Ceasefire in Donbas – why is everything different this time?

A ceasefire initiative was once again agreed at the meeting of the Tripartite Contact Group in Minsk. This time, it shall have started from 00.01 on July 27, 2020. Such action plans are agreed by the parties almost every month. In practice, they often last less than the time spent writing them on paper.

The text of the agreement published by the OSCE contained a set of measures that did not exist until now.

For a long time, official Kyiv did not agree to sign a set of additional measures (which Russia and the “republics” insisted on) and, according to some sources, agreed only after serious external pressure – Russia’s threats to curtail cooperation within the Normandy format and strong recommendations of Germany and France. In turn, President Zelenskyi initiates the receipt of signatures of representatives of the Normandy Four, which should ensure their additional involvement in the implementation of these measures, and strengthen the obligation to comply with them.

A fundamentally new scheme includes:

1. Prohibition of offensive and reconnaissance and sabotage operations, as well as a ban on the use of any type of aircraft (i.e., a ban on drones);

2. Prohibition on the use of fire, including sniper fire;

3. Prohibition on the placement of heavy weapons in settlements and their environs;

4. Application of disciplinary measures for violation of the ceasefire regime and notification of the TCG coordinator who informs all the participants;

5. Establishment of a coordination mechanism to respond to ceasefire violations with the assistance of the Joint Control and Coordination Centre (implementation of this paragraph is not fully understood, as the RF has officially withdrawn from the Joint Control and Coordination Centre);

6. In case of offensive actions, retaliatory fire is allowed only if it is opened by order of the relevant leadership of the AFU and the leadership of the SADLR armed formations after an unsuccessful attempt to use the above-mentioned coordination mechanism (implementation of this clause contradicts the statute of the AFU);

7. The above measures may not be completely or partially disavowed by any other orders, including secret ones.

All these measures shall be put into effect by special orders of the AFU and the “DPR-LPR”.

There were no such demands for a ceasefire before. From a formal point of view, the presence of an order banning hostilities and shelling is a serious deterrent to those who decide to violate the ceasefire: violating the order entails liability up to criminal one. Of course, it applies if the parties really want to comply with the ceasefire regime. 

There are many versions of why official Kyiv has now made concessions. Probably, one of the main explanations is another attempt by President Zelenskyi to move the peace process, which has slowed down significantly over the past six months. At the same time, the President should understand that all previous failures of the “truce” were accompanied by aggravation and casualties among the AFU.

At the same time, the dialogue between Volodymyr Zelenskyi and Vladimir Putin on the Law on the Special Order of Local Self-Government in the SADLR and the Law on Decentralization, which provides for amendments to the Constitution, adds to the rumours around the peace process. In any case, even the smallest concessions on the part of Ukraine are perceived quite painfully by part of the population of the country.

Thus, on the day of the start of the ceasefire, several thousand protesters led by opposition forces gathered under the President’s Office, demanding that the authorities reconsider the latest agreements.

These protests were preceded by reports from the OJF commander Volodymyr Kravchenko who accused “L/DPR” of several shelling after the ceasefire began. He said that the Ukrainian military did not open fire in response, and the situation was under control. According to him, immediately after the start of the ceasefire, from 0:20 to 0:45 there was a shelling of units of the 36th separate brigade of marines from small arms, hand-held anti-tank grenade launchers and large-calibre machine guns. In addition, around 9:00 am in the area of responsibility of the 79th brigade, militants carried out three attacks, having established three POM mines.

Predictably, the “LDPR” declare that they did not break the ceasefire regime after its beginning. They call messages of the Ukrainian party provocations.