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Open ended deadlines? – Minsk II

December 30, 2015

As all are well aware, 31st December 2015 was the deadline set within the Minsk II Agreement for its complete implementation.

As all are well aware, that deadline will pass without even a ceasefire worthy of the definition having come into effect, let alone the return of control of the Ukrainian border to the Ukrainians – or any of the other bullet points agreed that fall between ceasefire and restoration of territorial integrity.

Of course nobody actually expected that Minsk II would be fully implemented by 31st December 2015 as the agreement states, because in the absence of anything else, Minsk II is all there is – and therefore bumping and/or ignoring the deadline was obviously going to happen unless there was a severe “or else” as a consequence of failing to meet the 31st December deadline – and there wasn’t and isn’t an “or else” of any significants.

With no significant “or else” and a Kremlin currently projecting the appearance of being happy to take any sanctions pain, suggests negotiations will continue to be in bad faith.

Whatever the appointment of Boris Gryzlov as Russian representative at the “Contact Group” may signify (and he is surely too big a fish to be rotated into the mix to simply continue to obstruct and obfuscate – for lesser mortals have done an adequate job of doing that thus far), his appointment earlier this week signified a continuance of the process well into 2016 (and to be blunt, beyond) regardless of the obligated 2015 year end deadline.

Thus it remains for an officially recognised and announced extension of the process to occur.

On 28th December rumour circulated that there would be a “Normandy Four” leaders conference call on 30th December – 24 hours before the Minsk II deadline is due to pass far from implemented and killing the agreement.

On 29th December, those rumours were confirmed after the official disclosure of contact between Chancellor Merkel and President Poroshenko in preparation for the conference call.

“President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko coordinated positions with Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel on the eve of the phone conversation in the Normandy format planned for December 30.

The parties discussed the fulfillment of the Minsk agreements and emphasized the necessity of their full implementation.

The President drew attention to the fact that pro-Russian militants violated the ceasefire regime more and more often and conducted open provocations, particularly the shelling of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.

Petro Poroshenko highly appreciated the EU’s joint decision on the continuation of sanctions against Russia until complete fulfillment of the Minsk agreements.

Angela Merkel confirmed the immutability of EU policy of non-recognition of Crimea’s annexation.”

Thus, in the absence of any other plan (viable or otherwise) for the foreseeable future, 30th December seems highly likely to see the official declaration of an extended deadline for Minsk II – albeit as it is a conference call and not a physical meeting of the Normandy Four leaders, it is perhaps questionable whether any signatures will be on any supplemental or amended agreement regarding any deadline extension – and in particular signatures to obligate to any future deadline set.

The penalty for The Kremlin failing to abide by (in any shape or form) a 2015 deadline it agreed to, is seemingly nothing more than extended existing sanctions.  It would appear unlikely that any specific additional penalty for absolutely no Kremlin attempt to meet the 31st December obligations is going to be forthcoming.

This raises the question of the significants of any future implementation deadline – if a future deadline for complete Minsk II implementation is agreed upon at all.

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Very few expect the Minsk II agreement to be fully implemented during 2016.  That being so, any 2016 deadline set that does not have a cast iron and significant “or else” attached will probably prove to be as useful as the deadline that expires on 31st December 2015.

On domestic Russian TV channels over recent weeks, assembled “experts” have been citing 3 – 5 years to fully implement Minsk II – creating amongst Russian society the perception that there is not going to be a fix in the foreseeable future in the occupied Donbas.   Those 3 – 5 years thus taking the current Kremlin regime through the Duma 2016 and Presidential 2018 elections without any requirement to change policy course in the occupied Donbas due to domestic public pressure.  The Russian public are being actively conditioned to accept Russian involvement in the occupied Donbas until 2018 at the earliest, or perhaps until 2020 – or beyond.

However, a deadline set for more than 12 months away provides no motivation for any significant progress during 2016 – and neither the German nor French leader will be keen to see the matter roll on into their respective 2017 domestic election years (though they will have no choice without a significant “or else” for failure during 2016).

Yet the complete absence of a deadline will see the same complete absence of Minsk II implementation.

Thus the deadline options in the absence of a significant and cast iron “or else” will be little more than hollow rhetoric agreed to by all parties, and then in bad faith each party will knowingly sell it to their peers and constituents, only to see another deadline come and go without consequences for those failing to fulfill their obligations.

The options then, a 2016 deadline that is as likely to see Minsk II implementation as that of the 2015 deadline, a deadline set further into the future that will then see little effort during 2016, the absence of a deadline – or finally arriving at an “or else” that will truly resonate in certain quarters.

Smart money will probably be put upon an equally weak 2016 deadline – due to no “or else” to concentrate minds.

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