The Minsk agreement signed on February 12 stipulates a number of measures to promote peaceful settlement in Ukraine. It was signed by representatives of the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine, and the leaders of Lugansk and Donetsk republics in the Donbass region.
The main provisions concern the ceasefire, humanitarian aid and the principles of constitutional reform in Ukraine. The question, however, is whether the provisions will be implemented correctly, as the Russian and the French presidents and the German Chancellor hope. At any rate, these provisions are vitally important and it is necessary to analyze them closely.
It was agreed that the ceasefire would come into force on February 15. The heavy weapons must be withdrawn, especially artillery and rocket launchers. The demarcation lines written in the agreement must be respected. The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) will monitor the implementation of these measures. All foreign military troops and mercenaries must leave Ukraine, and all illegal groups must be disarmed under the OSCE’s control.
The agreement stipulates humanitarian measures: an amnesty for all fighters, exchange of prisoners, access to humanitarian aid for the population, restoration of pensions and social benefits cut off by Kiev.
A dialogue is to be launched to organize future local elections and the adoption of a new constitution for Ukraine in 2015 with a special status for Lugansk and Donetsk. The right to linguistic self-determination will be ensured. The judges will be nominated with the participation of the local authorities in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. The Ukrainian state will foster the economic development of these regions and cross-border cooperation with Russia. A local militia will maintain public order in Donetsk and Lugansk. The mandates for elected authorities will run until the expiration of the legal term.
Notably, as an incentive for the ceasefire, the Ukrainian authorities promised to decentralize Ukraine and to grant a special status to Donbass. The region will have the right to control the border with Russia and will be able to foster cross-border cooperation, which is crucial for East Ukraine’s economy. Linguistic rights, especially, the right to use the Russian language, will be respected.
Apart from these important concessions from the Kiev government, (it remains to see whether they are observed), the Minsk agreement is crucial for the economic recovery of eastern Ukraine and even the whole country. The online magazine Slate is one of the few media outlets that stressed this aspect of the agreement, which is not explicit in the agreement but is implied by the paragraphs about the economic development and cross-border cooperation with Russia.
Ukraine that is isolated from Russia is a ruined Ukraine. The local currency has plunged and the currency reserves are very low ($6 billion, according to Slate).
Foreign investors are staying away. The IMF issued a $17.5 billion loan to rescue Kiev. It is much more important to provide Ukraine with financial assistance than to give it more weapons, as the United States is rumored to be planning.
Ironically, the governments that claim to be Kiev’s best friends have shown no alacrity to dip into their pocket to help Ukraine. The Americans want to find markets for their military equipment but do not speak much about financial support. France and Germany have plenty of financial problems, whether in their own countries or with other members of the European Union. They do not want to appear overly generous because they fear an adverse public response.
The truth is that it will be impossible to save the Ukrainian economy or to improve the standard of living for its large population (42 million without Crimea, which is now part of Russia) without reestablishing strong economic ties with Russia. Just looking at the map is enough to understand this. The Russian and Ukrainian economies have been very closely integrated in the past. It is impossible to disregard history.
Ukraine’s economic recovery has become a huge humanitarian challenge and it requires compassion from foreign powers. Until now, only Russia has met this challenge by welcoming more than 500,000 refugees on its territory. Importantly, throughout history, refugees never escape to enemy territory. That shows the Ukrainian refugees do not consider Russia their enemy, as claimed by certain inept propaganda campaigners. Half a million refugees voted with their feet in Russia’s favor. How is it possible to deny such a fact?
Apart from economic issues, another area of the agreement that gives some hope is one that is often omitted despite its importance: the geostrategic aspect.
This agreement was signed by Ukraine, the leaders of both republics in Donbass, and representatives of Russia and the OSCE. It was negotiated in the presence of the presidents of Russia and France and the German Chancellor. The Americans were not present at the talks. Therefore, it is the first agreement in the framework of greater Europe that must respect the interests of all the partners. It is important that the Europeans, all Europeans, are able to get along. The Americans with their Monroe Doctrine, which forbids the Europeans to interfere in American affairs, can understand this necessity. But the adviser to all US presidents, the “hawk” Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in his book of strategy The Grand Chessboard that it was a priority for the American diplomacy to separate Ukraine and Russia forever. We hope more reasonable and cultured personalities will sing another tune in the future in Washington.
This agreement, though imperfect, brings hope. We hope that it will not be violated by any of its signatories. We must hope also that it will be perceived with good will on the other side of the Atlantic.