Are the Minsk II Peace Accords worth preserving?
Is a peace plan that seems to be going nowhere better than no peace plan at all? Is it more dangerous to face grim facts or pretend to believe heartwarming fictions? Applied to the Minsk peace process over the Donbass conflict, these seemingly philosophical dilemmas take a weekly toll of blood and treasure.
The Minsk peace process does not appear to be in good shape.
Just as it is often said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, so it is no longer anchored in Minsk. – as Kiev said he can’t trust Lukashenko be an honest broker – nor did it keep the peace, nor can it be said to be “treatment”.
Of course, he had his day and his moment. Two of them, in fact. They were, to be frank, never likely to be the basis for a lasting resolution of the conflict, just a means of preventing escalation (especially Russian escalation).
The first Minsk protocol of 2014, then the Minsk II package of 2015 led to short-lived and unequal ceasefires and above all succeeded in preventing Russian escalations that could have triggered a large-scale war. They also provided some small-scale remedies, from prisoner swaps to monitoring by the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
That was over six years ago, however. In many ways, this means that the role of the OSCE is essentially to provide as complete a daily list as possible of ceasefire violations, arbitrarily closed crossings above the contact line, tanks and heavy weapons spotted near the front line, in violation of the agreement. Much of this has to be collected by remote surveillance and drone. – when drones are not interfered with by Russian electronic warfare systems.
Let it go
Last week, the Geostrategy Council, a new think tank devoted to exploring the prospects for a global Britain in a post-Brexit era, published an article in which I put forward a deliberately provocative suggestion, that we must recognize that:
“The problem is, Minsk is not just dead, it is a rotting corpse slumped on the conference table. It not only succeeds in bringing peace to the Donbass, it prevents potential new negotiations,” even an honest conversation about the conflict. “
It is not that I want to see a resumption of hostilities on a large scale: quite the contrary. I don’t think it’s a moribund, six-year-old document that is forcing either side into this toxic conflict.
Instead of the rudimentary collection of militias from 2014-15, Ukraine now has increasingly confident armed forces of more than 250,000 men.
The rebel forces could not prevail against them; frankly, they could not even in the first years of the war, which is why Moscow periodically had to send its regulars to prevent a government victory. At the same time, Russia can still defeat Ukraine on the battlefield, but only if it is prepared to openly show its hand and deploy the scale of the necessary forces – and also accept the substantial losses that this would entail. . It is a balance of terror.
Especially for people on both sides of the contact line, and especially in the pseudo-states. Subjected to arbitrary local rogue states, deprived of their Ukrainian social benefits, facing economic hardship and rising levels of coronavirus, their lives have been held hostage by an illusion – illusory – a peace process that just goes nowhere.
The problem is that neither side will give in on a fundamental point. Moscow argues that Kiev must grant the rebels special status now that elections have taken place. Kiev denounces these elections as a sham and says that we must first restore its authority over the regions. Neither wants nor can cede ground.
So my suggestion was that it was time to recognize that the Minsk process had run its course. – and can, if necessary, block any more meaningful dialogue.
Ukraine, Russia and the pseudo-states cannot be the first to say so, lest they risk being exposed as warmongers and dealbreakers.
In addition, both Germany and France have weighed with all their weight behind Minsk II and still present themselves as its bankrupt guarantors. If they’re not willing to start this conversation I suggested, maybe it could be the UK?
Better than nothing?
The responses, both public and private, were interesting. Some have sought, predictably enough, to paint one side or the other as the villains of peace. It may be satisfying, but it’s exactly the kind of zero-sum politics that perpetuates the current volatile status quo. Others have sought to save the reputation of Paris or Berlin, which is another problem, as both countries are unwilling to admit that they may have done long-term harm in the name of short-term good.
A more thoughtful argument was best illustrated by Russian researcher Sergei Utkin of the Primakov Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), who considered it a “surprisingly adventurous and potentially disastrous ”. In an exchange we had on Twitter, he argued that
“If negotiations fail in an ongoing conflict, the guns speak (and they can do so much louder than with the current flawed ceasefire). is precious. “
It is a perfectly defensible and honorable position.
To suppress a peace process when there is nothing ready to replace it is a frightening gesture. Yet it also ultimately rests on the assumption that it is Minsk II, and not day-to-day realities on the ground, that is preventing escalation. As fears over the rise of Russian forces in the spring show, it is difficult to take this guarantee for granted.
The problem is, the status quo is too bearable for all players.
Kiev has little real incentive to reintegrate a reluctant population and now War ravaged badlands. Moscow has to subsidize the Donbass, but that’s better than acknowledging defeat and losing what little influence it can have over Ukraine.
Pseudo-state warlords can get rich and avoid trial. And while the West may have the occasional fear, such as with the rise of Russian forces in the spring, it can usually take comfort in the antiseptic language of “frozen conflicts” and unresolved disputes. “
It is undoubtedly a little less tolerable on the ground. Ordinary Ukrainians in pseudo-states face unemployment, hardship and brutal repression when they try to protest or unionize. Water supplies are contaminated and entire industries are dying, which also poses huge challenges for any future reintegration. As Brian Milakovsky has it recently argued in Krytyka,
“Gone are the days when we could let the resolution of economic and infrastructure problems resolve itself naturally when the elusive comprehensive political settlement is negotiated in Minsk, or on any other platform.”
I would note, after all, that all the voices I have heard from inside the Donbass, as well as many in Kiev and Moscow, have admitted that Minsk is both unworkable and beyond repair.
Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has called to movement, arguing that “we can change the Minsk format, adjust it. Or we can use another format ”, but there seems to be little room for the first, because the disagreement is not on the format but on the objectives and political will.
Instead, something needs to be done to break the blockage. Skip the tired mantra that “Minsk is the only deal on the table” and clear the table instead. There is no reason why prisoner exchanges, family reunification rights, OSCE monitoring and the like cannot be kept apart from a single, comprehensive document. And maybe that would provide an incentive and an opportunity for something new.
But this is one of those cases where the tolerable is the enemy of the best. What may work in Moscow, Paris and Berlin may not work as well in Kiev – and being positively oppressive in Donetsk and Luhansk, Perevalsk and Ilovaisk.
The opinions expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of the Moscow Times.