The West cannot abandon Ukraine now

17 February 2015

EFD Fellow Anna Borshchkevskaya discusses what the West must do following extensive negotiations and the announcement of a ceasefire in Minsk.

After over 17 hours of exhaustive negotiations on the Ukrainian crisis in Minsk, Belarus between Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, France's President François Hollande, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the four leaders announced a cease-fire. Yet no celebration followed. As The Wall Street Journal wrote, upon the meeting's conclusion, "[t]here were no declarations of peace in our time, no backslapping or self-congratulation when the exhausted French and German leaders arrived in Brussels later that day for a European Union summit." The cease-fire may be better than nothing, but even if it holds, no one had any illusions about its limitations.

But amidst this somber atmosphere, Putin's comments to Russian press upon the announcement of the cease-fire stood out. "This was not the best night of my life," he said, referring to the negotiations, "but the morning, in my view, is good."
He smiled. He had much to smile about. The cease-fire favors Putin. In essence, this agreement differed little from the earlier cease-fire reached in Minsk in September 2014, which was never implemented. For example, like the previous agreement, it provides eastern Ukraine a "special status." Perhaps most importantly, under the current agreement, the Kiev government does not gain full control of Ukraine's borders until the end of 2015, after Ukraine holds local elections. While the agreement demands the withdrawal of all "foreign troops" out of Ukraine, since Ukraine has no control of its borders for almost a year, and the monitoring component appears vague at best, the Kremlin could easily continue sending military equipment into Ukraine.

"We had just two options: bad, and worse," said Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk about the ceasefire, as reported by CNN, "So we decided at this particular period of time to get the bad option. Probably this option will save the lives of Ukrainian soldiers, and I hope this option will save lives of Ukrainian civilians, of innocent people, who are under a constant shelling of Russian-led terrorists."

A cease-fire, even if it holds this time around, will only freeze the conflict. This too would play into Putin's hands, as it would allow him to keep Ukraine weak and destabilized. This is what he wants.

In addition, if a cease-fire holds, however tenuously, it is likely to start a discussion in the West on relaxing sanctions against Russia. If this happens, Putin will have his cake and eat it too — maintaining control in Ukraine and shifting the discussion toward easing the sanctions.

The West cannot abandon Ukraine now. Last week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) proposed a $17.5 billion aid package to Ukraine as part of a broader $40 billion program for the country. While the U.S. has committed $2 billion and the European Union agreed to $2.5 billion, it is unclear where the remaining funding will come from. As economist Anders Aslund wrote in the Financial Times this week, the program appears underfunded, even though the announcement of the IMF package is welcome news.

In addition to further economic aid, Western leaders need to come up with a comprehensive long-term solution to curbing Putin's aggression in Ukraine, beyond a cease-fire. This could include providing military aid to Ukrainians, training and advisers, and imposing deeper sanctions on Russia. If anything, relaxing the sanctions would be the worst thing to do regardless of the cease-fire. The West cannot afford to let Ukraine remain destabilized. In such a scenario, Putin would become even more emboldened and pose an even greater threat to the West.

This article was originally published here.