Minsk agreements – an attempt to analyze approaches and intentions of the participants of the process

Originally published by hvylya.net, translated by UaPosition

Today’s publication of  “Maidan of Foreign Affairs” of the results of the poll on attitudes Ukrainian to Minsk agreements and de-occupation of Crimea coincides with diplomatic curiosity – Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State, which in these days was in Kyiv, had to explain that her words during the meeting in the Ukrainian Parliament were quite not correctly perceived, and the United States had no wishes or plans on the date of the elections in the Donbas region, and the elections can be held only by Ukrainian laws in accordance with the standards and under the control of the OSCE after the implementation of those items of the Minsk agreements that were intended to ensure sustainable truce and security.

See also: Nuland – special status for Donbas, militant amnesty, election on territory controlled by Russia

After such a comprehensive explanation remains only one question: what the point was to fly to Ukraine to repeat those items that were recorded back in February 2015, in Measures to implement the Minsk agreements that had been “pushed” by the same Victoria Nuland in the Ukrainian Parliament in August last year before the voting in the first reading for amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine on the status of Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, and even despite the fact that nothing since then had changed, and the world slowly realized that the Minsk agreements were not just “bad agreements”, but also not suitable for implementation?

It seems that everything is not so easy as tried to explain Victoria Nuland.

Many are absolutely sincerely surprised by Western position on the Minsk agreements. Why is Ukraine under pressure about the implementation of the political part of Minsk Agreements even though the ceasefire in Donbas has never occurred, and not to mention about returning Ukrainian hostages or the withdrawal of Russian troops?

Let’s try to figure out WHO wants WHAT in the Minsk arrangements, and more specifically in the process of their implementation.

Who – are the main players. No matter how we want to see ourselves and the West countries as members of the one front, but now in the process of settlement of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine are three major players with different approaches, motives and interests – Ukraine, the West and Russia.

Russia’s position

The most obvious and predictable. Which it uses and not without reason accusing the other sides of inconsistency in the “Minsk process” (the fact that Russia is an aggressor and violator of international law first of all, and all the Minsk process is the result of a cynical disregard of international law by Russia, doesn’t particularly upset Russia).

See also: Don’t call it a civil war – Ukraine’s conflict is an act of Russian aggression

Russia from the beginning of the intervention in Ukraine, until recently, owned the initiative in diplomatic peacekeeping negotiation process around the war in the East of Ukraine (now the West and Ukraine here and there are trying to put around Russia red flags, such as the question of the modalities of elections or determination and order of application of amnesties but has not corrected their main mistake – did not change the modality of negotiations and agenda).

Minsk agreements is the Russia’s project, they will quite satisfy it in condition of the full implementation in the form in which they were recorded in February 2015 in the form of a set of Measures for the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

See also: Russian aggression against Ukraine, international law and global security: 25 key theses

The implementation of the Minsk agreements is considered by Russia as an opportunity to create a new (instead of Crimea) Russian de facto autonomy as a part of Ukraine as a perspective mean of a direct impact on domestic and foreign policy of Ukraine.

Not implementation of Minsk agreements doesn’t frighten Russia much as leaves in her hands a strong card in the form of so-called “LNR” (Luganska Narodna Respublika – edit.) and “DNR” (Donetska Narodna Respublika – edit.) as a mechanism of influence on the peace and security of Ukraine, and indirectly, through the constant threat of destabilization, impact on domestic and foreign policy of Ukraine, and possibly Europe in general.

See also: The Logic and Risks Behind Russia’s Statelet Sponsorship – Stratfor

The only unpleasant consequence for Russia in the case of not implementation of Minsk agreements is a continue as a result of this the economic sanctions against it and its diplomatic isolation.

Therefore, Russia is equally actively trying simultaneously to realize several different scenarios that in summery can be reduced to the following:

  • developing the ability of the “DNR” and “LNR” to hold controlled territories in case of breakdown of negotiation process and to keep using these quasi-state formations mechanism of undermine the security and stability of Ukraine, and therefore – Europe too;
  • participation in the Minsk negotiation process in order to guarantee letters of the Minsk agreements as a guarantee of taking control over the region of Donetsk and Luhansk regions after their return under the jurisdiction of Ukraine, which will perform two tasks simultaneously – get the mechanism of legitimization of Russian interests in Ukraine as the new de facto Russian autonomy and achieve the lifting of sanctions;
  • undermining the consolidated position of the EU on sanctions against Russia inside, mobilize in respective countries groups of its own influence and lobbyists.

