Two Years since Minsk 2: Who Wins with “No Peace, No War”?

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February 13, 2017 – 

Rostislav Ishchenko, RIA Analytics – translated, sub-titles edited by J. Arnoldski – 

Two years ago on February 11th-12th 2015 at a meeting in Minsk, the leaders of the states of the so-called Normandy Four signed a document entitled “Set of Measures for Fulfilling the Minsk Agreements” which soon acquired the nickname “Minsk 2”. Since then, Minsk 2 has been all but buried – yet it is still in force to this day. Only Kiev has loudly expressed its desire to actually cancel the agreement, but Minsk 2 has a good chance of outliving the Ukrainian state. 

Why is the stability of the agreements negatively (or suspiciously) perceived by a greater part of active society not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia and the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics? How is the contradiction solved when an unpopular agreement turns out to be more stable than some states? 

Who agreed with whom and on what? 

Let’s turn our attention to the original format of the preparation and signing of Minsk 2. The text of the document was agreed upon during a meeting of the Normandy Four – Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine. Yet it was signed by representatives of Ukraine and the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. Moreover, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko also took part in deliberations on the text even though he himself would not sign it – for Ukraine does not officially recognize the existence of the DPR/LPR and does not hold negotiations with them. 

In other words, the agreements were signed by some states but are supposed to be fulfilled by others. Meanwhile, one of the parties of the agreement (Ukraine) does not recognize the other (DPR/LPR) as a participant in the negotiation process.

Russia, France, and Germany have been the guarantors of the agreements’ realization, the aim of which has been declared to be de-escalating the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The guarantor countries, as well as the DPR and LPR, believe that the conflict is a civil war. Yet Ukraine’s official positions, meanwhile, is that the conflict is provoked by “Russian aggression.”

As we can see, already at the stage of agreeing to and signing the document, the positions of the involved parties diverged on several key issues: (1) the qualification of the nature of the conflict, the (2) defining its direct participants, and (3) the aims of settling the conflict. 

Two other Minsk’s…

Yet this is not the only Minsk format for settling conflicts in the post-Soviet space with Russia’s participation. The most famous, but not the only ones, include the Minsk format agreements on Transnistria and Karabakh.

In both of these cases, a long-term ceasefire and transition of the conflict from an armed to a political form were achieved – despite the fact that the contact line in Karabakh faces the occasional aggravation and the parties regularly threaten each other with weapons; despite the fact that in Chisinau there is periodical talk about the  military option of regaining Transnistria and the periodical arrangement of economic and transport blockades; and despite the fact that the positions of negotiating parties practically do not show any trend towards rapprochement; and  despite the fact that no exit from political and diplomatic impasse is evident in the foreseeable future. 

The degree of intensity of confrontation in Karabkah and Transnistria does not at all compare to what is happening in Donbass, where the Minsk Agreements have not been able to halt combat operations. Fighting has continued in the form of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ terroristic shelling of Donbass cities and periodic clashes between infantry units on the contact line.

This dramatic difference is due precisely to the fact that in the Karabakh and Transnistria cases, the  direct participants in the process recognized each other as sides of the conflict and held negotiations, albeit with aids, nevertheless directly with one another. The futility of a military solutions was recognized by both sides of the conflict, each of who had no illusions about whom it was fighting.

Relieving EU-Russia tension

In the case of the Minsk Agreements for settling the conflict in Ukraine, the positions of Moscow, Paris, and Berlin boil down to the need for Ukraine to discuss peace directly with the insurgent people of Donbass. Yet Kiev believes that Russia must stop supporting the people’s republics and return control over the border between Russia and the DPR/LPR so that Ukraine could then quickly “resolve the issue” by military means. In other ones, Ukraine originally considered Minsk 2 to be a political-diplomatic guarantee of a military solution to the conflict.

Clearly, in such a situation, there could not have been any stable resolution on the basis of the Minsk terms, and any kind of long-term ceasefire became an unattainable dream. If everything had depended on Ukraine, then the Minsk Agreements would have long been scrapped long ago.

