International

Explained | What is the Minsk Agreement?

File photo for representation. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the largest conflict that Europe has seen since World War II, with Russia conducting a multi-pronged offensive across the country. The Russian military has pummeled wide areas in Ukraine with airstrikes and has conducted massive rocket and artillery bombardment resulting in massive casualties

File photo for representation. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the largest conflict that Europe has seen since World War II, with Russia conducting a multi-pronged offensive across the country. The Russian military has pummeled wide areas in Ukraine with airstrikes and has conducted massive rocket and artillery bombardment resulting in massive casualties | Photo Credit: AP

The ongoing geopolitical escalations between Russia and Ukraine bought back focus on the Minsk Agreement of 2014 and 2015. Signed after the Russian actions in Crimea in 2014, the agreement was aimed at ensuring a ceasefire and enabling prerequisites to work out a permanent peaceful solution between the neighbours.

The prologue 

The geopolitical tensions centred on the Ukrainian choice of opting for an Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union (EU) or side with the Russian equivalent Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The AA aspired to “accelerate the deepening of political and economic relations” between Ukraine and the EU. Additionally, it was to enable gradual integration of Ukraine to the EU Internal Market via the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). The trade agreement would effectively eliminate most tariffs on trade in goods with Ukraine expected to be a part of the EU legislation.

As pointed out by the London-based policy research organisation Chatham House, the AA established a radically different model of governance at Russia’s doorstep. Many Russians consider Ukraine indistinguishable from themselves both culturally and historically. Further, the Kremlin worried about the EU’s expanding profile in the non-Baltic post-Soviet space. 

In 2013, then Ukrainian-President Viktor Yanukovich decided against signing the AA. This triggered pro-European ‘Euromaidan’ protests in Ukraine. Mr. Yanukovich was impeached in February 2014. 

The impeachment worried the Kremlin as it carried out the annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

Minsk-I Agreement (Sept 2014) 

Seeking an end to the war, the first Minsk Agreement was signed in Belarus in September 2014. Signatories to the agreement were Russia, Ukraine, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the pro-Russia leaders from Donetsk and Luhansk.

Chatham House informs the 12-point ceasefire agreement broadly called for an OSCE monitored ceasefire, exchange of prisoners, withdrawal of armed formations; military equipment, fighter and mercenaries from Ukraine and establishing an OSCE-monitored ‘security zone’ along the border. It also directed for an economic reconstruction programme for Donetsk and Luhansk.

Minsk-II Agreement (February 2015) 

Despite the signing of the initial agreement fighting continued between the two sides. Leaders from France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia, collectively called the Normandy Four, agreed to a new ceasefire agreement in February 2015. This agreement was a 13-point package of measures meant to facilitate the implementation of the initial Minsk Agreement. 

Military de-escalation: The second agreement called for “immediate and comprehensive” ceasefire in Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Further, the two countries were to withdraw heavy weapons in a manner that there was a security zone at least 50 kms wide.

The entire process was to be monitored by the OSCE using all technical equipment necessary as satellites, drones, radar equipment, etc. 

Local Elections in Donetsk and Lugansk: The Ukranian government was asked to initiate a dialogue on the modalities for local elections in the two regions, in accordance with the Ukranian legislation. This was with respect to an interim local self-government as well as the future regime of the rebel areas. Additionally, within thirty days of signing the agreement the Ukranian Parliament was asked to adopt a resolution to specify the areas enjoying the special regime status.

By the end of 2015, it was asked to adopt a permanent legislation on the special status of the two regions.

The border: The agreement directed reinstatement of full control of the state border by the Ukrainian government throughout the conflict area. This was to be initiated after the local elections and conclusion of the political settlement with the two regions. 

Pardon and Amnesty: All individuals involved in the events at Donetsk and Lugansk would be accorded pardon and amnesty, the agreement stated. It asked the parties to ensure release and exchange of all hostages within five days of the withdrawal.

The two parties were to ensure safe access, delivery, storage, and distribution of humanitarian assistance to those in need.

The ‘Minsk Conundrum’ 

The Minsk-II Agreement supports mutually exclusive views of sovereignty, that is, Ukraine’s interpretation of it being sovereign and Russia’s conflicting interpretation. The two conflicting ideas constitute the ‘Minsk Conundrum’, as pointed by the Chatham House.

It elaborates that Ukraine sees the agreement leading up to a chain of events which would enable it to re-establish sovereignty. These include a ceasefire, followed by Russian withdrawal from Ukraine, regaining control of the border, free and fair elections in the Donbas region and a limited devolution of power to Russia’s proxy regimes. The country would thereby be able to make their own domestic and foreign policy choices.

The think tank believes Russia sees the agreement as tools to break Ukranian sovereignty. It reverses key events of the Ukranian interpretation. Elections in the two rebel areas would take place before Ukraine secures its borders, followed by according of autonomy to the rebel areas which would, in turn, cripple the central authorities in Kyiv. Thus, Ukraine would neither be able to govern itself effectively nor orient itself towards the west.


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Printable version | Mar 4, 2022 12:58:25 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/explained-what-is-the-minsk-agreement/article65187598.ece