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Road maps to a road map – Minsk

September 14, 2016

With French and German Foreign Ministers now in Kyiv,  and Ukrainian FM Klimkin talking about implementation roadmaps to implement the Minsk document/text which is itself little more than a roadmap.

A roadmap to implement a roadmap may well be en vogue, but is there any point to it?  In theory of course there is, but then in theory, there should no difference between theory and practice, something many practitioners can claim as a falsehood.

A reader may note the use of “document/text” rather than “agreement” in the opening paragraph, for “agreement” is something of a misnomer and infers/gives the impression that the process was entered into without significant coercion.  That by extension and over time gives the perception of a “softer” version of what is a serious violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and trampling of international law.

To be clear, neither Minsk I or II have any legal standing whatsoever.  It legally binds nobody to anything.  It is not even a signed and certified document enforceable by law comparable to the most basic of legal contracts.  It carries no signatures of the conflicting parties (recognised or unrecognised).  It has been ratified by no parliament.  It is therefore not a document that has been deposited with any international body or has any domestic power.  It is text.  It is a document listing bullet points along a possible path to the return (prima facie) to international laws and treaties – despite the perilous repercussions that its implementation would have internally for Ukrainian sovereignty as the text stands, if and when territorial integrity is returned.  It is a framework document, not a legal obligation.

It is a political document and not a legally binding document.

Further, of the numerous western diplomats spoken to privately over the past 2 years, not a single one has expressed their personal opinion that the Minsk document will ever be fully implemented.  Indeed the consensus has been that while it is important for Ukraine (or the West) not to “kill Minsk”, there are perhaps wiser uses of political and diplomatic energy with regard to Ukraine.

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Ukraine cannot be seen to be the assassin of Minsk, first and foremost as it would place serious strain upon European resolve to maintain its (surprising) unity toward Kremlin actions thus far.  Whilst sanctions are not officially tied to the actions of Ukraine – to be clear Russia was not sanctioned over anything Ukraine has done – de facto the passage of time has witnessed the sanctions policy “understanding” in certain capitals either warp, creep, or intentionally become attached to Ukrainian actions as a negotiating lever over Ukraine – as if Ukraine invaded itself and severed Crimea voluntarily or is somehow liable for continuing illegal Kremlin actions within Ukrainian territory.

Nevertheless, if Minsk is to be officially recognised as dead, then it has to be seen to occur at the hands of The Kremlin.

The problem with allowing The Kremlin to kill it is that eventually a Minsk III – or worse Yalta II – would probably not be favourable to Ukraine unless the Europeans found their backbone if they were involved in any serious renegotiating process.

As of the time of writing a ceasefire where the firing actually ceased during the past 2 years has yet to materialise – and to be blunt nobody thought it would, just as nobody thought the Minsk document(s) would ever be fully implemented even before the ink had dried.

The immediate and medium term horizons look far more like an incendiary Nagorno-Karabakh than a frozen Transnistria.

With The Kremlin building permanent military bases not far from the Ukrainian eastern border, clearly it plans to prevent and dissuade a repeat of the Croatian Operation Storm in the years ahead – should such a thought ever enter a Ukrainian policymaker’s head in the future.

The question is therefore whether “western diplomacy” is best employed in keeping Ukraine adhering to entirely arbitrary Minsk timelines to carry out “x” or “y”, or it is better employed in finding reasons why Ukraine should not be held to arbitrary timelines, or unilaterally be expected to fulfill the text of such a (currently) onerous document?

A bad peace will not bring a lasting armistice (insomuch as military conflict is concerned), and war on every other front will continue – economic, social, political, diplomatic etc.  Any interaction between Ukraine and Russia for a generation will now only be transactional regardless of how any peace actually arrives (if/when it does).  As difficult as it is to take the current spate of posturing and rhetoric over Minsk implementation seriously when it comes to its full implementation,  during a war of exhaustion roadmaps to fulfilling roadmaps etc  must surely be expected as part of the diplomatic arsenal available to all sides  and is both an offensive and defensive weapon.

Will we still be talking about unfulfilled Minsk implementation this time next year?  Yes, for no side will be entirely exhausted within 12 months.

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