The Minsk agreements are deeply flawed and open to wildly different interpretations, which has been capitalised on by Russia. It is important to reiterate exactly what they mean.
There are two Minsk agreements, not just one.
The first “Minsk Protocol” was signed on September 5, 2014. It mainly consisted of a commitment to an immediate ceasefire along the existing line of contact – which Russia never respected. The second Minsk Agreement (Minsk ll) was signed on February 12, 2015. Even after this agreement, Russian-led forces kept fighting and took the town of Debaltseve six days later.
Russia is a party to the Minsk agreements.
The original Minsk signatories are Russia, Ukraine and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with mediation by the leaders of France and Germany in the so-called Normandy format. Russia is a protagonist in the war in Ukraine and is fully obliged to follow the deal’s terms. Despite that, however, Russia untruthfully claims not to be a party and only a facilitator. Russia claims that the real agreements are between Ukraine and the so-called “separatists,” who call themselves the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (LPR and DPR), but are in fact Russian-led, staffed by Russian regular officers, and controlled and supplied by Moscow.
The LPR and DPR are not recognized as legitimate entities under the Minsk agreements.
The signatures of the leaders of the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples’ Republics were added after they had already been signed by Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE. Indeed Ukraine would not have signed had their signatures been part of the deal. Russia alone controls the forces occupying parts of eastern Ukraine ((i.e. there are no “separatists” or “rebels”, and there is no “civil war”).
Russia is in violation of the Minsk agreements.
The deals require several actions. Russia has done none of them i.e.:
- a ceasefire – barely respected by the Russian side for more than a few days;
- withdrawal of foreign military forces – Russian regular military officers, intelligence operatives and unmarked “little green men” remain woven into the military forces in eastern Ukraine;
- disbanding of illegal armed groups – the so-called LPR and DPR forces are by any definition “illegal armed groups; and
- returning control of the Ukrainian side of the international border with Russia to Ukraine, all of this under OSCE supervision.
Russian-led forces prevent the OSCE from accomplishing its mission in Donbas as spelled out in the Minsk Agreements.
Currently approximately 80% of violations and restrictions come from the Russian-controlled side of the border, and those that occur on the Ukrainian side are largely for safety reasons (e.g., avoiding mined approaches to bridges.)
The US diplomatic role is essential.
Germany and France lead the Normandy Format, which brings Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table under their leadership. In this format, however, Germany and France treat Russia and Ukraine as bearing equal responsibility for the conflict, even though Russian forces are occupying and fighting inside Ukraine, and Ukraine is acting in self-defence.
This is why the U.S. diplomatic role in Ukraine negotiations is so important. Only the U.S. has the military, political and economic weight to publicly shine a light on and condemn Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. Germany and France will not do it.
Why does Putin want to use Minsk ll as a basis of further negotiations?
As noted by the Economist, Putin is invoking Minsk ll to sow chaos, not bring peace.
Minsk ll was hastily drafted and contained contradictory provisions and a convoluted series of actions. Provisions relating to “special status” for the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk, local elections, the right to form local militia units and “decentralisation” reforms to the Ukrainian constitution were vague and subject to different interpretation and implementation.
If implemented according to Putin’s interpretation, they would destroy Ukraine as a sovereign country. As critics of Minsk II in and outside Ukraine have pointed out, Russia would be able to destabilise or paralyse the country at any time of its choosing.
If implemented according to Ukraine’s interpretation, they would be unlikely to satisfy Russia’s ambitions. The agreements would not de-escalate tensions and would create instability in the long run.
What needs to happen to secure a just outcome?
The West must not allow Russia to subordinate its neighbour. The West must do two things simultaneously:
- use the resources of diplomacy to obtain a peace that strengthens, rather than jeopardises, Ukraine’s sovereignty; and
- emphasise the costs in the form of sanctions and diplomatic isolation that it will impose, should Russia continue to seek to put Ukraine under Russian control or create chaos.