by Teodoras Žukas

The second agreement of Minsk should have brought peace in Ukraine, but it failed. The Moscow led conflict in South-Eastern Ukraine is still taking place, and there is no quick end to it. Finally, there is a necessity for United Nations peacekeepers to take South-Eastern Ukraine back to order, and to finish the ongoing struggle.

In February 2015 German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande brought Ukrainian President Poroshenko and Russian President Putin together in Minsk to settle a peace plan for the war in Ukraine. This was seen as a point of a breakthrough after more than half a year of bloodshed in South-Eastern Ukraine.

The so-called Normandy format meeting produced a 13-point plan to secure a ceasefire in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and an agreement of political steps to end the conflict. The deal should have brought a restoration of full Ukrainian sovereignty and authority in the regions where Russian sponsored and patronised separatists were fighting a war against Ukrainian forces.

Furthermore, the withdrawal of all heavy weapons, the formation of a security zone of at least 50km, the effective monitoring and verification of the ceasefire regime by OSCE, and a revocation of all Russian armed formations, military equipment, as well as mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine should have been implemented by Minsk II.

Though, after more than three years since the Minsk II was signed, it still has not worked. While the ceasefire has been held at times, it periodically breaks down as shelling and fighting across the line of contact flare up.

According to various sources, since Russia started the war in Ukraine in the Spring of 2014, more than 10, 000 lives have been taken.

The meaningful questions are; why the Minsk II is still not fully executed and who is responsible for the ongoing conflict on Europe’s Eastern border?

If the Kremlin wanted to end the fighting, it could have done so. Russian military officers control most separatist units, who are the most active military force in South-Eastern Ukraine. Mr. Putin could force any reluctant separatist group to accept the ceasefire by cutting off the flow of funding, weapons, ammunition, and supplies on which they depend. Also, Moscow could have made the ceasefire stick by pulling back the heavy weapons operated by separatist forces. Neither of this has been done.

From Ukraine’s side, the three years old Minsk II called for elections in the rebel-held areas under a special law Ukraine promised to pass, and then, the day after the elections, the re-establishment of Ukrainian government control over the Eastern border. Ukraine also promised to amend its constitution to give the Eastern areas a special status and to invest in the territories’ economic recovery.

Attitudes in Ukraine toward Minsk II have hardened over the past three years, understandably given how the conflict has dragged on. Therefore, while not able to carry out domestic legislative reforms, last fall Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko submitted a Ukraine bill which disavows promises made in the Minsk II, which was passed by Parliament.

Hence, today the Minsk II, as a Ukrainian diplomat put it, is “like a vinyl record on which the music has run out but is still rolling, hissing, making background noise.”

The way out

Seeing the inability to implement the Minsk II, American and European officials proposed an ambitious idea for a U.N. peacekeeping force that would have a broad mandate to protect civilians and return the breakaway region to Kyiv’s control as per the Minsk agreements.

According to the Hudson Institute, in order for the peacekeeping mission to be successful, about 20,000 or more high-quality forces should be deployed in the conflict area.

Though there are many obstacles to that.

Firstly, the primary challenge for any international force deployment would be the immediate security situation in Eastern Ukraine. Moscow would need to withdraw its own regular forces from the region and pressure the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) to accept the peacekeepers and wind up their own military operations.

Secondly, there is the civic aspect. A full-scale international administration of DNR and LNR on the Kosovo model is unlikely to win Kyiv’s support.

Finally, Ukraine would need to accept; a high level of international oversight of elections to the Ukrainian parliament in the DNR and LNR regions, stipulated by the Minsk II and also longer-term socio-economic re-integration efforts.

The chances of a peacekeeping force successfully deployed to Eastern Ukraine are currently low, but here we need firm action from European leaders. Chancellor Merkel and President Macron should try to revive Minsk II, by pushing Mr. Putin to cut all aid to separatists and withdraw every single Russian troop from Ukraine’s soil. This would be a needed point to allow United Nations peacekeepers into the conflict and the best way to end what is Europe’s deadliest, ongoing conflict.

23 April 2018
This text was published in Bullseye issue 72