The Minsk agreement between Ukraine and Russia is a problematic peace plan

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Months of intensive diplomacy from the United States and Europe have made little progress in defusing tensions, as Moscow has amassed more than 100,000 troops around Ukraine’s borders. The Minsk Agreement, reached in 2015 in the Belarusian capital, is one of the potential incitements to the crisis that has been invoked by all parties involved. The agreement was intended to provide a roadmap to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russian armed forces and proxy groups have been waging war against the Ukrainian military since 2014.

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council convened a meeting to discuss the implementation of the agreement. “These agreements, which were negotiated in 2014 and 2015 and signed by Russia, remain the basis of the peace process to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. his remarks to the board.

Russian, Ukrainian and European officials have also reiterated their support for the deal in recent weeks. “Everyone confirmed today that we have the Minsk agreements. They must be fulfilled,” Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said last week after several hours of talks by the diplomatic grouping in the Normandy format with Russia, France and Germany failed. to get things done.

Months of intensive diplomacy from the United States and Europe have made little progress in defusing tensions, as Moscow has amassed more than 100,000 troops around Ukraine’s borders. The Minsk Agreement, reached in 2015 in the Belarusian capital, is one of the potential incitements to the crisis that has been invoked by all parties involved. The agreement was intended to provide a roadmap to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russian armed forces and proxy groups have been waging war against the Ukrainian military since 2014.

On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council convened a meeting to discuss the implementation of the agreement. “These agreements, which were negotiated in 2014 and 2015 and signed by Russia, remain the basis of the peace process to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. his remarks to the board.

Russian, Ukrainian and European officials have also reiterated their support for the deal in recent weeks. “Everyone confirmed today that we have the Minsk agreements. They must be fulfilled,” Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said last week after several hours of talks by the diplomatic grouping in the Normandy format with Russia, France and Germany failed. to get things done.

While all parties to the negotiations agree, in theory at least, that the implementation of the Minsk agreement offers the best prospects for peace, the agreement is considered to be highly problematic and deep differences in interpretation between Moscow and Kiev have made its implementation impossible. Why then are diplomats clinging to the deal, and what does it really entail?

What is the Minsk II agreement?

The Minsk II agreement, so called because it replaced a previous failed attempt at a peace plan, was concocted by negotiators from Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, and signed on February 12, 2015. .

Ukraine agreed to the deal, as it was over a barrel after months of fierce fighting. “The Ukrainian military was largely decimated on the battlefield,” said Kurt Volker, who served as US special envoy to Ukraine during the Trump administration.

At the time of the talks, Ukrainian armed forces in the strategic town of Debaltseve were surrounded by separatist rebels and Russian armed forces who proceeded to capture the town days after the agreement was signed.

The agreement includes 13 measures aimed at ending the conflict and restoring Ukrainian sovereignty over the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, while providing for greater autonomy in the breakaway regions and possibly allowing greater local decision-making on certain issues. A central disagreement between Moscow and Kyiv concerns the order in which these things should happen.

What’s in the deal?

Seven years after the agreement was signed, the end of the war in Ukraine’s Donbass region is far from over, and Moscow’s troop build-up has deeply alarmed Ukrainian and Western officials that the conflict could be on the way. point of getting worse. The deal ended the fiercest phase of the fighting, but violations of the ceasefire, monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), number in the hundreds of thousands every year , and civilians and Ukrainian troops continue to be killed. On Thursday, Donbass separatists and the Ukrainian government accused each other of shooting across the frontline, while Russian-backed separatists bombed a kindergarten in the Ukrainian-held village of Stanytsia Luhanska, which was teeming with children at the time of the attack, and have hurt at least three adults.

Points one and two of the agreement call for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons, both of which are to be monitored by the OSCE. The rest of the agreement provides for the holding of local elections in the secessionist territories, an amnesty, prisoner exchanges, the distribution of humanitarian aid, the reintegration of the separatist regions into the Ukrainian financial and tax system, the return of control borders to Ukraine, the withdrawal of foreign fighters and constitutional reform in Ukraine to allow for greater regional autonomy.

On paper, the agreement paves the way for ending the war and restoring Ukrainian sovereignty over the Donbass region, while giving a greater degree of political decision-making to the region. In practice, not a single point of the agreement has been fully implemented.

Why didn’t it work?

While Russia’s role in arming separatist rebels and sending ground forces to support the fighting has been widely documented by Western governments and investigative journalists, Moscow continues to deny its involvement in the conflict. “The first thing is that Russia refuses to recognize that it is a party to the Minsk agreements and that it has obligations under the Minsk agreements, which it has never fulfilled,” Volker said. Despite being a signatory to the deal, Moscow insists it is up to the Ukrainian government and eastern separatist leaders to resolve the standoff.

The agreement also does not include indications on the order in which the 13 points it contains must be executed. Moscow has insisted that local elections be held in breakaway regions first and that the so-called people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk be granted political autonomy. Ukrainian officials fear this will strengthen Moscow’s influence in the region, undermine the country’s sovereignty and soften its aspirations to join NATO or the European Union. Moscow followed a similar pattern in Georgia, where it sent troops to the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and recognized their independence.

Ukraine insists on regaining full control of its borders and for foreign fighters to withdraw before elections are held in the Donbass. Any move by Kyiv to devolve power to breakaway regions at this stage would likely be deeply unpopular and seen as a capitulation to Moscow. In 2015, three law enforcement officers were killed in the capital when violent unrest erupted over a bill that granted greater autonomy to the region.

Such troubles would only benefit Moscow. “Russia’s real objective is to use these protests to destabilize Ukraine from within, to stage attacks on the command and control system of government and the military using attackers disguised as protesters and assassinate senior officials,” said Oleksandr Danylyuk, a former special adviser to the leader. of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine, wrote in Politics earlier this month. “Such chaos would disorganize the Ukrainian Armed Forces and justify its military invasion of Ukraine under the guise of restoring order.”

If they are so difficult, why have the agreements not been abandoned?

In short, because there are few other viable options for a path to peace. “Everyone continues to cling to the Minsk agreements because at least they say, with Russia’s signature attached, that they respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. So no one wants to give it up,” Volker said.

Despite the agreement’s flaws, Ukraine has passed legislation to lay the groundwork for implementing its obligations under the Minsk agreement. US officials continue to see it as the best way forward and have urged Moscow to fulfill its obligations under the deal. “I think if you look back at the requirements set out in the Minsk agreements, three agreements over several months, it’s fair to say that Ukraine has sought to move forward on most if not all of between them, while Russia has honored virtually none of its obligations under Minsk,” Blinken said. noted earlier this month.

Andrii Zagorodniuk, Ukraine’s former defense minister, said he considered statements by Russian officials, urging the United States to pressure Ukraine to implement the Minsk agreement, so that it becomes part of a Russian disinformation game. “It creates the false assumption that whatever has been agreed before is not delivered by Ukraine,” he said. “It just shifts the blame from Russia for starting all of this to Ukraine. And that’s exactly what they want to do.

Will Russia recognize the independence of the breakaway regions?

On Tuesday, Russia’s parliament voted to urge Putin to recognize the independence of Ukraine’s two breakaway regions, the so-called people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. Asked about the measure during his press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Putin recalled that the implementation of the Minsk agreement was the best way forward to resolve the conflict in Donbass, but he did not not rule out recognizing the territories as independent countries. This would probably mean the end of the Minsk agreement.


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