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Extending the Minsk II deadline – For how long?

December 8, 2015

As all who are familiar with the Minsk II Agreement and the Normandy Four format will know, the only definitive date stated within the agreement was 31st December 2015 – at which point the agreement would either be implemented (and thus concluded) – or not.

That date is absolutely guaranteed to pass with the agreement far from implemented.  Indeed it is months away from being implemented even if there were goodwill from all involved – and to be blunt there simply is not that goodwill.

However, in the complete absence of Plan B, the Minsk II Plan A is all there is, and by default cannot simply be thrown into the politico/diplo rubbish bin of historically failed agreements – at least not without an alternative, as diplomacy and negotiations rather like frameworks and parameters within which to negotiate.

Thus there is a simple choice to be made.

To let the deadline pass without first agreeing and documenting an extension, or simply letting it pass and acknowledging all bets are off and then dealing with the consequences – whatever they may prove to be.

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Ergo, it has to be reasonably expected that a formal and documented extension will be forthcoming prior to 31st December 2015, even if any agreed time frame is likely to be met with similar bad-faith negotiation and distinctly lacking adherence to Minsk II by certain parties.

Any extension will undoubtedly lead to Ukraine unilaterally (for the most part) implementing its side of the agreement.

If that be so, many will argue, why should Ukraine continue to unilaterally implement the agreement – an agreement which is clearly onerous upon Ukraine as it is?  Further, why formalise any deadline extensions when that be the case?

The arguments for Ukraine doing so are that it is seen to be honouring the obligations it (albeit under duress) agreed to – unlike The Kremlin.   Perverse as it may seem, being seen to honour agreements even when they are not convenient tends to breed trust and confidence with friendly and partner nations (and/or institutions).  Honoring all agreements, even those that are onerous and/or politically prickly, sets Ukraine apart from The Kremlin.  By doing so it makes it far more difficult to argue politically to remove sanctions imposed upon Russia if Ukraine is complying when The Kremlin simply isn’t.

The need to formally document an agreed extension also relates to sanctions.

Sanctions placed upon The Kremlin were tied to the full and complete implementation of Minsk II which is not going to happen before the stated 31st December deadline within the agreement.  Accepting the premise/argument that the agreement is formally dead when that date falls due, will lead to certain capitals mumbling quite loudly that as the agreement is null and void, then the sanctions cannot be tied to an agreement that has expired – thus they should be removed.

It therefore serves Ukraine, if maintaining western sanctions is considered a priority, to formally extend the Minsk II agreement and document a new implementation deadline – even if that continues to mean unilateral and onerous implementation.

The question therefore is how long should any extension be in any formal document?

3 months is simply too short to achieve all that requires to be done both politically and bureaucratically.  Is 6 months more realistic?  Is 9 months too long, or still not long enough?  12 months would seem perhaps too long, for the entire point of a deadline is to have one that provides a stimulus for action.  (If any action is likely of course.)

Naturally it does not follow that The Kremlin will have any more intention of fulfilling its obligations within any new formally documented time scale, but from a Ukrainian perspective (if continued western sanctions against Russia are a political priority), a new formally agreed and documented extension would seem somewhat sensible – but how long should any extension be?

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