The West’s position

First of all these are the US and the EU. Although there are some differences in their positions and we’ll tell about them later, but in general we can consider them to be supporters.

After the occupation of Crimea, the West’s position gradually crystallized approximately in the following formula:

  • it is bad and against the rules that we believe to be no alternative,
  • we can not ever accept this fact,
  • but it will not be reason for war or excessive confrontation with Russia;
  • we’ll make certain sanctions to remind constantly that we disagree with this, but these sanctions will not generally interfere the cooperation with Russia, which for us is also important for many reasons.

Part of this position, which is not voiced aloud:

  • after all we do not quite understand the nature and the history and background of this conflict and whether Ukraine did and going to do everything necessary for the maintenance and the return of this territory;
  • do more that Ukraine itself we definitely do not have the desire;
  • that’s why we limit ourselves by demonstration of disagreement with the actions of Russia. The precedent with the Baltic States has already taken place, the annexation of which we had never recognized, but continued to cooperate with the former Soviet Union. Time will tell how to be with this.

See also: “Hybrid warfare” as a key instrument of the Russian revenge geostrategy

The war in Eastern Ukraine because of flagrant mistakes made by the Ukrainian diplomacy and skillful diplomatic game of Russia, and also because of the absence of the own concept of an integrated approach to the security problems, the West could not or didn’t want to continue the theme of the Crimea occupation. That’s why, a separate position was formulated:

  • direct, although in the hybrid form, the military aggression of Russia, attempts by force to achieve political goals and change of borders in Europe is unacceptable,
  • this also is not a reason for the direct military confrontation with Russia (although now it is worth thinking about preparing to this too);
  • Russia’s position is unacceptable in so far that we can’t continue cooperation with it in the usual format;
  • for weakening the possibilities of Russia to continue this and to organize new acts of aggression, and with the intention to force Russia to stop unleashed by it war in Eastern Ukraine we are providing economic sanctions against it;
  • at the same time, Russia is too big and important partner in many questions, so in spite of temporary complications caused by fundamental differences, the general course must be aimed at the normalization of relations with Russia (not so to punish Russia but to correct made by it infringements and errors). Moreover, we can’t fight it down, and even if we can, we wouldn’t be able to cope with the results of our victory. Further aggravation with Russia is also dangerous because of its nuclear and military capabilities.

See also: Putin is not scared of any economic sanctions, his main argument is a nuclear weapon – Marchuk

Then diplomacy of the West and Ukrainian diplomacy make one more dramatic mistake – bring in absolute the Minsk agreements and substitute the concepts, linking economic sanctions against Russia not to cease its military aggression against Ukraine, but to the implementation of the Minsk agreements (though implementation of the Minsk agreements is not identical to suspension Russian armed aggression against Ukraine because these agreements don’t cover the theme of the Crimea occupation, where, in fact, the war began).

But even disregarding the problem of the Crimea, the West can not achieve a complete ceasefire and stabilize the situation and at least visible or partial fulfillment of the Minsk agreements by Russia.

To create the illusion of progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreement about the implementation of political part of agreements without ceasefire and bloodshed.

In summer 2015, the West referring to the need to consolidate its ranks, insisted on the need of Ukraine to demonstrate at least partial progress in implementing of political in the first reading amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine concerning the features of local government in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

At the beginning of 2016, after the formal end of the timing of implementation of the Minsk agreements, the West again tries to apply the same approach – to force Ukraine to carry the political part of the Minsk agreements without a ceasefire.

But the realization of this approach is complicated due to two factors:

  • the President of Ukraine doesn’t have enough political support in Parliament and society. The maximum of his possibilities are intrigues with a questionable from a legal point of view decisions of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, which extend the terms of amendments to the Basic Law of Ukraine endlessly;
  • expert analytical and public opinion are more and more incline to realize the pointlessness of the Minsk process and the impossibility of implementing the Minsk agreements.

An important factor that affects the position of the West is also the absence of confidence that the EU countries have political will and consensus to continue to continue another six-month period of sanctions against Russia.

It should be noted a significant difference in this question between the EU and the US.

