The Ukrainian Week polls the military, officials and politicians about the prospects for a longterm ceasefire
Ruslan Tkachuk, Commander, Military-Civilian Administration, Triokhizbenka, Luhansk Oblast
It’s quiet in Triokhizbenka now, but the threat of terrorist acts is still there. We’re constantly finding arms and ammo in Luhansk country. The biggest problem for us right now is mines and tripwires. There are almost no maps of mined fields and how do you defuse tripwires? It can sometimes be that one day is quiet and the next day, guys blow themselves up.
This ceasefire came as a surprise and while it’s quiet, we want to get buildings up before the cold sets in. Most of them are without roofs or glass. We also need to get furnaces that burn hard fuels as there is no gas to heat outpatient clinics, kindergartens, schools, or our administration. What’s worse, some of our villages are in a grey zone. For now, we’re re-registering locals so that they can cross into Ukrainian territory. It’s painstaking work because there’s always the danger of giving the militants opportunities to move into Ukraine, so you have to check people over and over again.
We also have to make sure that food gets to these areas. At the moment, we’re doing this through local shops, which are organizing mobile kiosks. Not long ago, we resolved the issue of vehicles going through checkpoints with firewood, coal and foodstuffs. There’s a problem also with informing people. Our mobile communication is patchy, while televisions only broadcast the national channels, which have little of value to tell the people of Triokhizbenka. So we collected some money and installed a small radio transmitter to cover 30 kilometers. Now we plan to issue receivers to locals and then we’ll be able to let them know what’s going on in the general area.
We’re behind on our winter preparations. To heat Triokhizbenka, we need an entire convoy of vehicles. The only thing that might save us is if the natural gas starts flowing again. But it will not be coming from Severodonetsk as announced, but from Slovianoserbsk [territory controlled by the militants. Ed.] If this happens, then it will be confirmation that this ceasefire is for the longer term.
Musa Muhamedov, General Manager, Avdiyivka Coking Plant
So far the ceasefire is holding. During this time, we are trying to restore everything that was damaged by shelling. For instance, on the fifth day of the ceasefire, we were able to de-mine the area leading up to the power transmission lines. We’re patching up holes, bringing in materials and producing coke.
Railway workers and sappers are helping us assess the damaged railway lines between Yasynuvata and Avdiyivka. The other side is doing the same thing. We’re trying to calculate the damage. Of course, if we really are to restore the railway, we’re going to need the support of certain services, such as the border patrols. We’re restoring the town as well. We bought materials to restore the central heating system and handed it all over to Avdiyivka. We’re also helping the hospital move to another building. The municipal services are working the same as us.
It’s important to understand that this is work that has to be carried out in order for the city to survive the cold season. I hope that the lull in active fighting will give us this opportunity. I know that the Ukrainian side has issued strict orders not to fire and they are being followed. As far as I know, similar orders have been issued on the other side. Earlier, everybody talked a lot about unruly units on both sides that were continuing to fight. As it turns out, everything is deliberate and it can all be controlled. Of course, if there’s a political solution, the ceasefire will last. No one in particular’s going to start shooting. But if no political solution is found, we can expect to see the conflict flare up again.
Yegor Frisov, National Deputy, Petro Poroshenko Bloc faction
We have a ceasefire and so far it’s holding. Every day, we’re seeing now that not a single soldier has been wounded or killed because of military action. This ceasefire is important for Ukraine because it gives us a chance to strengthen our defense capabilities. We need to keep in mind that conflict could flare up with new force any day. It could happen after the UN General Assembly [at which Putin will be speaking. Ed.] or after the fake elections—if they even take place.
As far as I’m concerned, Ukraine needs to learn to live as an integral state without looking at Donbas too closely. This conflict could continue a year, two, five. It won’t be seriously resolved tomorrow or the day after. As long as Putin’s regime is strong, the confrontation will continue. But we have to move on and carry out our own agenda. First of all, this means reforming the defense sector. As to the occupied territories, we need to follow a policy of moderate isolation. As long as this territory is out of control, as long as the Minsk accords are not being carried out—that is, heavy artillery is not moved away and the Ukrainian border is not under our control— we should not provide electricity, supply gas, or issue social benefits to the people there.
