EU may step up sanctions if Russia recognises Donbass rebel elections

By bne IntelliNews October 30, 2014

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The European Union may step up sanctions on Russia if the Kremlin recognises elections to be held by rebels in Ukraine's eastern Donbass region on November 2, according to Russian media reports.

The EU would regard Russian recognition of the elections to be held in Donbass by pro-Russian rebels as a breach of the Minsk peace accords signed on September 5, which led to a ceasefire between the insurgents controlling Donbass and pro-Kyiv regular and irregular forces. According to an EU source quoted by Russian business daily Kommersant, the elections violate the Minsk agreements, and recognising them points to Moscow's intention to transform the stalemate in East Ukraine into a frozen conflict, rather than supporting the reintegration of Ukraine. Kommersant's EU source warned Russia that, "the EU still has unused options in its arsenal [of sanctions]”.

The Russian-backed Donbass insurgents are set to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on November 2. Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said in a newspaper interview on October 29 that Russia would recognise the elections. The elections will not be recognised by Kyiv nor apparently by any other international actor apart from Russia.

A law passed by Ukraine's parliament on October 15,  giving 'special status' to districts in Lugansk and Donetsk regions controlled by the rebels, envisages Ukrainian local elections being held in the regions together with the rest of Ukraine on December 7. The Minsk peace agreements of September 5, signed by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, and the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe, call for elections to be conducted in the rebel-held territories in accordance with the law on 'special status' - at the time of the Minsk peace accords still in planning.

Moscow claims its position on recognising the elections is in compliance with an unpublished appendix to the Minsk agreements. "The unpublished appendix specifies the period within which local elections should be held. November 2 falls within this period, December 7 does not. Kyiv knows about this perfectly well," a Russian state source told Kommersant.

Russia's president Vladimir Putin referred to such secret clauses in the Minsk peace agreement in a speech to the Valdai discussion forum on October 24, where he tried to flesh out Russia's case for recognising the planned November 2 elections. According to Putin the unpublished appendix specified regional elections to be held by November 3, and the later alteration by Kyiv of the date to December 7 breaches this agreement.

"They spoke of the date of the elections in the south-east, but few know that there has been an agreement that elections in south-east Ukraine should be held by November 3. Later, the date was amended in the corresponding law [on special status for rebel-held districts], without consulting anyone, without consulting with the south-east," Putin told the audience of international Russia experts. "The elections were set for December 7, but nobody talked to them. Therefore, the people in the south-east say, “See, they cheated us again, and it will always be this way,” Putin added.

Putin also claimed that the Minsk agreements provided for regional elections to be held  "in coordination with Ukrainian legislation, not under Ukrainian law, but in coordination with it”. "This was done on purpose, because nobody in the south-east wants to hold elections in line with Ukrainian law," Putin explained, arguing that the rejection of Ukrainian law in the south-east was the result of ongoing fighting and the continued presence of Ukrainian troops in the area.

According to Kommersant's EU source, "neither the Ukrainian nor the Russian side have confirmed the existence of any secret or unpublished adjuncts to the Minsk agreements that discuss the dates of elections in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics”. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko has also denied the existence of any secret clauses to the laws.

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