Kiev, Washington Responsible for Failure of Minsk Peace Agreements, Ukraine's Former President Says
15:17 GMT 14.03.2022 (Updated: 18:37 GMT 14.03.2022)
Ukraine descended into an eight-year-long political and economic crisis and civil war in the aftermath of the 'Revolution of Dignity' - the February 2014 coup d'etat which overthrew the country's unpopular but democratically elected government and replaced it with political forces seeking to integrate Kiev into the European Union and NATO.
Kiev and its US patrons are squarely to blame for the failure of the Minsk Agreements on peace in eastern Ukraine, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has told Sputnik.
"An initiative group was formed from a variety of regions and countries - Ukraine, Russia, Israel, the US, and others. These were industrialists, businessmen, religious leaders, academics, journalists. A plan to implement the Minsk Agreements was quickly developed," Yanukovych said.
"Starting from 2015 and until the beginning of 2022 this initiative group carried out a tremendous amount of organizational work, negotiations, persuasion, clarification with the representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the US and some EU countries. As a rule, we were heard out, discussions were mostly conducted in a correct manner, no one denied that peace must be achieved. But in the end we received neither a 'yes' nor a 'no,'" he added.
Kiev ended up deliberately sabotaging Minsk, according to Yanukovych, while the Biden administration maintained that "complex internal discussions were taking place, with many internal contradictions."
The former president said he offered Volodymyr Zelensky a concrete plan to end the crisis over the Donbass, but that his overtures were rejected.
"My team began to work with his inner circle. Several meetings were organized. At these meetings we proposed a plan for a ceasefire in the Donbass, it was outlined in a detailed, step-by-step way. The end result would have been the signing of a peace agreement between Ukraine and the Donbass and the creation of an international fund for the reconstruction of the Donbass, and the political, economic and social reintegration of the Donbass back into Ukraine," Yanukovych recalled.
"Our representatives handed this project to Volodymyr Zelensky for review and study. It was agreed that they would study it and get back to us with an answer. The answer came very promptly: 'we are not interested in this.' My people were indignant - if they are not interested in peace, what are they interested in?" the former president stressed.
The meetings continued, according to Yanukovych, but without any clarity or certainty of purpose. "As my negotiators said, there is nothing to talk about with them," he recalled.
Yanukovych emphasised that he had a good opinion of Zelensky as a person and as an artist (Zelensky was a famous comedian and actor in Ukraine before he became president in 2019) and that personal contacts were formed between them. "I understood very well that with his [lack of] experience working at such a level would be very difficult. I really wanted to support and help him," he said.
Zelensky's election was accompanied by hopes that he could resolve the conflict in the Donbass, Yanukovych said. "Unfortunately, this did not take place. The people said that [confectionary oligarch Petro] Poroshenko came in and things became unsweet. Zelensky came in and things became unfunny."
Yanukovych is convinced that there is still a chance to stop the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine.
"The history of this conflict began a long time ago, eight years ago. Yes, it was not not Zelensky who started the war in 2014, but [former National Security and Defence Council chief Oleksandr] Turchynov. Poroshenko continued it and made business off of blood. But it was Zelensky who during the election campaign who promised Ukrainians that while he wasn't the one to start the military conflict in Ukraine, he was the one who would finish it. Voters believed him and elected him president. Unfortunately, he deceived them. But today the masks have been dropped, the moment of truth has arrived. There is still a chance to stop the tragedy," Yanukovych concluded.
Eight Years of Chaos
Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in a Western-backed coup d'etat in February 2014 over his decision to reject the Ukraine-EU association agreement in favour of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union in late 2013. That move, combined with long-standing allegations of corruption against Yanukovych and his inner circle, sparked mass protests in Kiev. The protests turned violent after mystery snipers opened fire on the crowds, killing 49 protesters and four police officers in one day. Yanukovych was blamed for the bloodshed, but it subsequently emerged
that the snipers were hired and coordinated by far-right elements of the opposition in a bid to further destabilize the situation and ensure his fall from power.
The United States and its European allies played a key role in the coup, with US undersecretary of state Victoria Nuland spotted handing out cookies in central Kiev in a show of support and self-assuredly telling then-ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt about the composition of the next government in a leaked phone call
13 February 2019, 16:31 GMT
The coup in Kiev sparked widespread unrest in eastern and southern Ukraine, where support for close ties to Russia remained widespread after the destruction of the Soviet Union. In March of 2014, authorities in Crimea organized a referendum on the peninsula's status, with the vast majority of residents electing to break off from Ukraine and to rejoin Russia. The next month, hundreds of thousands of residents of regions across Ukraine's south and east including Kharkov, Nikolayev, and Odessa held rallies in opposition to the new pro-western regime in Kiev, with some expressing support for an independence push. Many of the leaders and supporters of these movements were forced to flee or faced being imprisoned or murdered. Nowhere were the anti-coup sentiments stronger than the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbass - the long-time industrial and coal-mining heartland of Ukraine. Political forces in these regions proclaimed themselves as "people's republics" in the spring of 2014 after Kiev sent the military to try to crush the resistance by force, sparking a civil war which has since claimed the lives of over 13,000 people.
On 21 February 2022, after over seven years of frozen efforts to reach a lasting peace, and amid escalating shelling, sniper and sabotage attacks against the Donbass republics, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to recognize the republics as independent states. Three days later, on 24 February, after a request for military assistance from the Donbass, Russian forces began an operation which Putin said was aimed at "demilitarising and denazifying" Ukraine.