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So now what? Minsk Agreements

November 7, 2014

Over the past few days, entries have portrayed a somewhat gloomy outlook for the “People’s Republics”.  That is not to say they will not survive.  They will survive just as long as The Kremlin will support them militarily, financially and politically – and as long as Ukraine tries to stick as closely as possible to the framework of Minsk Agreements, even if it appears to be in shreds.  Currently there is no real peaceful alternative.

It is noted that The Kremlin’s acknowledgement of the “elections” in the “republics” whilst present, has been muted.  This obviously done to insure that no further sanctions are levied against it by western nations.  A tacit and brief nod – but no trumpeting or fanfare relating to a thinly veiled tactical victory in The Donbas.  It remains to be seen whether the tactical gain will become a strategic victory.

Tactics are short term, whereas strategic victories are measured over much longer time frames.  For example, The Republic of Serbian Krajina lasted only 4 years from 1991 – 1995.  It was eventually (peacefully) reintegrated into Croatia in 1998.  Without sustained Kremlin backing as received  by Transnestria, South Ossetia, there is little doubt the “People’s Republics” in eastern Ukraine will fail – and unlike Transnestria and others, this time “the west” are at least imposing costs on Kremlin aggression.  The question of whether it will have the  sustained political will to uphold these sanctions, is perhaps a different matter.

If in retaining them long enough to force a change of Kremlin course, which is the entire point of sanctions, what course will the Kremlin take?  One of open warfare, or one of conciliatory tone?  Will there be a reframing of the “Russian World” from one of geographical gains and the redrawing of borders, to a more intellectual, cultural format requiring no physical redrawing of geographical borders but one of a general identity?  In short, as Groucho Marx said, “Those are my principles. And if you don’t like them…well, I have others“.

But what of the Minsk Agreement?  Publicly, Ukraine is not prepared to write them off completely.

1.  Ensure an immediate bilateral ceasefire.
2.  Ensure the monitoring and verification by the OSCE of the ceasefire.
3.  A decentralisation of power, including through the adoption of the law of Ukraine “about local government provisional arrangements in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts” (law on the special status).
4.  Ensure the permanent monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian border and verification by the OSCE with the creation of security zones in the border regions of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
5.  To immediately release all hostages and illegally detained persons.
6.  A law on preventing the prosecution and punishment of persons in connection with the events that have taken place in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.
7.  Continue the inclusive national dialogue.
8.  To take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Donbass.
9.  Ensure early local elections in accordance with the law of Ukraine “about local government provisional arrangements in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts” (law on the special status).
10.  Withdraw the illegal armed groups, military equipment, as well as fighters and mercenaries from Ukraine.
11.  To adopt the program of economic recovery and reconstruction of Donbass region.
12.  To provide personal security for the participants in the consultations.

What can be salvaged – and how?

No Ukrainian leadership will want to stop any prisoner exchange process whilst there are those held.  Likewise the new leadership of the “Republics” are not likely to want to be seen to abandon “its people” either.

Neither would any Ukrainian leadership want to be seen to leave any pro-Ukraine constituents under the leadership of those they do not recognise as legitimate.  At the very least, some form of  organised “repatriation” into Ukrainian controlled territory would seem appropriate – and that means having the accommodation and employment prospects for such people.

No Ukrainian leadership will want to be seen as being prepared to cut the “Republics” loose either – at least not yet.  To cut them loose makes them entirely ineffective for The Kremlin regarding having any influence over Ukraine – and that in turn will lead to the necessity of creating yet another geographical “anchor” within Ukrainian territory.  Ukraine therefore would need to be fully prepared for such an event before seriously considering jettisoning The Donbas.

However, as indicated in yesterday’s entry, the political structures of the “Republics” are weak.  The internal armed groups are already turning against each other.  Ergo, a continuation of the war against Ukrainian would focus such groups once, more whilst political structures are strengthened – before they are toppled or sidelined by those within.  The question is therefore will The Kremlin back any such move at the risk of, if not further sanctions, the continuation of sanctions, to the point where real and unmistakable pain dramatically effects the Russian populous?

If no further expansionist Kremlin support is forthcoming, then something akin to the Minsk Agreement is still required as a short term fix.  Clearly that negotiation is not possible with the “elected leaders” of the “Republics”, as the “elections” have not been recognised by Ukraine or the OSCE that were party to the Minsk Agreements negotiation.  Therefore an alternative negotiation channel would need to be created if a new or revised agreement is forthcoming – and that could return all parties to No9 on the Minsk list, whereby local elections are held under Ukrainian law and an elected official thereafter may serve as a conduit for such negotiations.  It is at the very least a possibility – if perhaps seemingly improbable today.

Despite The Kremlin’s clear policy of realpolitik with disregard to the results of economic sanctions, that policy has a limited shelf life.  By mid to end 2015, or somewhere in between, those economic effects will not be as easily brushed aside as they currently are being.  Continued expansionist military action by the “Republics” is not likely to encourage the western nations to loosen existing sanctions, whilst insuring the “Republics” are a continuous financial drain on the Kremlin.

Ukraine in the meantime need hold the line, whilst at the very least giving the unwavering impression of having no intention of cutting The Donbas loose – regardless of any contingency plans it may have, or may yet formulate, to jettison The Donbas to allow the rest of the nation to move onward.  The major issue for Ukraine is national reform on the presumption it can hold the line in a small part of eastern Ukraine.  As long as it shows consistent reform, the Europeans will remain locked in engagement with Ukraine far surpassing that of if it fails to do so.

Eventually there will be a return to either something like the Minsk Agreements, the jettisoning of The Donbas, or a  Krajina-esque scenario with voluntary and peaceful reintegration.  However it unfolds, the Ukrainian leadership needs to put all political energy into reforming the rest of the nation – even if all national military energy is required to hold the line in the east.

The greatest threat to Ukraine remains not The Kremlin and proxies in the east, but the internal reform that will meet not only societal demands, but also keep the Europeans and US engaged.  With 10 days until the new RADA takes the oath, let’s hope that this is very much the priority of the vast majority who will take their seats.

Further ahead however, both Ukraine and the Europeans may be wise to plan for either the violent external death throws or messy internal collapse of Russia if it continues on its current path.

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