Media Foreign Affairs and National Security 2015.02.26
A 13-point memorandum on Ukraine was signed in Minsk on February 12 and Vladimir Putin seems to be the sole winner in this round of the new Great Game over Eastern Europe. German and French leaders were present in the negotiations only to reluctantly endorse the new status quo as altered by Russia. China, cast from the same mold, may try to play a similar game in East Asia.
The Minsk agreement was supposed to be "a glimpse of hope" for peace in Ukraine. The deal was brokered by the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine after 17-hour marathon overnight negotiations. As is the case in many other negotiations, what was not agreed upon is much more important than what was.
Here is the breakdown of the four-party deal:
Agreement 1. A comprehensive ceasefire in eastern Ukraine on February 15.
The deal was almost broken only a week after it was reached. On February 19, German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande talked with Putin and the Ukrainian President Poroshenko on the phone to rescue the ceasefire. All four called for the truce to be fully implemented.
A German spokesman said that, "They agreed that to do this, immediate, concrete steps must be taken towards the comprehensive implementation of the ceasefire and a withdrawal of heavy weapons under the observation of the OSCE." The statement for "immediate concrete steps for a comprehensive ceasefire," however, has no substance and sounds vain.
Agreement 2. A pullout of heavy weapons. The parties agreed to a compromise disengagement line. Agreement 3. The OSCE will use its drone fleet and monitors on the ground, as well as satellite images and radar data to ensure that both parties stick to the deal.
These two are also vain. Of course, it would be great not to see heavy weapons on the ground but they can be easily reintroduced to the front line once the rebels decide to start a new offensive. This was the lesson from the previous deal reached last September among the same four parties.
Agreement 4. Kiev and the rebels will negotiate the terms for future local elections in the rebel-held areas, which would bring them back into Ukraine's legal framework.
The rebels will probably never agree to Kiev's terms of local elections, unless their own conditions of full autonomy are met. This means the fourth point is not an agreement, either.
Agreement 5. Kiev will declare a general amnesty for the rebels. Agreement 6. An exchange of all prisoners must be completed by the fifth day after full disengagement.
These mean that all the rebels will be returned and free to fight again. It will only pave the way for another round of offensives initiated by the pro-Russian separatists in the months to come.
Agreement 7. Humanitarian aid convoys will be allowed full access to the needy in the war-affected areas. Agreement 8. Kiev will restore economic ties, social payments and banking services in the dissenting areas.
No objection to these but there is no constructive effect for a continued ceasefire, either.
Agreement 9. After the local elections are held in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, Kiev is to restore control over their borders with Russia. Agreement 10. All foreign troops, heavy weapons and mercenaries are to be withdrawn from Ukraine, but local authorities in Donetsk and Lugansk would be allowed to have legal militia units.
Thus, the rebels will continue to be armed by the Russian Spetsnaz.
Agreement 11. Kiev will implement comprehensive constitutional reform by the end of the year, which would decentralize the Ukrainian political system and give privileges to Donetsk and Lugansk.
Such privileges will include the right of language self-determination, the freedom to appoint prosecutors and judges, and to establish economic ties with Russia. These are exactly what the rebels wanted and would only harm the unity of Ukraine.
Agreement 12. The OSCE's election monitors are to see that local elections in the self-proclaimed republics are up to international standards. Agreement 13. Talks between the "contact groups" will be intensified in various ways.
Are these really effective agreements for peace in Ukraine? No, on the contrary, they are just a new status quo that has been altered, and will most likely be challenged again in the future, by the Russians. Putin is determined to repeat these same cheap tricks over and over again until he successfully 'Finlandizes' Russia's closest neighbor, Ukraine.
In Finlandizing Ukraine, Russians don't have to use their regular army as they did in Prague in 1968. Putin does not want to separate the Russian-speaking south-eastern provinces from Ukraine, simply because he doesn't want those provinces as part of Russia, but rather, wants the entire Ukraine as a buffer state between Russia and the NATO member countries.
This Russian tactic of pursuing gradual but continuous change in the status quo by utilizing local non-military or para-military elements without resorting to regular armed forces, has been so successful that the United States can do little to stop this kind of quiet Russian offensive on land in Eastern Europe.
Lo and behold. Similar tactics for changing the status quo by force by countries like China can also be successful on the water in East Asia. We may have to watch the situation in Ukraine more carefully simply because Beijing might be doing the same thing here.