Ukraine-Russia crisis: Understanding Minsk agreement and why it failed to resolve conflict

In 2015, France and Germany helped the conflict-ridden country by brokering a peace deal known as the Minsk Agreement

File image of Russia-backed separatists walking after inspecting destroyed Ukrainian army tanks for functional weapons and ammunition near the village of Lohvynove, outside Debaltseve, Ukraine on the edge of the territory under their control. AP

Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognise the independence of separatist regions — Donetsk and Luhansk — in eastern Ukraine on Monday night has effectively shattered the 2015 peace deal signed in Minsk.

Also read: Also read: Vladimir Putin recognises Ukraine rebel regions: What does it mean, what will happen next and who it will benefit

We take a look at what the Minsk peace agreements are and why with Russia’s latest move the deals are dead.

Minsk deals of 2014 and 2015

In September 2014, following the large-scale fighting and violence that broke out when Russia-backed separatists seized swaths of territory in eastern Ukraine, representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe {OSCE} and by the Russian-backed separatist leaders Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky set out a 12-point ceasefire deal — called the Minsk I deal, as it was signed in the capital of Belarus.

Its provisions included prisoner exchanges, deliveries of humanitarian aid and the withdrawal of heavy weapons, five months into a conflict that had by then killed more than 2,600 people.

However, the agreement quickly broke down, with violations by both sides.

The following February, the signatories were reconvened to sign a successor agreement, dubbed Minsk II, that had been thrashed out at a summit held at the city’s Independence Palace mediated by French president Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel and attended by Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.

Minsk II, signed on 12 February 2015, required the participants to adhere to the following 13 points:

  1. An immediate and comprehensive ceasefire.
  2. Withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides.
  3. Monitoring and verification by the OSCE.
  4. To start a dialogue on interim self-government for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in accordance with Ukrainian law, and acknowledge their special status by a resolution of parliament.
  5. A pardon and amnesty for people involved in the fighting.
  6. An exchange of hostages and prisoners.
  7. Provision of humanitarian assistance.
  8. Resumption of socio-economic ties, including pensions.
  9. Restore full control of the state border by the government of Ukraine.
  10. Withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military equipment and mercenaries.
  11. Constitutional reform in Ukraine including decentralisation, with specific mention of Donetsk and Luhansk.
  12. Elections in Donetsk and Luhansk on terms to be agreed with their representatives.
  13. Intensify the work of a Trilateral Contact Group including representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE.

The Minsk conundrum

The issue with the Minsk peace accords is that both sides, Russia and Ukraine, interpret the agreements differently.

The Ukrainian government views them as a means to reunite Ukraine and fully restore Ukrainian sovereignty, though with certain devolved powers given to the two regions.

On the other hand, the Kremlin believes that the accords enshrine a process that would see a Russia-aligned administration in Luhansk and Donetsk and special status granted to them before they are reunited with the rest of Ukraine.

This would ensure that Russia retains an influence over the country and Ukraine can never be truly sovereign.

In a SkyNews report, Duncan Allan, a former British diplomat and associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, calls this irreconcilable divergence the “Minsk conundrum”.

What happened after the signing of the Minsk agreement?

Post the 2015 signing, the worst of the fighting stopped, and OSCE monitors moved in. To this day, the OSCE patrols the frontlines and reports ceasefire violations along the border.

However, most of the other conditions have not adhered to as Russia insists that it is not a party to the conflict and that the agreement, therefore, does not apply. Moscow argues that it cannot remove armed forces and military hardware from Donetsk and Luhansk given that the combatants are part of the separatist insurgency and are not its own.

Another issue is that of Donbas. Ukrainians fear that elections would raise the possibility of former separatist warlords sitting in parliament or winning high office within the police.

Why Minsk agreement came into focus now?

In the current situation, France’s Emmanuel Macron had said that the Minsk Agreement could offer a vehicle for direct talks between Ukraine and Russia.

Macron had said that during his meetings he was able “to obtain a very clear and explicit commitment from Presidents Putin and {Volodymyr} Zelenskyyto commit themselves to the strict basis of the Minsk agreements,” but gave no further details.

What happens to Minsk agreement now?

Shortly after Putin accepted the request to recognise the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics {DPR, LPR}, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the recognition is “a blatant violation of international law.”

As Deutsche Welle’s Vladimir Esipov explained succinctly that the Minsk agreement of 2014 and 2015 will be dead.

In an early address on Tuesday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of wrecking peace efforts and ruled out making any territorial concessions.

News agency Reuters reported him of accusing Russia of violating Ukraine’s sovereign territory and said it could mean Moscow pulling the plug on the Minsk peace talks aimed at ending the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine wanted to solve the crisis through diplomacy but that his country was ready to dig in for the long haul.

“We are committed to the peaceful and diplomatic path, we will follow it and only it,” Zelenskyy said. “But we are on our own land, we are not afraid of anything and anybody, we owe nothing to no one, and we will give nothing to no one.”

With inputs from agencies

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