13 February 2015
At the end of meeting in the Belarusian capital, Presidents Putin, Poroshenko, Hollande and Chancellor Merkel issued the “Declaration of Minsk in Support of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”. They reiterated their belief that there is no alternative to a peaceful solution.In spite of the mounting death toll this good to hear.
The situation on the ground favors the rebels. This is never going to change because Russia is right there, the US far away and Europe in the middle, trying to avoid further and costly trouble.
I tried to follow the news. The four leaders were tired and stressed out after seventeen hours of talks, Chancellor Merkel understandably more than others. The one to show the few half-smiles of this last Minsk episode was President Putin. Since Russia is a global power as he claims, may be it is now time for him to put an end to the Ukraine conflict and start looking beyond Donetsk and Luhanks to other troubles spots some of which pose greater threats to Russia’s security and well-being such as ISIS violence spreading like bushfire.
The Declaration by the four leaders says that improved cooperation between the EU, Ukraine and Russia will be conducive to crisis management and that they agree to take up energy and gas issues to this end. The Declaration also refers to their support for trilateral talks to address Russian concerns regarding the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement. These commitments must have pleased the Russian side because they underline the European dimension of the problem.
“The Package of Measures” has been referred to as “the new cease-fire agreement”, “the agreement” and “the road map”. I prefer the last because the text is essentially a statement of principles and leaves a lot of detail to be worked out in the coming days. Some would say that “the devil is in the detail”. I have always believed that with genuine agreement on the basics, the devil is easier to handle. The inability to declare an “immediate” cease-fire in the face of 5400 lost lives compels one to be cautious.
Minsk III was a peace effort dictated by continuing escalation and led by Germany and France. Western cohesion was secured through Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Washington and the support given to the initiative by the Obama administration. Should it bring some stability to Ukraine this would be a great relief to the US at a time of turmoil in the Middle East. The test for an alliance cannot always be playing the same tune. Helping resolve a conflict which troubles one’s friends may sometimes prove to be of greater value.
The key to resolving the Ukraine conflict or at least understanding President Putin’s endgame would be the level of self-rule to be recognized for “certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions” and its implementation.
This is what Professor Anatol Lieven had to say on 4 September 2014, a day before the signing of the first Minsk Cease-fire Agreement (*):
“… a political solution… can only consist of a special autonomous status for the Donbass region within Ukraine.
“The West should take advantage of any cease-fire efforts to craft and strongly advocate this solution, and should then negotiate the precise terms with Kiev and Moscow. Legally and morally, there can be no Western objection to this — it is after all the solution that the West has put forward to end conflicts in many parts of the world. In another former Soviet territory, Nagorno-Karabakh, the West went further and proposed the loosest form of confederation with Azerbaijan. This solution corresponds to history and local reality; for the Donbass is in fact a region with its own culture and traditions.
“To separate the Donbass in this way while preserving the principle of Ukrainian territorial integrity would allow the West to help in developing and consolidating the rest of Ukraine without constant disturbances in the East. This would open the possibility — albeit a long way in the future — of Ukraine joining the European Union; and if the people of the Donbass region at that point choose to secede and lose the benefits of European Union membership — well, so much the worse for them.
“The choice today is not between a united Ukraine fully in the Western camp, or a Ukraine which has lost part of its territory to Russia. As recent military developments have demonstrated, the first outcome is simply not going to happen. The choice is between a Ukraine with an autonomous Donbass region, along with a real chance of developing the country’s democracy and economy in a Western direction, or a Ukraine which will be mired in a half-frozen conflict that will undermine all hopes of progress…”
Can this be the end of the Ukraine conflict? Only time will tell.
(*) Anatol Lieven, “A Way Out for Ukraine and Russia”, New York Times, 4 September 2014.