But the point is that the Minsk Agreements were not concluded between Kiev and Donetsk and Lugansk, but were dictated to them by Moscow, Berlin, and Paris. These three guarantor countries based their actions on the need to find a compromise between themselves first and foremost, i.e., relieve the tension between Russia and the EU.

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This succeeded overall. In 2015 in Minsk, the EU and Russia concluded a truce on the Ukrainian front and began to develop a common position on the format for the future resolution of the conflict. 

Because of the profound contradictions first and foremost on the issue of who should pay for the restoration of the Ukrainian economy – the essential basis of any statehood – Paris, Berlin, and Moscow were limited to political-diplomatic maneuvering in anticipation of changes in the general geopolitical situation and changes in the balance of forces in the Ukrainian civil war. 

Russia wins the “external front” 

I’ve repeatedly said and written that victory in the Ukrainian crisis will be claimed by he who wins in Syria. The Syrian crisis is the reference point of global confrontation. Control over Syria ensures control over the Middle East. Consequently, the global strategic situation changes drastically in favor of the winner in Syria.

The Ukrainian situation will become a meaningless burden for the loser in Syria, a kind of black hole devouring scarce resources with no returns. Thus arises the need to escape it without further or at least minimal losses. 

It is precisely this retreat that Europe and the US are now busy with. It is even very likely that the Trump Administration will try to bargain the terms of its final drop-out from playing an active role in the Ukrainian party and will simply try to minimize its repeutational and material losses that have already been incurred by the US’ participation in the Ukrainian crisis.

Thus, the external contour of the Ukrainian crisis has been won by Russia over the past two years of the Minsk Agreements. Similarly, the internal contour is practically won. The Minsk Agreements were entirely consciously written in such a way so that any attempt to implement them would lead to conflict between the oligarchical government in Kiev and its armed Nazi support. The longer and more actively that Kiev tries to maneuver in the international arena, the stronger these maneuvers stimulate internal political contradictions.

As the confrontation between the oligarchic Ukrainian government and the Nazi driving force of the February 2014 coup is given overlapped by gradually growing oligarchic contradictions caused by the depletion of the resources of the Ukrainian state, then the domestic political conflict in Kiev will become insoluble within the oligarchic-Nazi compromise. 

Then all that remains is waiting for the moment when the contradictions accumulated in Ukrainian domestic politics will blow up the boiler of virtual stability.

Ukraine – just a detail

Let us draw attention to another important detail of the Minsk process. The situation has unfolded in such a way that changes in the foreign policy interests of Ukraine’s European and American allies have had a negative impact on Ukrainian domestic politics by weakening the position of the central government. At the same time, the progressing political paralysis of the Kiev center has narrowed Ukraine’s allies’ space for domestic political maneuvering. 

As a result, at the end of January 2017, all the great powers involved in settling the Ukrainian crisis reached a common position on implementing the Minsk Agreements: they should be executed as prescribed. Kiev’s desire to first regain border control will not be satisfied by anyone, and Ukraine will bear responsibility for violating all the schedules of the agreements. And there will be no Minsk 3 under any circumstances.

This is the common position of Russia, the EU, and the US. Kept by the players with only tactical differences, it leaves Kiev no hope. Poroshenko has finally lost the ability to use foreign policy and military factors for stabilizing his regime.

Moreover, any regime that comes to power after Poroshenko – if it will try to position itself as an all-Ukrainian government – will have to swear allegiance to the Minsk Agreements. Final rejection of the agreements could happen only when Ukraine disappears. In such a case, the absence of one of the subjects of the negotiation process would allow for a radical change of the situation of the Ukrainian crisis and the development of a new international mechanism for containment and settlement. 

In this variant, Russia would occupy the most advantageous position after having been able to not only maintain, but strengthen the DPR and LPR against the backdrop of a Ukraine disintegrating despite the support of the collective West. 

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Thus, on the second anniversary of the universally unloved Minsk Agreements, the straightforward question of “When will Minsk end?” has become “When will Ukraine end?” 

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