So far, we’re doing the right things, but we need to speed things up in some areas, starting with defense and ending with the civil service. It’s hard to know which way things will go. Putin is constantly stirring the pot and the latest statements about the elections are just a way of raising the stakes a bit higher. The RF president is going to go to the UN General Assembly and he’s certain to try to get some concessions in exchange for cancelling these “elections.” The rest of us all have to understand one thing: if they do take place, that’s the end of Minsk.
Ihor Lutsenko, National Deputy, Batkivshchyna faction
I think we can count on a lull, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a ceasefire. A ceasefire means both sides are putting in an effort. This is simply the result of obvious social and military processes. Both sides are exhausted, and have neither the opportunity nor the desire to engage actively right now. And this inevitably leads to a lull. Later on, other factors could emerge that might lead to renewed escalation, but right now they aren’t there. This is the time for us to counterattack, but not in the military arena. On other fronts: legal, political and economic. If not for the initiative of the Crimean Tatars to blockade Crimea, time would be wasting. But right now we are counterattacking on the informational front. This is the right thing to do. The annexation of the peninsula is once more under discussion.
When it comes to Donbas, we have to protect ourselves against the occupied territories. In contrast to Crimea, we’re being shot at from there. So we need to arm, to undertake military training and establish a system for preventing terrorist attacks. Any attacks needs to be exposed and there has to be some form of prevention. And if the terrorists manage to attack, our response has to be hard. Maybe this isn’t quite in line with Minsk, but i’s obvious that no one’s about to carry them out “as is” anyway.
Yegor Sobolev, National Deputy, Samopomich faction
During this truce, the Armed Forces are faced with a major challenge: to establish a proper General Staff. Unfortunately, we have not taken advantage of the experience of the fighting commanders and continue to be led by ex-soviet generals. This is a tragedy for all of Ukraine, not just the soldiers. Our second challenge is to replace all the courts and the prosecutors in order for rule of law to work. Challenge #3 is to get the state out of the economy as much as possible. If we succeed, we will return to economic growth, which will allow us to rearm our military.
I see three possible Minsk outcomes, each of them being pushed by one side or another. In committing himself to Minsk, President Poroshenko wants to win the battle for independence with the help of western sanctions and economic pressure on the Russian regime. Putin wants to use Minsk to set up heavily-armed anti-Ukrainian enclaves within Ukraine that is formally under Ukrainian law but effectively run by the Kremlin. The third scenario is that of Western countries: let Ukraine and Russia work things out on their own without causing us any problems. Unfortunately, none of these approaches will lead to lasting peace. What’s more, we longer we kid ourselves that there are other ways of defending independence besides a strong army, a healthy economy and a consolidated society, the longer this war will last.
Taras Chmut, marine, Ukrainian Armed Forces
In principle, the ceasefire is being upheld by both sides right now. We have orders not to open fire, even if they start shooting at us. From what we can gather from intercepting radio communications, it’s the same on the militant side. At this time, the army should continue to make itself more battle-ready, repair equipment and get new equipment ready to use, buy more weapons, prepare defensive lines, establish alternative positions, a second line and a third line. To some extent this is already happening. New units are being formed, staff is being expanded, equipment is being repaired and replaced. It’s a slow process and for obvious reasons it can’t be any faster.
I don’t see the conflict escalating significantly right now. There can’t be any attack from either side as no one has the forces or the resources at this point. There might possibly only be some kind of accidental exacerbation, but it won’t promote any strategic goal. It can only lead to losses, like the militants suffered outside Mariyinka. If Ukraine tries to attack, the situation will be the same. For now, it’s all working towards a frozen conflict similar to Transdnistria. I don’t think that we will properly control the occupied territories, but they won’t be able to bother us, either.