As we go to press on 17 February, fighting continues in the south-east of Ukraine despite the “peace deal” agreed in Minsk on 12 February.
The “peace deal” had been negotiated by the German, French, Russian and Ukrainian heads of state. Representatives of the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics” (DPR and LPR) had also been present in Minsk, but not directly involved in the negotiations.
A ceasefire was due to come into effect at midnight on Saturday 14th. On day two of the ceasefire both sides were to begin the withdrawal of heavy weapons, creating a 50 kilometres buffer zone within a fortnight of the ceasefire. The OSCE was to monitor implementation of the ceasefire.
At the same time talks were to commence between the Kiev government and the leaders of the DPR and LPR about staging local elections on Russian-separatist-controlled territory.
Other elements of the “peace deal” include: no prosecutions as a result of the conflict.; all prisoners to be released; humanitarian aid to be delivered without obstruction; and Kiev to end its blockade of the DPR/LPR, resume welfare and pensions payments, and restore banking services.
Following the local elections, control over the Ukrainian-Russian border is to return to the Kiev government. All foreign armed groups and mercenaries and foreign military equipment are to withdraw from Ukraine. And Ukraine is to reform its constitution to allow for decentralisation.
Much of this is simply a repeat of the “peace deal” agreed to in September of last year.
But the September “peace deal” never became a reality. Although the new version is emphatically backed by the EU and the US, there is little reason to believe it will not suffer the same fate.
The new ceasefire was to come into effect three days after the conclusion of the negotiations. That three-day delay allowed the Russian-separatist forces more time to step up their offensive aimed at seizing the town of Debaltseve (site of a crucial railway hub).
The Russian-separatist forces also continued their offensive after the “ceasefire’” They argue that the ceasefire only applies to the frontline, whereas Debaltseve (still under Ukrainian control) is on the territory of the DPR.
So, the fighting has continued — around Debaltseve, near Mariupol on the Ukrainian coast, and also in the occasional shelling of Donetsk.
Neither side has yet begun to withdraw heavy weapons. And although heavy weapons are to be withdrawn, ground forces remain in place. This allows the Russian-separatists to keep control of the 500 square kilometres they have seized since the first ceasefire’.
OSCE observers have been unable to monitor implementation of the ceasefire. There isn’t one, the Russian-separatist military have refused them access to Debaltseve and the 350 OSCE observers are too few to effectively monitor any eventual ceasefire.
Ending Kiev’s blockade of the DPR and LPR makes sense as a step towards reintegration of the “People’s Republics” into Ukraine. But, in reality, it will mean Kiev providing an ongoing financial subsidy while the DPR and LPR leaders press ahead with preventing reintegration.
Other elements of the new deal, such as local elections in the DPR and LPR and the withdrawal of foreign fighters and military equipment, are meant to come into effect in the longer term.
But the leaders of the DPR and LPR showed no interest in implementing such measures when they were agreed to in September. They staged their own sham “elections”, and boasted of the foreign fighters in their ranks.
There any reason to suppose that Russia will not continue to supply the DPR and LPR with state-of-the-art military equipment. The very day the “peace deal” was signed Russia was sending more military hardware across the border, to help the attack on Debaltseve.
Ukrainian control of its south-eastern border with Russia is scheduled to be restored in late 2015. But the DPR and LPR leaders will have consolidated their control well before then. The last thing they would then do is hand back to Ukraine control of their lifeline to Russia.
The evidence of the first few days is that this deal will prove no more viable than its predecessor.