The United States have the political will to continue sanctions against Russia. Russia has relatively little possibilities to influence the US decision in this question, and trade with Russia is not practical interest for the United States. At the same time, the United States try in every way to avoid a situation where they will stay in the mode of sanctions against Russia without the support of the EU. This scenario threatens the US, because if European companies want to resume cooperation with Russia, then they will be under the US sanctions, that’s why US trade relations with the EU will suffer, not with Russia. Trade conflicts with European partners, of course, will later have negative political consequences for transatlantic unity.

Also military provocations and preparations of Russia (in particular, the placing on the line Kaliningrad, Belarus, Crimea tactical nuclear weapons against which Europeans are practically defenseless, in response to placement by the US in Europe elements of its missile defense) should push the biggest European countries to distance themselves from the United States in order to reduce the threat from the Russian Federation.

Obviously these two reasons explain the significant intensification of American diplomacy in 2016 in the Minsk process.

In this case, the main interests of the United States in this process is not restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, but the cessation of hostilities in Eastern Ukraine, but most importantly – to preserve transatlantic unity and to avoid engaging in full-scale confrontation with Russia.

For this purpose, the United States are forced to look for recipes that will equally satisfy both Russians and Europeans. Ukraine proposed to focus not on security and possible negative consequences of the implementation of the Minsk agreements, but on reforms and fighting corruption.

Europeans are interested as soon as possible to achieve this state of implementation of the Minsk agreements, which will remove extra tension with Russia. Also, European countries are trying to avoid the shameful situation when they will not be able to continue sanctions without any progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreements that will publicly put under the question the loyalty of their declared principles.

The only possibility for this at present the major EU states see in Ukraine political pedaling implementation of the Minsk agreements while ignoring the lack of progress in ceasefire and de-escalation. The absence of answers on the question of Ukraine’s security the EU also begins to offset by re focusing attention to issues of internal development of Ukraine, reforms and fighting corruption.

However, among the camp of the EU there are states (particularly the Baltic states, Romania and Poland) that more than the main players feel threatened its national security by the Russian Federation, and are trying by virtue of existing opportunities to assist Ukraine. With this, for example, it is necessary to link the appearance of recent PACE resolution, which reaffirming the need for the implementation of the Minsk agreements, offers, meanwhile, very bold, in the interests of Ukraine and unacceptable for the Russian Federation, the interpretation of certain provisions of the Minsk agreements (in particular, it has much broader than Minsk agreement text, interpretation of amnesty).

At the same time, the EU member states that are committed to Ukraine will not be able to affect on the position of the main players in the EU and on their persistent attempts to produce at any price (for Ukraine) modalities of the elections, the formal transfer of control over the border from Russia and others.

Ukraine’s position

Since the beginning of the armed aggression of Russia against Ukraine, our state has made a number of strategic miscalculations and mistakes that define its position today in the Minsk process:

  •  Diplomatic relations with the state-aggressor were not severed. Ukraine has not declared the legal state of war with Russia; this allows Russia to participate fully in the activities of all international organizations and formats, in which there is discussion of the “Ukrainian question”, not as a party to the conflict but as the mediator.
  • To repel military threats the accent has been made not on power means with using diplomacy for defense, but on diplomacy. Ukraine in fact voluntarily limited its right to use force to protect its territory. As a result, Russia is using diplomacy to cover its military successes, and Ukraine (especially to the beginning of 2016) conducts military operations under the direction of diplomacy (the fightings stop, not when it is dictated by the needs of defense and security, and when this claim diplomats ).
  • Incorrectly chosen place for negotiations (Minsk), the participants (absence from the beginning at the negotiating table the US and EU) agenda (focus on the repel of external aggression shifted towards political reform in Ukraine, although this is not the cause of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine ; occupation of Crimea is not part of the agenda of talks).

In the future, Ukraine could not avoid also other problems. In particular:

  • Disadvantageous and unacceptable in general and definitely imposed on Ukraine by Russia Minsk agreements presented as they are without alternative;
  • Western sanctions were not bounded to cease the armed aggression of Russia against Ukraine, but to the implementation of the Minsk agreements;
  • Modality of the Minsk agreements doesn’t take into account the international experience and the procedure for resolving conflicts – from ceasefire to stabilize the security situation and the transition period and institutions to a political settlement (Minsk agreements do not provide for any transitional period, which greatly complicates the beginning of the process of political settlement).

See also: Three instruments of Kremlin against Ukraine

Refusing to break trade and economic relations Ukraine suggests applying the same approach as the EU and the US – not to punish, or even more fight down Russia, but to correct errors and normalize relations with it. This seriously demotivates the partners of Ukraine and its own population in the confrontation with the aggressor.

