THE NEWEST AGREEMENT IN MINSK: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?
"A ceasefire to end weeks of intense fighting in eastern Ukraine has been agreed after all-night talks between the leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, told reporters on Thursday morning in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, that after 16 hours of talks, representatives of Ukraine and separatist rebels had signed a package of measures to implement a failed ceasefire agreement reached last September. The new ceasefire is to take effect from Saturday at midnight and was agreed by Mr Putin, Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and François , the French president. “Ceasefire from 00.00 hours 15th February, then withdrawal of heavy weapons. In this lies hope,” tweeted a spokesperson for Ms Merkel, who was the driving force behind negotiations that Mr Hollande had described as a “last chance” to halt the spiralling violence in a conflict that has so far killed more than 5,300. “It was not easy, and de facto all sorts of unacceptable conditions were put forth to us,” Mr Poroshenko said. “But we did not go along with ultimatums.” Mr Poroshenko said Ukraine rejected a push to grant separatist regions autonomy, contending that agreements signed on Thursday envision full reintegration though with greater regional governing authority, after local elections his year. Mr Putin listed plans for a political settlement that would deal with border and humanitarian issues. But he did not clarify whether or how the sides had resolved their disagreements over Kiev’s demands that it regain control over its border with Russia — one of the thorniest issues in the talks. As he arrived in Brussels for an EU summit on Thursday the French president told reporters: “An agreement has been secured, but at the same time everything can go in either direction, and the next hours will be decisive. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, cautioned “for some people this will not be enough”. He added: “We too would have wished for more. However this was what the presidents of Ukraine and Russia could, this night, agree on."Kathrin Hille, Roman Olearchyk, Anne-Sylvaine Chassany and John Aglionby, "Leaders agree Ukraine ceasefire after all-night talks". The Financial Times. 12 February 2015 in www.ft.com.
"Ultimately, the prospects for peace in the region may depend on how strong Putin’s hold on the rebels is. It hasn’t always been as strong as it might appear on the surface – they ignored his plea not to hold a referendum on independence in 2014, for example, and their determination to have their own state has strengthened since then. Putin’s public position has never been identical to that of the separatists – he has consistently said he supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but wants constitutional reforms that will guarantee the rights of Russians living in the south and east of the country. That is what the Minsk agreement provides for – and the west must put pressure on Kiev to deliver quickly on that promise. The west also needs to hold Putin to his words, and to the position he has signed up to. He must not be allowed to pretend that he can’t control the rebels – he can, after all, easily turn off the supply of weapons to them. But realistically he is unlikely to do that if he fears that Ukraine, backed by the west, is preparing to resume its military offensive against them. Putin needs to be encouraged to drop his military support for the rebels rather than feeling compelled to continue it in the face of a western-armed Ukrainian offensive. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the US will reconsider its plans to send a battalion of troops to Ukraine next month to start training Ukrainian forces. The situation is far too fragile, and the stakes are too high, for such easily misinterpreted moves. The same goes for any thoughts about sending arms, even defensive ones, to Kiev."This is a make-or-break moment for Ukraine Angus Roxburgh, "This is a make-or-break moment for Ukraine". The Guardian. 12 February 2015, in www.theguardian.com. The agreement cobbled together in Minsk ('Minsk II' to differentiate it from the agreement in Minsk last September), is a classical example of an agreement derived for the sake of agreement. What has been arrived at in Minsk II does not differ in any substantive sense from Minsk I. Except that the rebels have in the interim received stupendous amounts of Russian equipment and (more importantly), Russian regular army troops and special forces. The inevitable result was of course the upsurge in fighting as the rebels have endeavored, with some success in recent weeks to expand the territory that they control. Why the agreement then? Well for Putin, et. al., the agreement: a) solidifies both the recent rebel gains and indeed gives legitimacy to both Russian policy and the rebels claims on their territory. In the sense of course that possession is 9/10th of the law. As the examples of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria have already demonstrated, once rebels with Russian support gain control of a particular territory, the internationally recognized sovereign will have a great deal of difficulty reversing the situation. In addition to halting for now, the likelihood of the Americans and some of their NATO allies supplying arms and equipment to Kyiv; b) for Poroshenko, the agreement was obviously arrived at only due to the fact that that: i) he still hopes that Putin can be pressured to reverse course and allow the now 'frozen' situation to become 'unfrozen' and for Kyiv to regain de facto sovereignty and control of the breakaway portions of Ukraine. How realistic that hope is at this point is another matter (I myself doubt it very much). Additionally, Poroshenko hopes that by agreeing one last time to a modus vivendi negotiated under the eyes of the leaders of the EU, Merkel & Holland, that Moskva's failure to abide by said agreement, will finally open Berlin's and Paris' eyes to the true nature of Russian policy. Finally, by endeavoring to cleave to the appearance of moderation and peacefulness, Poroshenko hopes to bring nearer the day when Kyiv will start to receive arms from the West. Something which one does indeed hope will be true in the very near future; c) for Merkel & Holland, well besides meriting the characterisation of 'pitiful' and 'pathetic' there is not much more to say. Both (especially Frau Merkel) are intelligent enough to realise what Putin ultimate game consists of, one can only attribute their (almost) going cap in hand to Minsk, to Putin that is and agreeing to this travesty of an agreement, to nothing more than the general political bankruptcy of Europe. The continent which at the beginning of the twentieth century, id. est., almost exactly one-hundred years ago still dominated the world, is exhausted and has all the staying power and energy of a eunuch. This is perhaps a horrible thing to say and to admit, but one is perplexed beyond no end to explain the almost non-action of the European powers in this conflict. For which the all too predictable comments in the ultra bien-pensant Guardian provide the very best evidence (how anyone could possibly accept Putin's claims that the 'Russian population' in Ukraine are threatened defies belief if not in fact ones sanity). However, as long as the Americans have some strength of will, something which one can still call 'the Western powers' can still be said to exist. And in view of this fact, which is vitally important as per the issue of retaining the sanctions regime against Putin and his regime, the words of the political analyst John Lough for the Royal Institute of International Affairs ring profoundly true:
"Western leaders...must also avoid presenting a ceasefire as a ‘solution’ to the conflict. The West’s message to the Russian elite should be simple: you will not succeed in creating new international rules by breaking the old ones. Russia has been down this road before and it ended badly. But there is a chance to redefine your goals before it is too late. Putin on his own may not be for turning. Yet faced with Western resolve to defeat his broader policies, parts of the elite, at least, are likely to think twice about where he is leading them". 11. John Lough, "Debate Over Arms for Ukraine Must Not Split West". The Royal institute of International Affairs. 10 February 2015. www.chathamhouse.org