Ukrainian Ceasefire AgreementFebruary 26, 2015 in Ukraine
The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany met in Minsk, Belarus on February 11 to negotiate a plan that could guarantee a lasting peace in eastern Ukraine. The new round of peace talks were viewed with much scepticism due to similar unsuccessful efforts in the past. The arrival of 2015 brought the collapse of the tenuous ceasefire that took hold in Ukraine on September 5, 2014, which had brought a lull to fighting that had raged for nearly five months and which killed over 2,500 people. Despite the fact that an official ceasefire was in place the violations started within days of signing after multiple reports that claimed that near the big coastal city of Mariupol and Donetsk airport intense fights took place between the Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian militants. Officially, the ceasefire collapsed after five months on January 2015. The fact that the ceasefire was considerably fragile became more apparent when the head of the self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic declared that the ceasefire agreement does not mean that their objective to secede from Ukraine is off the table. The short-lived ceasefire coincided with the conclusion of the NATO summit in Wales, where Western leaders announced the creation of a rapid-response force to protect eastern European member states. During the summit several NATO members promised precision weapon systems to Ukraine and the Obama administration pledged $60 million of non-lethal military aid for Ukraine’s military. Under these circumstances it is not difficult to comprehend Russia’s reservedness to stick to the agreement and the final collapse of the ceasefire in January 2015. After the collapse of the ceasefire the battles between the government forces and the separatists resumed full force.
During the weeks-long surge in violence many soldiers and civilians lost their lives and all the peace talks collapsed before they came into an agreement with the two sides accusing each other of sabotaging the talks. Amid the increasingly heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, abruptly announced a summit with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia. The French and German leaders had previously met the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, in Kiev where they discussed the steps necessary for the Minsk agreement to start working towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The increase in diplomatic efforts came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, also met the Ukrainian President and other top officials in Kiev. The meeting between the leaders of Russia, France and Germany was held on February 6 behind closed doors and discussed a paper with peace proposal details that the two Western leaders brought with them in Moscow. The meeting was followed by a phone conference between the three leaders that took place on February 8 and which led to the Minsk peace talks on February 11. The marathon peace negotiations between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany resulted in a new ceasefire deal for eastern Ukraine. During the negotiations heavy fighting took place in an effort from the two fighting sides to gain as much territory as possible in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions before the ceasefire started. The key points of the ceasefire agreement for eastern Ukraine are:
- Immediate and full bilateral ceasefire. The ceasefire was going to take effect in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions from 00:00 local time on 15 February.
- Withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides. That entails the creation of a buffer zone of at least 50km equally separating both sides for artillery systems of 100mm calibre or more; 70km for multiple rocket systems and 140 km for the heaviest rocket and missile systems such as Tornado, Uragan, Smerch and Tochka. Also, the Ukrainian forces have to withdraw all the heavy weapons from the current frontline. The separatists have to withdraw theirs from the line of 19 September 2014. According to the agreement, heavy weapons withdrawal must start no later than day two of the ceasefire and be completed within two weeks of February 15. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will assist in the process.
- Effective monitoring and verification regime for the ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons. This part of the agreement is going to be carried out by the OSCE from day one, using all necessary technology such as satellites and radar.
- From day one of the withdrawal begin a dialogue on the holding of local elections. In line with the Ukrainian law on temporary self-rule for parts of Donetsk and Luhansk. There will also be a dialogue on those areas’ political future.
- Pardon and amnesty by banning any prosecution of figures involved in the Donetsk and Luhansk conflict.
- Release of all hostages and other illegally detained people. On the basis of ‘’all for all’’. To be completed at the latest on the fifth day after the military withdrawal.
- Unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid to the needy, internationally supervised. In eastern Ukraine a humanitarian crisis currently takes place as the Ukrainian government stopped sending medical aid in these areas.
- Restoration of full social and economic links with affected areas. Including social transfers, such as payment of pensions. To that end, Ukraine will restore its banking services in districts affected by the conflict.
- Full Ukrainian government control will be restored over the state border, throughout the conflict zone. To begin on the first day after local elections and be completed after a comprehensive political settlement by the end of 2015. The local elections in rebel-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions will be based on Ukrainian law and constitutional reform.
- Withdrawal of all foreign armed groups, weapons and mercenaries from Ukrainian territory. This part of the agreement is going to be monitored by OSCE. All illegal groups are going to be disarmed.
- Constitutional reform in Ukraine, with adoption of a new constitution by the end of 2015. A key element of which will be decentralisation and adoption of permanent laws on the special status of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The ceasefire agreement was also signed by the two main rebel leaders, from Donetsk and Luhansk. The agreement includes an annex on the detail of the autonomy foreseen for their fiefdoms. To the present more than 5,000 people have been killed due to the fighting. The Ukrainian President has claimed publicly that if this new effort for ceasefire and a peaceful solution to the crisis fails then he will not hesitate to introduce martial law, not only in eastern Ukraine but in the whole country. Introduction of martial law means that Ukraine’s army get to control the streets and impose curfews, ban parties and other organisations, as well as mass gatherings, conduct searches and introduce censorship. It is also permitted to claim property of businesses and private individual if the need arise. Despite the ceasefire there are reports that the fighting in eastern Ukraine continues. Days after the official commence of the ceasefire there were reports about government’s and separatists’ shelling in several areas, including around the rebel-held city of Donetsk, claiming that the ceasefire exists in name only. The shelling was also confirmed by OSCE who is charged with monitoring ceasefire. The ceasefire breaches were also reported during a new meeting between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany on February 19 where they reconfirmed their support on the measures agreed on February 12 in Minsk. Only four days after the ceasefire came into effect the pro-Russia militants ignored the agreement and stormed Debaltseve, a strategic town in eastern Ukraine that they had surrounded, forcing thousands of government troops to flee. The Ukrainian forces suffered major losses, both in equipment and human life. After these incidents the Ukrainian President won approval from Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council to invite UN-mandated peacekeepers into the country to monitor the front line, a decision that was met with strident opposition from the pro-Russian militants.
With the battle around the rail hub of Debaltseve ending with the withdrawal of Ukrainian government forces and completion of the first prisoners’ exchange on February 21, there are some hopes that the tenuous truce in eastern Ukraine may hold. A new round of meetings to stop the fragile ceasefire from shattering have started with the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany meeting in Paris on February 24 to review the situation on the ground since the accord was signed. Despite the efforts and Russia’s statements that the agreement is ‘’an international legal document’’ approved by the UN Security Council it contains some clauses that reinforce its fragility, such as Ukraine’s obligation to resume pension payments to the inhabitants of the Russia-backed regions despite the economic crisis that it faces. Also, Kiev takes on the border of rebuilding the war-ravaged region shouldering a huge economic burden. Additionally, the agreement establishes the right of the Donbass breakaway areas to establish their own people’s militias. Finally, through the agreement a powerful fifth column is created inside Ukraine as the Donbass will have the right to be represented in Ukraine’s legislature. This could enable Russia to use the Donbass to resurrect Russian ‘’soft power’’ in the context of Ukraine’s post-conflict economic crisis. The ceasefire agreement is a remarkable effort to find a solution but it seems to serve more in the creation of a frozen conflict than a viable base for the peaceful resolve the Ukrainian crisis.