French non-attached MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser is spearheading a fresh bid to find a peaceful resolution to the on-going crisis in Ukraine.
Under the cross-party initiative, an international forum for “peace and unity” will be set up comprising parliamentarians and representatives from civil society.
Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, one of the MEPs behind the move, has written to the heads of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics to inform them of the idea of setting up a forum and also to “discuss future development of both regions” after the Minsk 2 accord agreed on 12 February.
Under the working title, “Donbass: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” the first meeting of the Forum is expected to take place in Donetsk on 11 and 12 May.
The two-day event will be attended by MEPs along with representatives of the governments of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics.
The Forum calls for an “autonomy statute” respecting the “specific political, economic, social and cultural” areas of eastern Ukraine.
It also supports humanitarian initiatives for the reconstruction of the areas destroyed by the fighting.
Another objective is that the terms of the ceasefire agreed in Minsk are fully implemented.
Speaking at a news conference in Parliament on 11 March to launch the Forum, Schaffhauser said, “We want to leave behind all the ideology and bring together those who support the Minsk Agreement.”
Schaffhauser said that while Ukrainian sovereignty should be respected this should be on condition that the autonomy of the local authorities in the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine “is also recognised.”
The deputy added, “The overall aim of what we are doing is to promote peace and unity in Ukraine and oppose the division of Europe.”
Addressing the packed briefing, Schaffhauser said he hoped the conference in May will allow him and others to get a “hands-on” account of the current situation in the trouble-torn region.
Schaffhauser, who has previously visited the region, said, “We want to bear witness to what is happening there and to see if the provisions of the Minsk Agreement are actually being implemented. In other words, we want to see the peace process on the ground.”
“NATO currently seems to want to cut Europe in two and Ukraine appears to be an instrument in it achieving this. Surely, what we should be striving for though is a unified, peaceful Europe. That is why this initiative seeks to bring together politicians of all colours and nationalities who, like me, share an objective view of Ukraine.”
Speaking at the same briefing, Alessandro Musolino, an Italian political scientist, said, “I do not wish to get into an argument about the rights and wrongs of what is happening in Ukraine but, rather than creating war-like situations with its neighbours, Europe should concentrate on addressing its other battles elsewhere.
“It is in the interests of no one, including Russia, for Ukraine to be divided but at the same time consideration should be given to granting more autonomy in eastern Ukraine.”
Another speaker, German-based publisher and journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter, recalled the “terrible” suffering and destruction to civilian buildings he witnessed during a visit to the Donbass region in November.
He said, “I saw schools that had been bombarded and civilian buildings destroyed. We should recall that all this is happening right at the heart of Europe and not at its gates. It is for this reason that I fully support this very laudable new initiative.”
His comments are echoed by Alain Fragny, of Urgence Enfants D’Ukraine, a French public organisation which has provided humanitarian aid to civilians in eastern Ukraine.
Fragny said efforts, such as the new Forum, to find a lasting peaceful solution were “all the more vital” given the current humanitarian situation in Donbass which he described as “shocking”
Under the ceasefire reached in February both sides were due to pull back heavy weapons by the beginning of March.
The two sides involved in the conflict are due to create a buffer zone between them of at least 50km for artillery of 100mm calibre or more, 70km for multiple rocket systems and 140km for the heaviest rockets and missiles.
The ceasefire appears to be taking hold despite continuing clashes. The opposing sides have accused each other of breaking the truce or using it as a cover to regroup.
At least 6,000 people are believed to have been killed and more than one million have fled their homes since conflict erupted last April in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Since 15 February, when the ceasefire officially began, 64 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed, he added. In all, the Ukrainian leader said, 1,549 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the rebellion began.
By Martin Banks