Russia and Ukraine: what are the Minsk agreements that Putin broke by recognizing the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk

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Before Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the sending of troops to the rebel regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, there were several global efforts to pacify the region.

One such effort was carried out by France, which dusted off a stalled peace deal in hopes of offering a way out of tensions.

The so-called Minsk Protocol, reached between Russia and Ukraine in 2014, had the objective of end the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian fighters that broke out that year in eastern Ukraine.

But after Putin recognized the rebellious regions as independent states on Monday, Western leaders accused the Russian president of ending the Minsk accords.

Getty Images

“The recognition of the two breakaway territories in Ukraine is a flagrant violation of international law, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the Minsk agreements,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, wrote in a tweet.

“The European Union and its partners will react with unity, firmness and determination in solidarity with Ukraine,” he added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was equally forceful.

“This clearly violates international law, it is a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of UkraineJohnson said at a news conference.

“It is a repudiation of the Minsk process and the Minsky agreements… I think it is a bad omen and a very dark sign,” he added.

On Tuesday, in a brief press conference, Putin declared, however, that the Minsk agreement “was cancelled” long before Russia recognized the breakaway regions of Ukraine.

The Minsk agreement, it stated, “It had already ceased to exist.” But how did this peace agreement come about? And did you ever have a chance to be successful?

fighters in Ukraine

Reuters

What is the Minsk Protocol

In early 2014, after mass protests in Ukraine toppled a pro-Moscow president, Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, a move that both Europe and the United States deemed illegal.

Soon after, separatist fighters seized the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, on the Russian border, where they proclaimed their “people’s republics.”

Both Ukrainian and Western officials have always maintained that Russia armed and supported the Donetsk and Luhansk separatists, but Moscow has always denied this.

The original agreement, reached between Russia and Ukraine in September 2014, was signed after extensive talks in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The agreement was established as a roadmap to end the fighting in Donestk and Luhansk, and normalize the status of the two regions, known collectively as the Donbas.

The agreement was reached after several attempts to put an end to the fighting and, after it was signed, an immediate ceasefire was agreed with a 12-point protocol to resolve the conflict.

But the deal quickly fizzled out, with violations on both sides.

Peace negotiations, however, continued. And after marathon talks between Putin and the leaders of Ukraine, France and Germany, in February 2015 a new agreement was reached in Minsk of ceasefire.

The new consensus established a new immediate and bilateral ceasefire, the withdrawal of all heavy weapons from both sides, a roadmap to carry out local elections and the amnesty of the leaders involved in the conflict.

Its terms also established the release of hostages and illegally detained persons and a constitutional reform in Ukraine with the adoption of a new Magna Carta by the end of 2015.

This meant that Ukraine would grant the two regions significant autonomy in exchange for regaining control of its border with Russia.

But the new deal it also failed and fighting quickly resumed.

ukrainian soldier

AFP

The latest talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany on the Minsk agreement were in 2019.

But fighting in eastern Ukraine between separatists and Ukrainian forces has continued, claiming some 14,000 lives.

The region, which before 2014 was Ukraine’s industrial powerhouse, is extensively damaged and more than two million people have been displaced.

Why did the Minsk Protocol fail?

Putin always said that Ukraine had no intention of implementing the terms of the agreement.

Kiev had sought amendments to the pact, which was negotiated after Ukrainian troops suffered a series of military losses.

The United States and other European allies had expressed support for the pact and had called on all sides to keep their end of the bargain.

But now the US, UK and Europe are accusing Putin of ending the deal after he recognized the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.

summit in paris

AFP
The last talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany on the Minsk agreement were in 2019.

Was it ever considered that the Minsk agreements could succeed?

Kiev and Moscow’s interpretation of the Minsk agreements was always fundamentally different.

The Ukrainian government saw them as a way to re-unite Ukraine and fully restore the country’s sovereignty, although it did admit to giving certain delegated powers to the two breakaway regions.

Moscow, for its part, believed that the accords would lead to a process that would establish a government aligned with Russia in Luhansk and Donetsk.

And he also believed that the agreements would grant a special status to the breakaway regions before they were reunited with the rest of Ukraine. With this, Moscow believed that it could retain its influence over the country.

This divergence of interpretations was what Duncan Allen, a former diplomat and research associate with the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House think tank in London, called “The Minsk Riddle”.

“The Minsk agreements are based on two irreconcilable interpretations of Ukraine’s sovereignty: Is Ukraine sovereign, as the Ukrainians insist, or should its sovereignty be limited, as Russia demands?” Allen wrote in May 2020.

“Instead of trying to resolve an unsolvable contradiction, Western politicians should recognize the difficulty of the Minsk conundrum,” the analyst added.


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