Ukraine Rebels Need NATO Veto to End War: Ex-Putin Envoy

Ukraine needs to give its regions veto power over future membership in NATO and the European Union to finally end the uprising by pro-Russian separatists in the east, a former envoy of President Vladimir Putin said.

The easternmost Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where Russian is the main language, should also be granted greater control over their security forces, similar to the devolution of power in the Balkans after the breakup of Yugoslavia, as well as their finances, Vladimir Lukin said in an interview in Moscow.

“Eastern Ukraine, or most of it, as far as I’m aware, doesn’t want to be part of NATO,” said Lukin, who represented Russia at February talks in Kiev between then-President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders who later ousted him. “Russia is also against this, but the main thing is that eastern Ukraine is opposed and has made it abundantly clear,” he said, stressing that he was speaking in a personal capacity.

In those talks, which were also attended by the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland, Yanukovych agreed to hold early presidential elections by December and form a national unity government. Within hours, though, the threat of a violent overthrow forced him to flee Kiev for Russia in what Putin later called a far-right coup.

NATO, Crimea

Putin and Yanukovych’s successor, Petro Poroshenko, last week reached an agreement that paved the way for a Sept. 5 cease-fire accord that included vague pledges to decentralize power. Putin has railed against the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, formed in 1949 in part to counter the Soviet Union, and cited concern over neighboring Ukraine’s possible membership in the U.S.-led military bloc when he annexed Crimea in March.

Poroshenko, 48, has indicated he’s ready to grant more autonomy in the east, though he hasn’t provided details. He said he’ll send a draft law on “temporary self-governance in certain districts of Luhansk and Donetsk” to parliament next week, while ruling out independence for those regions.

Lukin, 77, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. in 1992-1994, said one way to ensure that Donetsk and Luhansk have the ability to block Ukraine’s membership in NATO, as well as the EU, is to introduce constitutional changes requiring that such actions be supported by a majority of the populations of each region.

‘Very Simple’

“The guarantees for eastern Ukraine are very simple,” Lukin said in the Russian capital. “Each region must have the right to express its will. This is my personal view, of course. It’s not up to me.”

Lukin, a founder of the pro-democracy Yabloko political party in the 1990s, stepped down as Russia’s human rights commissioner in March after serving two Kremlin-appointed five-year terms. He helped free international observers held by the rebels in Ukraine in May and June, on the first occasion traveling to Slovyansk in person to negotiate their freedom. He’s currently the president of the Russian Paralympic Committee.

Introducing direct elections for governor and ending the current practice of appointment by the central government could also help ensure the peace, Lukin said. That could be accompanied by allowing the regions to retain most of the taxes they collect, he said, since Donetsk and Luhansk, which make up the industrial and coal-producing heartland known as Donbas, believe they’re giving more to Kiev than they’re getting.

‘Monolithic State’

“A monolithic state is a leftover of the Stalinist model of development, when even such questions as how many boxes of nails should be sent from Vladivostok to Petropavlovsk are decided by the Politburo,” Lukin said. “This is an acute problem for Russia, too.”

The insurgents, backed by what Ukraine, the U.S. and NATO say are Russian troops, intelligence, artillery and tanks, reversed gains by government forces last month, leading Poroshenko to negotiate the current truce. Putin has repeatedly denied any Russian government involvement in the conflict, which has left more than 3,000 people dead and a million more displaced, according to the United Nations.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said he wasn’t aware of any proposals on making Ukrainian membership in NATO and the EU contingent on referendums in each region, declining to comment if Russia would support that position. Poroshenko’s spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, couldn’t be reached for comment on his mobile phone.

Figuring out what to do with the rebel militias once peace is achieved is “one of the toughest questions” to resolve, according to Lukin.

Yugoslav Wars

“But in the history of conflicts such examples do exist,” he said. “It’s happened in the Balkans, and also in Africa.”

After the end of the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the Bosnian Serb part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, kept its own police force though it integrated its army with Bosnia in 2005.

“I have always been in favor of the European choice for Russia,” said Lukin. “I’ve always said that the only path of European integration for Ukraine is in coordination” with Russia. “This is a sovereign decision, but it should be coordinated with Russia to make it successful and effective.”

Between 1999 and 2009, NATO admitted 12 eastern European countries, including members of the Warsaw Pact and the three former Soviet Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk last week urged parliament to adopt a bill on seeking to join the alliance, after NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen predicted Ukraine would eventually become a member.

Special Status

Ukraine wants a special status as a major non-NATO ally, something that 50 countries in the world have, Poroshenko said today at the Yalta European Strategy conference in Kiev.

“This is about security, not about future membership -- let’s not politicize the NATO factor,” the Ukrainian leader said. “This is a sovereign and unique choice of the Ukrainian people. But now we are not talking about NATO, we are talking about establishing peace and stability.”

Most inhabitants of Donetsk and Luhansk, fearful of “abruptly” cutting ties with Russia, are against joining both NATO and the EU, Lukin said.

Putin last year offered Yanukovych a $15 billion bailout after he backed out an EU trade deal and tilted toward Russia’s rival bloc with Belarus and Kazakhstan. The reversal on closer integration with Europe sparked protests in Kiev that led to Yanukovych’s ouster and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“The main problem is that the authorities in Kiev are committed to moving along the European path, which doesn’t suit eastern Ukraine,” Lukin said. Negotiations will be “very tough and take a long time.”

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