The consequences of the absence of confidence of the West is how far the military and political leadership of Ukraine is ready to go in the organization of countering to Russian aggressor is, firstly, growing among EU politicians convinced that they, not the Armed Forces of Ukraine or Ukrainian State generally, perform moderating role in prevention of deployment of Russia’s aggression (confidence that they are doing to protect Ukraine more than Ukraine itself and therefore – a sense of superiority and the realization that the economy of their countries pay too high prices) and, secondly, the denial to our state military assistance defensive lethal weapons.

See also: Budapest Memorandum: how Ukraine lost nuclear weapons

Another serious mistake was the inability of Ukraine to clearly put a question about the impossibility of the implementation of the political part of the Minsk agreements (or in general – even out of the negotiation process) as the Minsk agreements lost validity because other parties didn’t fulfill requirements of the ceasefire (in fact by this Ukraine gave reasons other negotiators to conclude the possibility of unilateral implementation of the Minsk agreements by the one side of Ukraine without a cease-fire).

Another mistake was to agree to a unilateral implementation of the Minsk agreement by Ukraine (the beginning of implementation of the political part without progress in security).

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Ukrainian society for the most part not only doesn’t consider the Minsk agreements beneficial for Ukraine (over 58% believe that Ukraine lost as a result of signing these agreements) not only does not believe that the Minsk agreement will lead to the end of the war (66.5 %), not only categorically disagrees with the unilateral implementation of the Minsk agreement by Ukraine (73.5%), but is not ready to trust the Ukrainian authorities to find ways out of the situation and support the idea of a national referendum on the definition of action strategy (58%).

In fact, Ukrainian people give a clear answer to the constant reminder from the West “signed – fulfill.” Ukrainians do not consider these agreements to be signed on their behalf and in their interests.

See also: The appeal of the scientists and intellectuals to the President of Ukraine not to change the Constitution under pressure of foreign states

At the same time, disturbing is the fact that the Ukrainian society formed request to show will, but isn’t formed a clear view that way out of the current crisis is the most appropriate.

In fact, for today there is a dangerous situation when the acceptable to the West, Russia and the political leadership of Ukraine variant of the Minsk agreements is opposed by the part of Ukrainian political class supported by the vast majority of citizens of Ukraine who however don’t have a consolidated action program. This causes doubt in the fact that for Ukraine there is any acceptable way out of the war against Russia.

The failure of the political leadership of Ukraine to find an acceptable and effective way to resolve the crisis in Eastern Ukraine, mistakes, put President Poroshenko and fragile parliamentary coalition and the created by it government at the necessity to oppose the majority of their own people (with other socio-economic problems on the background), or to face the consequences of failure to fulfill Minsk agreements not only from Russia but also from the whole of friendly countries of the West (which also may result in loss of access to resources and economic and political destabilization in Ukraine).

Actually, the time for political maneuvering of the Ukrainian authorities is inexorably running out, and the period to make a decision is and / or steadily approaching and reduced to a few weeks.

In this context, the Ukrainian authorities should immediately seriously analyze the recent Greek experience of a referendum as a way to gain time and to intercept the political initiative simultaneously with partial withdrawal of political responsibility (imposing sanctions on the government or politicians can always be done, but to punish the country and the people for the principled stand of the West is impossible).

Ukraine should reject direct blackmail used by the West when the continuation of sanctions against Russia for committed by it violations of international law and order are linked not with a change in the position of Russia but with the adoption of any legislations by Ukraine within the Minsk process. It is necessary right now to develop a make a line of conduct in case if the EU sanctions against Russia will not be extended without any changes on the Eastern front.

Regarding Russia, we should remember that the only guarantee against the possible effects of RF’s hysterical reaction to the inability to achieve its goals within the Minsk process is the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

See also: Russian command actively prepares for invasion on the coast near Mariupol – Ukraine Intelligence

Also, though not the best, but one of the opportunities to break the deadlock of the Minsk agreements and buy time for Ukraine could be a decision on holding snap elections at the same time presidential and to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Because the Ukrainian politics yet don’t know how to sacrifice their interests for the sake of Ukrainian state.

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Bohdan Yaremenko

Former diplomat, foreign policy expert, Chairman of the Board of the Maidan of Foreign Affairs

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