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    Ukraine's Trump Card? Why Kiev Should Stop Playing Games With Russia

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    A ceasefire in eastern Ukraine is an issue of great importance for Moscow in light of the upcoming EU vote on anti-Russian sanctions, Stratfor's analysts note, suggesting that Ukraine will pressure Russia into making more security concessions. Does Kiev really have any trump cards up its sleeve?

    Kiev can use the situation in eastern Ukraine as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Moscow, according to Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor) global intelligence firm, also known as the "shadow CIA."

    "A May 1 cease-fire in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian security forces and pro-Russia separatists is largely holding, for now. The cease-fire is likely Moscow's last chance to demonstrate its intent to meet the security components of the Minsk protocols before the European Union reviews its sanctions on Russia in July. However, Kiev's desire to eradicate political infighting and maintain its Western support against Russia may keep Ukraine from fully implementing the cease-fire unless Russia makes more security concessions," Stratfor's latest analytical report read.

    The Stratfor analysts depict Russia as a party of conflict in Ukraine, but it is not. However, it is in Moscow's security and political interests that the ongoing turmoil near its western borders is brought to an end.  

    The analysts called attention to the fact that there have been "signs of progress" in negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. Apparently, Moscow has convinced independence supporters in Donbass to postpone local elections from April to July, they noted.

    "Holding these elections without Kiev's permission would set back the Minsk negotiations, if not derail them altogether," the analysts remarked.

    At the same time, the April 29 agreement between Kiev and independence fighters has resulted in a decrease in clashes in the conflict zone.

    "The timing of these developments is crucial; they come just a few months before the European Union will decide whether to maintain its sanctions regime against Russia because of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The sanctions automatically expire on July 31 unless all 28 EU members vote beforehand (likely in late June or July) to maintain them," Stratfor's report stated.

    It is no secret that many European countries have suffered tremendously from the sanctions regime and want the bans to be lifted. But it is not in Kiev's interests.

    The Stratfor analysts suggest that Kiev may use the present situation to its own advantage.

    The Ukrainian leadership believes that "all security and military components of the Minsk talks [including return of the eastern Ukraine territories' border with Russia to Ukrainian control] must be met prior to implementing its political components, namely granting greater autonomy to the Donbass territories and permission to hold local elections there," the analysts wrote, adding that Kiev's conceding on these issues has eventually led to the collapse of the Yatsenyuk government.

    According to Stratfor, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman "must remain firm in negotiations with Russia" and try to pressure Moscow into making considerable concessions before the EU lifts its sanctions on Russia.

    However, there is a fundamental flaw in Stratfor's argument.

    First of all, the Ukrainian government can't demand the restoration of full control over the state border in the east prior to holding local elections in Donbass, because it would contradict the provisions of the Minsk-2 agreement.

    "Restoration of full control over the state border of Ukraine by the government throughout the conflict zone, which should begin on the first day after the local elections and be completed after a comprehensive political settlement (local elections in some areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions on the basis of the Law of Ukraine and constitutional reform) at the end of 2015, subject to paragraph 11 — in consultation and agreement with the representatives of individual areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions in the framework of the Three-Party Contact Group," the document reads, as quoted by the Financial Times.

    On the other hand, the resignation of Ukraine's former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk as well as the collapse of the ruling coalition had nothing to do with Kiev's inability to adopt more assertive policy toward Russia. The problem is that the Ukrainian government is bogged down in corruption.

    Protesters outside the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) building in Kiev call for Ukraine's government to step down
    © Sputnik / Stringer
    Protesters outside the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) building in Kiev call for Ukraine's government to step down

    "The post-Maidan government took some serious and politically difficult steps. But much more remains to be done, both on reform and especially on fighting corruption. Ukraine cannot afford to bog down and appear unwilling or unable to make the reforms necessary to achieve its professed goal of becoming a modern, democratic, market-oriented European state," former ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer wrote in his article for the Brookings Institution (the article was also published in Russian by the Ukrainian journal Novoye Vremya).

    Pifer warned Kiev that Western patience was not unlimited.

    "What would happen to Western support if the United States and Europe conclude that Ukraine is, for lack of a better word, unfixable?" he asked.

    According to Pifer, Kiev "should show its commitment to Minsk."

    "It might not be wise for Kiev to believe it need do nothing until the security conditions are met," he stressed.

    He offered that the Ukrainian Parliament could pass a law on the conduct of elections in Donbass.

    "If Ukraine does nothing, it increases the risk that the European Union will not find consensus on extending sanctions in July," the former ambassador to Ukraine warned.

    If a new US president sees Ukraine as a country with uncertain prospects he (or she) "may well be tempted to leave it to the Europeans," he added.

    So does Ukraine really have a trump card up its sleeve to manipulate Russia into making concessions? It seems that Kiev should avoid playing games with Russia and must follow the provisions of the Minsk-2 accords. 

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    independence supporters, anti-Russian sanctions, ceasefire, corruption, Minsk agreement, European Union, Volodymyr Groysman, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Donbass, Lugansk, Europe, Donetsk, United States, Ukraine, Russia
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