With the continuation of the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine, it appears that unfortunately negotiations are no longer the bright prospect they once were. On February 12, 2019, the UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas Miroslav Jenca described the proceedings as “appear[ing] to have lost momentum.”
With neither side willing to accede to the other, there is no clear path forward for Ukraine and Russia.
The conflict, which shocked the international community, began in 2014 around the same time as the Russian annexation of Crimea. More than 10,000 people have been killed and over 1 million have been displaced over the past five years. Despite these high numbers, however, little progress towards achieving peace has been made.
In early 2014 at the beginning of the crisis, a peace deal was reached between Ukraine, Russia and the separatists, known as Minsk I. However, this quickly broke down by January 2015, causing foreign powers to step in. Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande entered into negotiations, creating the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements,” informally known as Minsk II.
Minsk II: The 13 Point Plan for Peace
Minsk II was meant to resolve the conflict in the most comprehensive way possible. Hence, the plan has thirteen separate points. It begins with the most obvious step of having both sides agree to a ceasefire and withdrawing heavy weaponry from the front lines, supervised by the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Following that, the plan suggested a prisoner exchange, respect for local elections, amnesty for all combatants as well as humanitarian aid with the ultimate goal of reintegrating separatist held territories into Ukraine. In return, Ukraine agreed to pass decentralization laws, which would then prompt any foreign powers (i.e. Russia) to leave Ukraine.
However, while Minsk II seems straight forward – there is little to no understanding of how it will be implemented. According to Ukraine, without a ceasefire, no other parts of the accords can be settled. Whereas according to Russia, nothing is possible without Ukraine’s political reform. This does not fare well with the domestic Ukrainian audience, who see any negotiation with Russia as betrayal. In fact, as the Ukrainian presidential election approaches, none of the pro-Western Ukrainian candidates even support Minsk II.
While comprehensive, Minsk II is more symbolic than feasible.
Looking forward, Minsk does not offer much in the way of hope. It is perceived as a poorly made agreement that Ukraine has no motivation to implement. Moreover, as Ukraine knows that it cannot win militarily, and also does not wish to recognize the two separatist regions – any future resolutions are few and far between.
New options appear to only come up in the wake of further escalation, as the Normandy talks arose out of the conflict in the Kerch Strait. These talks brought together Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia to further deescalate the conflict. However, they are currently on hold until after the Ukrainian March 31, 2019 presidential election.
- Both Ukraine and Russia are unlikely to back off from the conflict in eastern Ukraine as it is in neither of their interests to do so. This is despite multiple attempts to move towards peace arrangements.
- However, any kind of peace agreement that would reintegrate Donetsk and Luhansk back into Ukraine would face problems. Nationalists see these two regions as trojan horses meant to undermine the integrity of Ukraine while others see the required decentralization measures of Minsk II as fundamentally challenging to Ukraine’s sovereignty.
- Despite this lack of movement forward, there also appears to be little room for escalation. Neither Russia nor Ukraine want further military conflict. Russia has nothing to gain from a failed state on its border and Ukraine has neither the military might nor the money to wage a successful war against Russia.
- The future Ukrainian peace proceedings will likely only pay lip service to Minsk II and seek to find new strategies of keeping the frozen conflict ‘frozen’. This leaves both Donetsk and Luhansk to join the other three Russian protectorates within Europe: Transnistria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
About The AUTHOR
Gabriella Gricius is a Senior Research Associate at the Public International Law & Policy Group in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Her research focuses on conflict and war in Eastern Europe and Russia, patronage and corruption studies as well as transnational post-conflict law. She is a Staff Writer for Global Security Review and has published with the Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, and Foreign Policy as well as various other publications.