian authorities have lifted the ban on entry into the country for one of the leaders of the Parliament of Ukraine, previously included on the so-called ‘black list‘ at the insistence of the Russian secret services; and leadership of the Belarusian city Mogilev discontinued selling globes on which Crimea was depicted as part of Russia.
Even in the most difficult situations that have developed in relations between Moscow and Kiev, Minsk has always been able to maintain the right balance. Obviously, within this political ‘principled flexibility’ lies the ‘know-how’ of the Belarusian President, which he uses in the interests of his country in the international arena. The inception of the ‘Minsk Process’ and Alexander Lukashenko’s instinct brought significant positive results for Belarus. Without harming its relationships with either Kiev or Moscow, the country significantly improved its relations with the West in a manner that would have been hard to believe before the ‘Minsk Process.’ You might say that in placing Minsk as a neutral, permanent negotiation platform at the highest level, Alexander Lukashenko has finally achieved his main foreign policy objectives. He led his country out of international isolation, essentially causing the abolition of European Union sanctions towards Belarus that had been in place for ten years. Unfortunately, today’s situation in Donbass and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine is still far from reaching a peaceful resolution. Fewer and fewer people in Ukraine continue to believe that the ‘Minsk Process‘ will give tangible results in the near future that will lead to a final settlement of the conflict. That’s because a complete cessation of hostilities as a condition of the peace treaty has not been achieved. Continued shelling and other military provocations, hostages unreleased, reports of civilian suffering – these occupy only the last words of the news. And it was a complete ceasefire that was the first and main point of the agreement in Minsk, made without the realization that any further political steps, in fact, would be meaningless.
That is why analysts increasingly voice the term ‘frozen conflict’. Everything points to the fact that the situation in its present form might not be contained to a single decade. Ukrainian society is almost devoid of those who believe that a personal meeting of Poroshenko and Putin in Minsk as a neutral ground would be seen as productive, as the prospect of such direct talks would be seen negatively by both Russia and Ukraine. Recently in Ukraine, a proposal was made to withdraw from the ‘Minsk Process’ by going to the ‘Budapest Format’ of negotiation. The suggestion is that at the negotiating table should be Ukraine, Russia, the United States and Great Britain – the countries that in 1994 signed the Budapest Memorandum, guaranteeing the security of Ukraine after Kiev officially signed up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state.
Nevertheless, in the situation that is emerging now, after the presidential election in the United States, the capital of Belarus, Minsk, remains the only negotiating platform for the settlement of the military conflict in Donbass. It is hoped in Kiev that President Alexander Lukashenko will maintain his positive role in the bilateral relations of Belarus and Ukraine, as well as in mediation efforts. The prospects that have opened, thanks to the ‘Minsk Process’ are a historic opportunity for Ukraine. Even though the current process has not been concluded and may undergo further transformation, there is time now for the country to reassess the situation and prepare for any kind of future geopolitical developments.
By Sergey Doiko
Political commentator and broadcaster Kiev, Ukraine