Ahead of Minsk talks, West needs a comprehensive solution on Ukraine

10 February 2015

Ahead of talks to discuss an end the crisis in Ukraine, EFD Fellow Anna Borshchevskaya calls for Western leaders to reach a consensus on how to help Ukraine become integrated into the West.

As rockets are falling on Ukraine, German, French, Ukrainian, and Russian leaders will convene in the Belarus capital of Minsk on February 11 to discuss an end to the crisis in Ukraine, which has claimed over 5,000 lives and displaced over a million since April 2014.

The four sides have agreed that the talks in will be based on the agreements previously reached in Minsk in September 2014. The Trilateral Contact group, which consisted of Ukrainian, Russian, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representatives, co-signed the Minsk agreements in September 2014. These agreements outlined a ceasefire, withdrawal of foreign troops, and the return of Kiev government control on the Ukrainian-Russian border. They also outlined steps towards greater autonomy for the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, such as special economic status to some areas in these regions and ensuring Russian-language rights. In effect, the agreements put a freeze on the conflict, rather than resolve it.

This was a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko had little choice but to agree to these terms. The West had refused to send military aid to Ukraine, and in this context, the ceasefire had offered at least a chance for peace. Regardless, Putin scored another victory because the agreements ultimately failed to go into force. The fighting continued.

The Kremlin’s position on Ukraine has remained unchanged since protests had broken out on Maidan in Kiev in November 2013 when former president Viktor Yanukovych reneged on his promise to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. These events ultimately led to a new, pro-Western government in Kiev and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. The Kremlin accused the West of orchestrating protests in Ukraine. It was inconceivable to Putin that Ukrainians had come out to Maidan on their own free will.

The Kremlin continues to blame the West. This past weekend, at the Munich Security Conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “As for Ukraine itself, unfortunately, at each stage of the crisis’ development, our American colleagues, and under their influence, also the European Union, have been taking steps leading to escalation.”

The fact of the matter is, Ukraine had seen no ethnic conflict prior to 2014. The Kremlin artificially created this situation. Maidan protests scared Putin. If Ukrainians could demand their president step down, what is to prevent Russian citizens from ousting Putin? The Kremlin has armed the Ukrainian rebels in the east, sent troops and advisors, and unleashed a massive propaganda campaign—one that the West has yet to counter.

As Bloomberg View columnist Josh Rogin reports, Western leaders have finally reached a consensus that Russia plays a destabilizing role in international security. They laughed at Lavrov’s comments in Munich when, for instance, he claimed Russia’s orchestrated annexation of Crimea is an example of people “pursuing self-determination” in accordance with international norms. In reality, the referendum on Crimean independence was held under the barrel of a Russian gun.

But reaching a consensus on problem definition alone will not resolve it. And there is no consensus on a solution in the West, as Western leaders continue to debate whether to send arms to Ukraine or work on a diplomatic solution.

If a ceasefire is reached in Minsk this week, Putin won’t abide by it. But more to the point, even if he did, a ceasefire alone would only create another frozen conflict on Russia’s periphery, similar to the frozen conflicts in Transnistria and Nagorno Karabakh. This would only embolden Putin.

As the Mink meeting approaches, the West needs to agree on a comprehensive solution on how to help Ukraine become integrated into the West, and how to deal with the broader destabilizing role Putin’s Russia is playing in Europe.

The article originally appeared here.