Ukraine has a peace deal. Why isn't it working?



by Andrew Rasiulis

March 2, 2017

With the Trump administration getting its policy framework in gear, it’s a good time to reflect on the lack of progress to date in implementing the key political terms of the Minsk 2 ceasefire deal, agreed to in February 2015 between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany and intended to ensure a lasting peace in Ukraine.

Two years have passed without significant progress on either Ukrainian constitutional reform or the restoration of Ukrainian sovereign control over the rebel-held Donbass region and the border with Russia.

It was agreed in the text of Minsk 2 that the political framework of constitutional reform would lead to some form of autonomy in the Donbass, verified by local elections — which would lead to the restoration of Ukrainian sovereign control over the breakaway region.

This process should have been completed by the end of 2015. Instead, thus far we’ve seen a political stalemate with sporadic military confrontations along the ceasefire line. What happened?

On the critical issue of autonomy, the sequence was that Kiev was to pass special legislation granting semi-autonomy to the Donbass, including protection of the Russian language. Under this legislation, the rebel areas would hold elections to determine their form of self government within a united but federated Ukraine. This step required a major political change within Ukraine to move from a centralized to a federated state.

Once this phase was complete, the Russians were to then use their influence over the rebels and hand over border control between the Donbass and Russia to Kiev’s control. Minsk did not address Crimea — that’s a matter that must be addressed by a different diplomatic mechanism.

Minsk 2 does have its sequential logic. The issue for Kiev is that it considers it politically suicidal to grant autonomy to the Donbass in the face of Ukrainian nationalists. The Russians and the Donbass rebels will not settle for anything less, economic sanctions notwithstanding. Result: stalemate.

It now remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will have the influence with players in Kiev and Moscow to make a deal on Ukraine in 2017.

Image: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

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