Truce hangs in the balance

Ihor Kyzym

With the Minsk peace deal looking fragile, the Acting Ambassador of Ukraine to the UK has demanded a “strong and united” response from the international community – including lethal weapons support – should Russia back out of its commitments to ensure the cessation of hostilities.

Speaking to Embassy as the Ukraine army withdrew from Debaltseve after the ceasefire was violated by separatists fighting to capture the strategic town, Ihor Kyzym said: “We expect Russia to do its part – to ensure an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire, withdrawal of all heavy weapons, armed formations and mercenaries from Ukrainian territory and the reinstatement of full control over the state border by the Ukrainian authorities.”

He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally made these commitments in Minsk and could not back out.

“This time the implementation of the Minsk deal is the last opportunity for Putin personally to change track, reconsider his policy towards Ukraine and stop the bloodshed in Donbas,” said Kyzym.

Accusing the Kremlin of “dirty games” the Acting Ambassador said if the “pro-Russian terrorists” failed to comply with the ceasefire, Ukraine expected “a strong and united response” from the international community.

“Further appeasing of the aggressor is unacceptable. The West must give a clear signal that the further bloodshed will cost Russia dear,” he stressed.

Calling for additional “severe sanctions” against Russia if this second Minsk agreement failed, Kyzym added that political pressure should be “supported” by providing Ukraine with military and technical assistance, including “lethal defensive weapons so that Ukrainians could defend their land”.

Senior EU diplomats in London said the option of ratcheting up sanctions remained on the table should Russia continue to support the separatists but drew the line at weapons support.

Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko said the expansion of the EU sanctions list was “at odds with political process on Ukraine” saying this was driven by leaders of largest EU member states.

But if the deal can be rescued, Kyzym said his government was ready to take steps to cede “substantial devolved powers” to the regions after local elections are held under Ukraine’s laws.

“There are going to be further talks on the governance in Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” he explained. “The people should elect their own representatives who will take responsibility for order and for economic recovery – not someone coming from Russia as a mercenary.”

He added that implementation of the ceasefire would be followed by a return to “normal life” for those living in East Ukraine. Pension payments would be resumed, the banking system would be restored and the gas and energy supply would be switched back on.

But he said this was conditional on control of the area being returned to the Ukrainian authorities and the withdrawal of all foreign troops and mercenaries.

This interview took place on 16 February.