Find out what the Minsk Accords are and if they can solve the crisis in Ukraine

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is the latest Western leader to travel to Moscow to explore the possibility that two ceasefire agreements brokered between Kiev and Moscow seven years ago could defuse military tensions and end the war in the east. from Ukraine.

Brokered by France and Germany in 2014 and 2015, after Russian-backed separatists attacked and occupied territory in Ukraine’s Donbass region, the Minsk I and Minsk II accords are being hailed as a way to prevent the outbreak of a new conflict in Europe.

Speaking to the press after meeting with Scholz on Tuesday (15), Vladimir Putin himself said that the Minsk Accords should be the basis for seeking a solution to current tensions.

The Russian president echoed the words of his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, who last week in Moscow said the Minsk Accords were “the only way” to achieve peace, and of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for whom the US and Ukraine are “united” in supporting the Minsk Accords as the best way forward.

But these negotiations conducted under the so-called Normandy format – involving Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany – have stalled. The agreements were drafted under conditions that Kiev now sees as coercive and, according to analysts, Ukraine’s interpretation differs from Moscow’s. For Kiev, the agreements mean restoring its regional integrity; for Moscow, the possibility of exercising veto power over Ukraine’s future.

“The Minsk process is not so much a ploy to deflect attention from the real situation as it is an effort that died on the beach,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

What are the Minsk Accords?

Kiev said it signed the Minsk Accords after Russian forces intervened in the war in Donbass to support Ukrainian separatists, inflicting heavy military losses on Ukrainian troops in Ilovaisk in 2014 and Debaltseve in 2015. Moscow denies any involvement.

Signed in September 2014, six months after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, Minsk I is a 12-point ceasefire agreement that has never been respected: Kiev estimates that 14,000 people have died since that the fighting started.

Signed in February 2015, Minsk II presented a formula designed to reintegrate Russia-backed breakaway regions into Ukraine, giving Moscow some voice in Ukrainian politics. Critics point out that then-President Petro Poroshenko signed the deal because Kiev’s forces faced defeat.

The pact was signed by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the leaders of the two pro-Russian breakaway regions. It was also endorsed by the UN Security Council, but never fully implemented by the parties.

Current diplomatic efforts focus on the Minsk II agreement.

What are the main terms of Minsk II?

The main provisions of Minsk II include an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons, monitoring by the OSCE and the resumption of full economic and social ties between the two sides, such as pensions.

As the OSCE still monitors the region and the number of casualties has been decreasing, these parts of the agreement are being partially followed.

More controversial and subject to different interpretations by the two parties are the provisions that provide for the restoration of the Ukrainian government’s control over the border with Russia; the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military and mercenary equipment, and Ukrainian reforms that would guarantee a certain level of autonomy to the eastern region of Donbass.

What are the main points of friction?

One of them is the sequence in which events must occur. Ukraine wants to gain control of its international border before local elections are held in Russian-backed breakaway regions. It also wants Russian forces to withdraw, forces which Russia denies are present.

Moscow wants elections before Ukraine regains control of the border. Analysts say that would prevent Ukraine from joining NATO at any time in the future, because Donbass deputies elected with Russian support could block the approval of plans to that effect in the Ukrainian parliament.

“You may like it or not, but accept that it is so, my beautiful,” Putin said at a press conference he held with Macron last week, in an acerbic remark aimed at Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Kiev has a different view of what autonomous status for Donbass would mean. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister said last week: “Our red lines include: no concessions regarding sovereignty, territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders; no ‘direct dialogue’ with Russian occupation administrations; and only the people of Ukraine have the right to define the course of foreign policy”.

“Essentially, Russia wants to control the circumstances in which elections are held,” said Gould-Davies. “I don’t see how any democratically elected Ukrainian leader could implement the Russian version.”

Another problem is Moscow’s decision to give Russian passports to more than 600,000 separatists in Donbass, despite the Ukrainian constitution not allowing dual citizenship.

On Tuesday, moreover, the Russian parliament passed a resolution calling on Putin to recognize the independence of the aspiring mini-states of Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbass — a recognition that Western officials say would spell the permanent end of the Minsk Accords. Asked about the resolution, Putin said Russia would first target “the unrealized possibilities of fulfilling the Minsk Accords”.

Is there a way out of the impasse?

Judging by Putin’s recent statements, no. “Everyone can see that the current Kiev government is acting to sabotage the Minsk Accords,” he said last week. “There is no movement on the main points such as constitutional reform, amnesty, local elections and legal aspects of Donbass’ special status.”

Ukraine fears that the West will force Kiev to accept a deal, but has hinted that there is a possible intermediate solution. On Monday in Kiev, Scholz said Zelensky assured him that he would draft bills on the special status of Donbass, the constitutional amendment and the electoral law, to enable the Minsk negotiations to continue.

“Ukraine is making a very big contribution here,” Scholz said.

Even so, simply complying with the terms of the Minsk Accords is seen by many Ukrainians as a concession to Russian military aggression. Western diplomats say the prospect of Kiev negotiating directly with the separatists, something Zelensky ruled out, would signal the Ukrainian leader’s political demise.

That could provoke the kind of rupture that would give Putin an excuse to intervene militarily. In 2015, the last time Ukraine submitted proposals for constitutional amendments that appeared to adhere to Moscow’s line, riots in the capital killed three security personnel.

On the other hand, since by the Ukrainian interpretation Donbass would not have the power to influence Kiev through Parliament, the alleged Russian maneuver to use Donbass to gain control over Ukraine’s national and foreign policy would have failed.

“It would be a defeat for Russia and its security claims, which extend far beyond Minsk,” said Gould-Davies.

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