Peaceful settlement: major groups of influence and possible scenarios

There are at least three groups of influence in the “Sluha Narodu” faction which shape Volodymyr Zelenskyi’s policy on conflict settlement in Donbas. Kolomoiskyi’s group, group “Kvartal” and Avakov’s group seek to use Zelenskyi’s peaceful intentions in serving own political and business interests. Depending on balance of power in the ruling party and influence of external players, developments around Donbas may unfold according to three scenarios: accelerated implementation of the Minsk agreements, progress in humanitarian sphere without political progress, and continuation of a low-intensity conflict.


Over the last weeks, contradictions in the ruling party “Sluha Narodu” have been revealed in many spheres of state policy, including conflict settlement in Donbas. There are at least three groups of influence which have different vision of conflict settlement, guided by own political and business interests.

  1. Kolomoiskyi’s group. This group includes Head of the President’s Office Andrii Bohdan, chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign policy Bohdan Yaremenko and other associates of Ihor Kolomoiskyi who try to use peaceful intentions of Volodymyr Zelenskyi in strengthening their positions. This group is interested in the return of financial assets which have been nationalized in the Russian territory after 2014, an access to cheap Russian and coal from ORDLO, as well as in the re-privatization of PrivatBank. Consequently, Kolomoisky’s group stands for stepped up normalization of relations with Russia which requires a priority solution to the Donbas issue. They insist on elections in ORDLO to be held in 2020 simultaneously with local elections in other Ukrainian regions and broad decentralization without enshrining a special status for ORDLO in the Constitution of Ukraine. They attempt to persuade Russia that such decentralization model will grant more rights to Donbas than a special status specified in the Minsk agreements. Moreover, Kolomoiskyi’s allies rely on Russia’s financial assistance in the reconstruction of Donbas which may relieve a financial burden on Ukrainian budget and decrease Ukraine’s dependence on loans from the IMF, the EU and the U.S.
  2. Group “Kvartal”. This group includes president’s assistant on international issues Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyi’s long-time media partner Tymur Mindych, assistant to the RNBO Secretary on Donbas Serhiy Syvokho and other close friends of the president. They support Zelenskyi’s peace steps which help preserve his popularity in the Ukrainian society. Zelenskyi’s inner circle relies that president’s success in peaceful settlement will solidify their standing in relations with political and business heavyweights, first and foremost with Ihor Kolomoiskyi. This group stands for new prisoner exchanges, establishment of comprehensive ceasefire, disengagement of troops along the whole contact line, and facilitation of movement across the contact line for residents of ORDLO. Meanwhile, Zelenskyi’s inner circle avoids discussions about a special status, elections in ORDLO and other unpopular measures which Russia demands.
  3. Avakov’s group. This group includes Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Anton Herashchenko, leader of the parliamentary faction “Sluha Narodu” Davyd Arakhamia and chairman of the parliamentary committee on law enforcement Denys Monastyrskyi. Arsen Avakov seeks to maintain his political influence by means of control over security agencies (the police, the National Guard) and a variety of nationalist organizations (first of all, the National Corps) which are hostile to the “Steinmeier formula”, the disengagement of forces and other peace steps taken by Volodymyr Zelenskyi. This group is critical about the implementation of the Minsk agreements and stands for the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission in Donbas with a broad mandate. Avakov tries to convince Zelenskyi that it is necessary not to rush into conflict settlement until Ukraine’s international standings becomes more favourable.

Over the nearest months, it will be clear under which scenario developments around Donbas will unfold. It will depend on both balance of power in the “Sluha Narodu” and influence of external players (Russia, Germany, France, the U.S.).

Scenario 1: Accelerated implementation of the Minsk agreements. This scenario provides that Ukraine agrees to adopt a new law on the special status of ORDLO and the conduct of elections on Russia’s terms in exchange of the prisoner swap and the establishment of lasting ceasefire.

Strengths Weaknesses
  • Establishment of lasting ceasefire;
  • Ukraine restores control over ORDLO;
  • Restoration of economic ties;
  • Release of prisoners and hostages
  • Legitimization of the self-proclaimed republics in the Ukrainian political and economic systems;
  • Does not provide for the deployment of the UN peacekeepers;
  • The return of ORDLO is not bound to the de-occupation of Crimea
Opportunities Risks
  • Cessation of combat and civilian losses;
  • Decrease in defense spending;
  • Mine clearance in Donbas;
  • Attraction of donor assistance in the reconstruction of Donbas
  • Conflict potential is preserved between Kyiv and Donetsk/Luhansk;
  • Restriction of Ukraine’s sovereignty in domestic and foreign policy;
  • Aggravation of tensions between Kyiv and regions;
  • Mass protests and domestic destabilization;
  • Zelenskyi’s removal from power

Scenario 2: Progress in humanitarian sphere without political progress. Under this scenario, Ukraine tries to as much as possible improve conditions of citizens who suffer from the armed conflict without implementing unpopular provisions of the Minsk agreements.

Strengths Weaknesses
  • New disengagement of forces;
  • Facilitation of movement across the contact line for residents of ORDLO;
  • New prisoner swaps;
  • Opinion of the majority of the Ukrainian society is taken into account
  • Establishment of lasting ceasefire is not guaranteed;
  • An “all for all” prisoner exchange is guaranteed;
  • Political disputes between the hostile parties remain unresolved
Opportunities Risks
  • Decrease in combat and civilian losses;
  • Local mine clearance;
  • Increased confidence between the hostile parties
  • Escalation of warfare at any time;
  • Progress in security and humanitarian spheres is bound to Ukraine’s political concessions

Scenario 3: Continuation of a low-intensity conflict. This scenario provides for slowdown in peace process if Ukraine does not manage to compromise with Russia on acceptable terms.

Strengths Weaknesses
  • “Red lines” are enshrined in Ukraine’s negotiating position;
  • Opinion of the majority of the Ukrainian society is taken into account;
  • Predictable behaviour of the hostile parties
  • Warfare continues;
  • New prisoner exchanges are not guaranteed;
  • Political disputes between the hostile parties remain unresolved
Opportunities Risks
  • Focus on domestic reforms in Ukraine;
  • Strengthening of Ukraine’s defense capability;
  • Strengthening of Ukraine’s international subjectivity
  • Combat and civilian losses;
  • Further estrangement of residents in ORDLO with Ukraine;
  • Diplomatic pressure of external players