Protests in Kiev as Ukrainian government opens for talks with Donbass rebels

In a change of policy, Ukraine has agreed to include representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk People Republics in negotiation talks. On March 11 representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) signed in Minsk a document that envisages, among other things, the creation of a special Advisory Council that will discuss issues such as a prisoner swap, the opening of two checkpoints and the possibility of a de-escalation.

The Advisory Council will consist of 10 representatives from Ukraine, 10 from the Donbass separatist authorities and an additional representative each from four observers, the OSCE, France, Germany and Russia. This means that Ukraine will enter in direct negotiations with rebel representatives for the first time in six years. Until now Ukraine had refused to engage with the separatists, in order to deny them all legitimacy and officially regarding the rebels exclusively as Russian proxies.

The terms of the March 11 Minsk agreement, which was conducted behind closed doors, were leaked by Ukrainian journalists. However, one again, the signal of a step towards a possible compromise in the Donbass has left many more patriotically minded Ukrainians in a skeptical and rather uncompromising mood.

Last night protesters gathered in Kiev around the building of the presidential administration. Among the protesters were supporters of the political party “Golos”, which favours Ukraine’s integration into Euroatlantic structures and was until very recently guided by the popular singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk. The protestors called the recent Minsk agreement a betrayal and claimed that recognizing rebel representatives as a legitimate party in the negotiations would deprive Ukraine of its sovereignty and de facto recognize the Donbass conflict as a civil war, which has long been seen as taboo.

Earlier today 5 thousand people took part in a “March of patriots” in Kiev to commemorate the “Day of the Volunteers” and protest against the “virus of the Russian Spring”. The demonstration was attended in particular by veterans of the “Right Sector” and the “Azov” and “Donbass” batallions, along with other voluntary units.

When they reached the building of the President’s Office, the demonstrators shouted: “No capitulation!” and “Glory to the volunteers”, among other slogans. They demanded the President of Ukraine, the Government and the Verkhovna Rada to “end the capitulation policy” and refuse “any agreements with the enemy at the expense of Ukraine’s interests”.

Protesters around the building of the presidential administration in Kiev, voicing their rejection of the latest Minsk agreement

“The President talks tough but bends on Putin’s preferred peace agenda – the Steinmeier formula; the producers of this show are sitting up in the Kremlin”, says an online commentator. For some Ukrainians see any opening towards the separatist authorities as a form of capitulation towards the Kremlin, which they believe is behind the entire Donbass counterrevolution that followed the Maidan events of the winter 2013-14. For these Ukrainians even the new President Zelensky, who has repeatedly stated his intention to guide Ukraine towards a EU and NATO membership, is doing Putin’s work in Ukraine.

Stepan Antonov

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