Ceasefire in Donbass

Ukrainian media reports on the growth in open disputes between President Zelensky and representatives of the former government of Petro Poroshenko. Thus, on the Independence Day, August 24th, there was an exchange of remarks between Volodymir Zelensky and Olexandr Turchinov, the former Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, who acted as its president after the Maidan in 2014.

President Zelensky referred to the period when the Crimean Peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014 stating, “We are building our country. The country which is always ready to fight back. No matter who attacks, an aggressor, a virus or a world crisis. The country where those who surrendered a part of the country without any fight will be asked to give testimonies, not sermons on patriotism”.

Oleksandr Turchinov is a Baptist minister, and it is not surprising that he took it personally; the Crimea was annexed when he held de-facto power in Ukraine as the acting president.

Turchinov responded by claiming that President Zelensky “will try to interrogate those who are today opposing his power. But Mr. Zelensky has every opportunity, unlike in 2014, to launch an attack on the Crimea, and we are ready to help him in this. But, unfortunately, I am afraid that the “agreement” with Russia is much more important for him than the protection of Ukrainian territory”

Since the ceasefire in Donbass was agreed by the Contact Group on July 22nd and implemented on July 27th, the OSCE SMM reports “a relatively calm” situation on both sides of the contact line. People living in the village of Oleksandrovka in the Donetsk Region, which was one of the most dangerous places for civilians in the months before the agreement, tell about the “deafening silence” of the last two weeks when people had not heard any single small arms fire. On August 25, for instance, the OSCE SMM recorded 10 ceasefire violations in the Donetsk Region and one in Luhansk, all ten heard by the observers as small arms fired in the vicinity of Gorlivka (non-government-controlled).

According to the OSCE SMM, from 00:01 on 27 July until August 25, the SMM recorded a total of 713 ceasefire violations, both in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (including 100 explosions, two projectiles in flight, nine illumination flares and 602 bursts and shots). It speaks for the relatively calm situation as there were periods right before the ceasefire when the number of violations was reaching four-digit numbers.

Internal debates inside Ukraine over the ceasefire are growing tense. The division between Zelensky’s party and what is known as Poroshenko’s side is getting sharper. It is difficult to say who causes it. Turchinov is currently in opposition to Zelensky while Arsen Avakov, the Internal Affairs minister, is a member of “Zelensky’s club”. At the same time he controls the National Guard, which is interwoven with the Biletsky-led National Corps party up, leading to their beng almost indistinguishable. Andrii Biletsky has been openly identified as a radical far-right white suprematist, by Bellingcat to the AP. Bellingcat has revealed in a number of publications that Biletsky is working to prepare the “world conservative revolution,” aimed at “defending the white race.”

However, descriptions of Biletsky as a neo-Nazi often lack the most dangerous detail: Andrii Biletsky is a Ukraine Interior Ministry lieutenant colonel and the Azov special purpose regiment which Biletsky used to command is under direct command of the ministry.

In their article “Donbass Got Along at Low Price,” the Russian Kommersant newspaper estimates that the ceasefire is a relative success, and that Andrii Biletsky is questioning its legitimacy, blaming even non-combat losses that the Ukrainian army has sustained since July 27th on the truce. The newspaper quotes Biletsky: “Seven of our men have died due to various accidents since the truce was enforced. So the soldiers who have been on the front line for several years suddenly forgot which end of a rifle fires bullets and where the grenade pin is…” Biletsky insists on counting these losses as combat casualties and blames Zelensky for seeking peace.

Sergiy Garmash, editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian Ostrov online media, is one of two Ukrainian journalists whom Ukrainian authorities invited to join the Trialeteral Contact Group in Minsk as former residents of Donbass. Sergiy Garmash posted in Facebook, “If a rifle is still on a wall, it will sooner or later be fired. Therefore, while arms are generally present in the area, the ceasefire will stay temporary. There can be no compromises: either arms are removed all together or a truce will be followed by another war”.

Leonid Kravchuk, the former president of Ukraine (1991-1994), who has now been appointed head of the Ukrainian delegation in Minsk, said in an interview on August 26, “After this month of effective ceasefire, we are not going to keep still. It is necessary to bridge people living on both sides by organizing joint conferences of, for instance, teachers or doctors… Let’s act as adults and be consistent. If we claim that people living on the other side of the contact line are “ours”, let’s start communicating to them…”

Alexander Hug, former deputy head to the OSCE SMM, talked to the DON TV-channel: “It is great news that the numbers of everyday violations of the ceasefire have dropped so significantly as the OSCE SMM reports. People have been suffering from war for far too long. There have been no war-related fatalities among Ukrainian soldiers. Using the moment of respite, it is necessary to resume humanitarian activities, to bring help to people”.