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Kiev-based sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko says the ceasefire is likely just a pause before another military campaign begins

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. A ceasefire agreement to end the civil war in Ukraine was accepted by leaders from Russia, Germany, France, and the separatist rebels in Minsk, Byelorussia. They agreed to a full ceasefire by Sunday, February 15. They also agreed to remove heavy weaponry by March 1. And further, they agreed to ongoing monitoring by the OSCE, that is, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, along with other humanitarian groups that would also monitor things. And several political and economic reforms were also agreed to that would have to take place in Kiev. Now joining us from Kiev to discuss all of this is Volodymyr Ishchenko. He is joining us from Kiev, and he’s a deputy director at the Center for Social and Labor Research. Volodymyr, thank you again for joining us. VOLODYMYR ISHCHENKO, DEPUTY DIR., CENTER FOR SOCIETY RESEARCH: Thank you. PERIES: So, Volodymyr, let’s begin with your take on the ceasefire agreement. ISHCHENKO: Oh, [incompr.] most probably it would be just a temporary ceasefire. So, as Angela Merkel already said, she doesn’t have any illusions about that. And she’s probably right. Even starting from the first points of this agreement, it’s of course necessary to stop the fighting and to move the heavy weaponry to some safe distances, but there’s no, actually, any efficient mechanism to control it and to impose it in the case of either Ukrainian forces or the separatists would like to break the agreement. So the OSCE is a humanitarian organization and it’s not something like a peacekeeping force, so it doesn’t have, actually, the force for impose the agreement. Basically, it means that it relies on the goodwill of both conflicting sides to implement the agreement. And speaking about strategic points about the control on the border and constitutional reform, they use quite weak formulations, and it seems that no serious mechanism is discussed there. So it seems to be more like a temporary ceasefire to–actually to allow the conflicting parties to actually prepare for the next military campaign, which probably starts in spring, at least, or probably even go there. PERIES: Right. Let’s take a look at the previous ceasefire agreement that went haywire, and nobody actually respected it. So what’s the difference between the previous one and this one? ISHCHENKO: Oh. That’s a good question, because in basics it repeats the Minsk agreement of September. But now it’s–basically, they tried to implement the same things, so the same demands for how they control over the border, the same demands about the constitutional reform and the special status for separate areas in Donetsk in Lugansk regions, the same about moving away the heavy weaponry. But it seems now that the previous agreement was made by the contact group. And now the great powers are behind it. PERIES: Okay. So that hopefully will strengthen the agreement. Okay. So, now, part of the–. ISHCHENKO: That’s a big question, if it strengthens the agreement. As I said, both Hollande and Merkel are quite hesitant about this, and they don’t show huge enthusiasm. PERIES: Right. ISHCHENKO: So that was a necessary step. But it seems that all of them understand that the probability to implement this agreement is probably lower than the probability of break it. PERIES: Right. And explain that part of the agreement is that now Russia would control some of the border areas that is being contested. Explain that component. ISHCHENKO: No, no, no. I didn’t see that. So what they agreed about, that by the end of 2015, they will allow Ukrainian forces to take control of the border by the end of this year. But it’s conditional on the successful implementation of constitutional reform. So they will start up a deal with some [incompr.] on the border. PERIES: Volodymyr, what does this mean in terms of the control of the border right now? Can you explain that? ISHCHENKO: So one of the points in the agreement is that Ukrainian forces will finally take control over that part of the border which is now controlled by the separatists. And it’s going to happen by the end of 2015, by the end of this year. But it’s conditional, and including the condition of the special status for the separatist areas and constitutional reform. It’s actually–it’s written in, this point. So they will start to give control to the Ukrainian forces on some parts of the border right after they promised elections, local elections, according to Ukrainian legislation. But they will end this process only after some constitutional reform which would satisfy the separatists happen. So, as I said, that all these things are looking quite fragile. PERIES: Okay. Now, as a part of the agreement, it is also required to have some constitutional reform within Ukraine decentralizing the state special status to Donetsk and Luhansk and other areas. Do you think that this is going to be a practical solution and will be accepted by Kiev? ISHCHENKO: In those formulations that they voted, it could be accepted. But that’s a question for–both sides can interpret it in various ways. So, for Kiev–and Petro Poroshenko already said it, that no talks about autonomy for Donbas, no talks about federalization. And that’s actually important thing and probably was one of the aims of Russia in this war that’s some federalization of a special wide autonomy status for Donbas that would allow them to block any kind of pro-NATO moves. So it would become a guarantee for neutral status of Ukraine. PERIES: Right. ISHCHENKO: And if they arrived at something that’s kind of a special status [incompr.] that can be interpreted in various ways. And, of course, the separatists would demand much higher special status, much higher autonomy, and Ukraine would say that they are not ready to concede on this. PERIES: Right. ISHCHENKO: And that provides another point for continuing the conflict. PERIES: Okay. Actually, this is a good place for us to take a break and go to our analysis section in the next segment. Thanks so much for joining us, Volodymyr. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Volodymyr Ishchenko is a sociologist based in Kyiv. He has published articles and interviews in the Guardian and New Left Review.