The interview with Vitold Fokin, deputy chair of the Ukrainian delegation at the Trilateral Contact Group on Donbas settlement, quite reasonably caused an extremely emotional reaction among Ukrainians. After all, the "compromise" he proposed – pardoning militants in exchange for Russia dropping their demands for a special status of Donbas in Ukraine's Constitution – is not a compromise as such. There is no good option for Ukraine in the configuration proposed as both options make us a losing side. All those mantras claiming that "it's winners who pardon the defeated, so we just need to move on and forgive" have nothing to do with reality.
The embodiment of such an experience of "forgiveness" was seen in the Croatian Vukovar, the city regained by diplomatic means
A large-scale pardon for members of illegal armed groups or, based on the terminology of the Minsk agreements, "participants in the events in the certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions", is a problem that will prevail for many decades after the actual military confrontation is over. Pardoning those who fought against the country's territorial integrity will corrupt the most important thing that is Ukraine troops who defended Ukraine's sovereignty – the feeling that all those victims were not in vain, and that they made the only right choice.
In Ukraine, the narrative has taken root about the "infallible and perfect experience of Croatian peaceful reintegration"
The embodiment of such an experience of "forgiveness" was seen in the Croatian Vukovar, the city regained by diplomatic means. During visits to Ukraine, the team dealing with the peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danube area openly spoke about the fact that they had more than just pardon – they had "general forgiveness" of separatists who took up arms but didn't kill anyone, and that we, allegedly, would have no other way either. In Ukraine, the narrative has taken root about the "infallible and perfect experience of Croatian peaceful reintegration", which, allegedly, could be easily replicated in Ukrainian realities.
Even without taking into account the fact that the Serbo-Croatian and Russian-Ukrainian wars are different conflicts, with entirely different pretexts and prerequisites, something else is worth considering. The generation of children of those who took part in the Serbro-Croatian war, to this day, say that they are absolutely indifferent to the nationality of those who live in the city (Vukovar), while much more important is that not all criminals who had fought for Serbian Krajina, have been prosecuted. To this day, the city is a space where memories of the war are fresh. People aren't over with this trauma, while "forgiveness" imposed on society has only made the wound deeper.
If we talk about an attempt to transfer such a model to our realities, we can unequivocally state that many of those who are actually responsible for murder, torture, and looting will seek to pass themselves off as those who "just took up arms but never killed anyone." And if the law fails to deal with this kind of people, some war veterans could try to take up the role of the law. And this would be a direct fault of those civilian professionals and experts who have failed to oppose such scenarios on their part and in their position. This would simply make the Ukrainian society implode, which is exactly what Russia craves for. Chaos is where it is easiest for Russia to achieve their goals.
Such texts, in principle, have no chance of being published without prior approval
Whatever they say at the President's Office today, this interview was certainly no accidental statement by Vitold Fokin or his personal opinion. First of all, that's because such texts, in principle, have no chance of being published without prior approval. Secondly, that's because some weeks prior to this, representatives of the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc – For Live party had become pro-active on the issue of pardoning "participants in the events in the certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions." Viktor Medvedchuk and Renat Kuzmin sent an appeal to Rada Speaker Dmytro Razumkov over the fact that the president hasn't signed the law "On the prevention of prosecution and punishment of participants in the events on the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions," and separately addressed Leonid Kravchuk, apparently appealing to their rather lengthy relationship history.
Anti-Ukrainian political forces will again and again touch upon the topic of pardoning militants
That is, these are no accidents. There is a quite intelligible and clearly defined trend here.
Obviously, anti-Ukrainian political forces will again and again touch upon the topic of pardoning militants. And such interviews – like the one with Fokin – are, rather, an unpretentious two-step combination: first, show full readiness for "compromises", and then declare that the will of the Ukrainian society, which doesn't accept such initiatives, has been taken into account, and try to sell people some softer forms of concessions to Russia as the government's "great diplomatic victory and readiness for dialogue."
But in order for such "compromises" never to materialize, Ukraine needs to develop a coherent strategy to bring members of the illegal armed groups to justice. There should be no wider pardon, not to mention "forgiveness". It would be better to thoroughly vet each specific case.
Yes, this implies a huge amount of work.
Yes, people who will investigate these crimes risk their lives and health.
But Ukraine has no other way – that's if the blood shed by our military who have been defending us all these six years still means anything to us.
Maria Kucherenko is a project manager at the Center for Civil Society Studies