War in the eastern part of Ukraine and politics go together. While President Zelensky is trying to follow commitments given to his electorate and international obligations in implementation of the Minsk Agreements, he has to overcome obstacles placed by irregular armed groups who identify themselves as patriots of Ukraine.
On October 7, the Ukrainian Army should have withdrawn from the settlements at the frontline, Zolote and nearby Katerynivka, in the Luhansk Region. The 72nd Mechanized Brigade, which is currently deployed to the area, should have received the order in the morning that day. The same should have been done by the units of the opposing side controlling part of the villages. The OSCE SMM should have overseen the pullback.
It didn’t happen, due to the open threats and blackmail by far-right military circles in Ukraine, including the National Corps led by Andrii Biletski.
According to the UNIAN agency, the President of Ukraine went to a frontline in Donbas to personally convince far right military formation members, reportedly from the neo-Nazi-led Azov regiment, to stop blocking implementation of the Minsk agreement to withdraw troops along with the militants of the self-proclaimed entities. Zelensky visited Zolote-4 on October 26, where he met with volunteers who had been there since early October, opposing disengagement in the area.
The Canadian historian @Katchanovski comments on this development: “This shows that a few thousand neo-Nazis not only have power to block the crucial agreement towards peace in Donbas but that the president has no power and will to disband and arrest them and has to plead with them in person. This is another manifestation of the actual power of the far right in Ukraine”.
The meeting of the president was covered in social media. The Ukrainian media quotes the president as saying, “I am not a simpleton. I am about to turn 42. Give up your arms”. He is reported to be trying to persuade the far rightists that the local residents are all for disengagement.
In his Facebook page President Zelensky writes, “I spent two days in Zolote. I went out to the frontline. I met with teachers and doctors who, despite difficult conditions, keep doing their job. They talked of life on the line of contact, social needs, as well as possible disengagement of troops. I understood one thing – everyone wants peace. Everyone is ready for disengagement,” Zelensky says.
Ukrainian media claims that President Zelensky learnt about some armed people occupying part of the village from local residents who ‘shared their concern’.
However, Zolote has been a target for “No to Surrender” campaigners chaired by such far right leaders as Andrii Biletsky, since the beginning of protests against the so-called “Steinmeier formula” for a peace settlement in Donbas.
The movement started on October 6 on Maidan Square in Kyiv people when rallied against what they called “capitulation”. As per police estimates, about ten thousand people took part in the rally. The same day Andrii Biletsky and a group of people who were described as “ATO veterans” were reported to have entered Zolote threatening to fight back in case of the UAF’s pullback as the Ukrainian Censor reported.
The JFO (Joint Forces Operation) Headquarters reported that the volunteers with whom President Zelensky spoke were armed and stayed in the zone of the JFO illegally – something that would be investigated.
Andrii Biletsky is reported to continue threatening the president with thousands of volunteers engaged in “defending the last checkpoint” of Zolote if the president goes on with the disengagement plan.
There has been no information if an inquiry has been opened into the open refusal of armed groups declared to be illegal to submit to the orders of Ukraine’s supreme political and military command.