Russia Direct asked experts in both Russia and the U.S. to assess the outcomes of the ‘last chance’ Ukraine peace talks in Minsk. Stopping the bloodshed, they say, is an important first step to bringing lasting peace to the region.
From the left: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko arrive to pose for a photo during a time-break in their peace talks in Minsk, Belarus, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. Photo: AP
When the Ukraine peace talks concluded in Minsk on Thursday Feb. 12, the Trilateral Contact Group had agreed on a comprehensive cease-fire in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions starting at midnight Kiev time on Feb. 15.
Apart from the cease-fire, the parties agreed to the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the contact line existing today by the Ukrainian army and from the line set in the Minsk agreements of Sept. 19, 2014 by the Donbas opposition forces. The enforcement of the Minsk agreements also envisions constitutional reform in Ukraine, which must take into account the legitimate rights of Donbas residents.
In light of the current developments in Ukraine, with 10 civilians killed by rockets and further clashes on the eve of the talks, these agreements bring some hope of finally bringing an end to the continuing conflict that not only destabilized the security of the region but also had a substantial impact on the broader geopolitical environment by forcing Russia and the West into a confrontation.
Indeed, there were many, including the Foreign Minister of France Laurent Fabius, who considered the talks to be the last chance to keep the conflict from descending into further bloodshed.
“It is really a last chance negotiation,” Fabius told French radio. “There are a number of problems which remain to be resolved.”
With the declaration approved by all parties, will the situation in Ukraine finally change? Did the “Normandy Four” find a solution at last, after pushing Russia to alter its stance on Ukraine under threat of new sanctions?
Russia Direct reached out to Russian and international analysts to share their opinions on this and determine whether or not we should treat the outcomes of the Minsk talks positively.
Nikolay Pakhomov, expert at the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, New York
First and foremost, I would not speak of ‘last chances’ here. When so many people in Ukraine have been displaced and killed by the civil war, diplomacy offers the only solution. That’s why there is never a ‘last chance’ for resolving the crisis – the work must be continued in any case.
Unfortunately, today diplomacy is not as successful as it should be. While self-styled “experts” and journalists chasing ratings often escalate the situation, some policymakers saber-rattle and talk about the war as if it were a game of pool or checkers...The current agreements showed that diplomatic efforts are not at all hopeless.
It seems that we should treat the results of the Minsk talks with a cautious optimism – soon enough, it will be clear whether they will work. The least that we can expect is a military de-escalation. Stopping the bloodshed will be already a breakthrough.
When speaking about long-term conflict-resolution, there are still more questions than answers. The majority of these questions one way or another depends upon the eagerness of Kiev to bring the agreements into action by carrying out the constitutional reform and making other steps to ensure peace.
It’s worth noting that the leading European powers – Russia, Germany and France – demonstrated their ability to realize their responsibility for peace in the European region by making concrete diplomatic steps. Of course, not everything depends on them, but Moscow, Berlin and Paris not only acknowledge their responsibility, but are willing to act to save lives and ensure the security of Europe.
James Carden, contributing editor and columnist, The National Interest magazine, former advisor to the U.S.-Russia Presidential Commission at the U.S. State Department
The result could have been worse in that there could have been no agreement at all. So it seems to me that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has it exactly right when she said: “There is still very, very much work to be done. But there is a real chance to change things for the better.”
If (and this is a big 'if') successfully implemented, the new cease-fire agreement may make things better for the inhabitants of the Donbas but the underlying issue that started the whole mess remains unaddressed: Ukraine's non-bloc status.
It seems to me that in order for a meaningful and lasting settlement to be reached, the West will – and soon – have to agree in no uncertain terms that Ukraine will not now or ever become a member of the North Atlantic alliance (or even a 'major non-NATO ally' like Australia or Israel).
But having said that, any deal that helps stop the bloodshed is, at this point, one worth applauding.
Mikhail Troitskiy, political analyst in Moscow
I do not think that the Minsk talks were the last chance to solve the conflict. Negotiations will continue at any stage in escalation – this is what we see in many other conflicts across the globe. But if the sides fail to implement the cease-fire – which will strangely not take effect until Saturday (Feb. 14) – or if there is no clear prospect of a political solution some time into the cease-fire, we are going to face a major escalation.
Most likely, new sanctions against Russia will be introduced, support for the Ukrainian military – whether in the form of lethal weapons or other supplies – will be stepped up, and Moscow's rhetoric vis-à-vis the West, and particularly the United States, will become harsher. At some point down that road, continuing the conflict will become too costly for all the involved sides, and then a final agreement will follow. Although, hopefully, a new round of escalation can be avoided, the conflict might at this stage not be ripe for resolution.
Dmitry Polikanov, vice president of the Moscow-based PIR Center and Chairman of Trialogue International Club
Even though all the parties tried to present the Minsk negotiations as the last chance for peace, it was not. Before the talks, the situation had reached an impasse, when everyone was seeking a military victory, but the forces were in balance (with a slight gain on the part of the rebels).
The major achievement is the formal approval of Russia’s position. Moscow is now an official mediator along with the EU (which can no longer take a “sit-on-the-fence” position) and cannot be blamed for being a party of the conflict.
It will be difficult for Europe now to avoid providing financial aid to the reconstruction of the ruined economy in the southeast of Ukraine. Russia has managed to prove officially all its previous positions, including those related to the non-recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk and the need to stop fire and to keep forces along the compromise lines (thus equalizing all the benefits of the recent rebels’ offensive and indicating that its major aim was not aggression but prevention of shelling).
Among others are the decentralization of power in Ukraine, including cultural and language autonomy, and withdrawal of all foreign mercenaries. Hence, most of the things that were claimed by Moscow since 2013 are now put on paper and backed by the European leaders.
Moreover, Russia breached Western isolation and is becoming a partner for talks again, not a victim of arrogant neglect and edification. The issue of Crimea is being postponed, as the agenda focuses on the implementation of the agreement. At the same time, the parties may attach different meaning to the commitment to the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine.
The most difficult part now will be to ensure the implementation of the agreement. And not only on the battlefield, but also in the field of politics – President Poroshenko may cede to the pressure of the hawks in his own team and in the parliament.