20 February 2015
The failure to declare an “immediate” cease-fire at the end of the last round of what one may call the “Minsk Process” was not a good sign. The fact that the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements” left a lot of detail to be filled in later was also an indication of difficulties encountered during the seventeen hour negotiation marathon of the four leaders.
The situation in Debaltseve could not have been a detail because of its strategic value as shown by the intensity of the fighting around it. Now, there will be conflicting interpretations of what was agreed or not agreed and why in Minsk and of course mutual accusations. These have already started.
President Poroshenko has spoken of an orderly withdrawal. Orderly or not, saving the lives of Ukrainian soldiers must have weighed heavily in his decision. International media has called it “a stinging defeat”, “a devastating setback”.
This last episode of the Ukraine crisis will further erode whatever mutual trust was left in the US-Russia relationship. It will generate further frustration and even anger in Berlin, Paris and growing concern among NATO’s east European members. And, most important of all, it will cause profound indignation among the people of Ukraine.
In spite of this discouraging picture Ukraine needs to look forward because:
• 5,500 Ukrainians have already lost their lives,
• Nearly one million Ukrainians are internally displaced and another six hundred thousand are looking for shelter beyond country’s borders,
• The Ukrainian economy is in deep crisis, and
• There is no prospect of a military victory for Ukraine with or without Western military support.
Now that they control Debaltseve and thus the railway link joining the two so-called people’s republics, the separatists must have fulfilled their territorial ambitions. So this may be the time for all sides to start respecting the cease-fire. This may also be time for President Putin to start thinking about the future of the shattered relationship between the peoples of Russia and Ukraine. After all, he is the one who has constantly underlined the special relationship between them.
At this critical time the West should help President Poroshenko and the Ukranian government in;
• dealing with the internal repercussions of the loss of Debaltseve and preventing a mood of national gloom from settling in for good,
• averting political infighting which has caused so much damage to Ukraine in the past,
• formulating a strategy for what may prove to be a period of imperfect peace,
• launching the constitutional reform process which has to cover the special status to be recognized to Donetsk and Luhansk under the Minsk Agreements, and finally
• drawing up a long-term economic stability program.
Regardless of the future of the cease-fire, the West should also engage in a sober and comprehensive analysis of the Ukraine crisis with its past and future since this is essential to a broad redefinition of the relationship with President Putin’s Russia.