Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ukraine: Minsk deal includes de facto federation

Three powerful leaders and one powerless one gathered around a table in Minsk, negotiating a ceasefire agreement for war-torn Ukraine. The negotiations took a surprising turn when the four leaders met alone, without their advisors – it is not yet clear who suggested this, but my bet would be Putin.

Fuel for the negotiators:

For 16 hours the leaders wrangled, with refreshments provided by their host, who has been called by some the Last Dictator in Europe:

President Alexander Lukashenko hosted the talks in Minsk, which resulted in a new ceasefire deal on Thursday. Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany took part.
"They ate omelettes, cheese, dairy produce, drank several buckets of coffee," he was quoted as saying.
"My job was to provide the ammunition on time," he said jokingly.

Tough negotiations:

The negotiations were tough, said the negotiators (have you ever heard any politician say that negotiations were easy?), and the meeting almost broke up several times over disagreements:

The very fact that it took more than 16 hours of intensive negotiations to reach an agreement, and that the leaders announced the accord in three separate news conferences, seemed to highlight the differences that remained…

The return was accompanied by a flurry of Russian news agency reports that Mr. Poroshenko had declined at the last minute to accept the outlines of the deal relating to the independent status of the breakaway areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as the cease-fire demarcation line.

When the leaders of the breakaway regions joined the talks in the morning, they also initially balked at signing the agreement, according to the official Russian news agency Tass.

Essence of the deal:

Like many deals, the devil is in the details, or, in this case, in the annexure. The broad terms of the deal were announced with a flourish by the participants. Here’s one summary of the broad terms agreed upon:
The main points of the agreement
  • Ceasefire to begin at 00.00am local time on 15 February
  • Heavy weapons withdrawn in a two week period starting from 17 February
  • Amnesty for prisoners involved in fighting
  • Withdrawal of all foreign militias from Ukrainian territory and the disarmament of all illegal groups
  • Lifting of restrictions in rebel areas of Ukraine
  • Decentralisation for rebel regions by the end of 2015
  • Ukrainian control of the border with Russia by the end of 2015
The participants also agreed to attend regular meetings ​​to ensure the fulfilment of the ​​agreements, a Russian-distributed document said.

Putin’s objectives:

Putin had three main aims for the Ukraine: the ability of Russia to prevent Ukraine being drawn into the European Union, and, more importantly, into NATO; a land corridor linking motherland Russia with its regained Crimea; and a federation for Ukraine which gave substantial autonomy to the ethnic Russian occupied portion now controlled by the separatists (or rebels, as the Kiev government calls them.

Putin has gained all three aims through this Minsk II deal.

The fox guards the henhouse:

Putin did not gain a direct veto over Ukraine joining the EU or NATO, but managed to persuade the German and French leaders to let him sit at the table when membership terms for the EU are discussed:

In European concessions to Putin, the Russian leader was told he would be party to negotiations over the detail and impact of Ukraine’s free trade agreement with the EU; a number of conditions have been attached to the special rights to be granted to the pro-Russia territories; central government funding of social and welfare benefits is to be restored to pro-Russia areas; and Germany and France promised to facilitate financial transfers and repair the broken banking system.

Russia’s land corridor to Crimea:
Russia will be able to shuttle goods and arms a long way from mainland Russia towards its Crimean appendix, through the separatist-held eastern part of Ukraine, as the map released shows. The demilitarized buffer zone runs along the eastern border of Ukraine, and goes a long way towards attaining this objective.

A Ukraine federal state:

Putin wanted substantial powers devolved on the separatist-held areas; while the Kiev government wanted to retain a unitary state.

After the meeting the Ukranian leader claimed to have retained this unitary status:

"Ukraine will always be a unitary state. No federalisation whatsoever! #UnitedForUkraine," Poroshenko tweeted after the deal was announced.

The reality is different.

The rebel leaders signed the Minsk II agreement, which has an Annex that deals with the powers their part of Ukraine must be granted.

The key part of that Annex is that the rebel areas are given substantial powers, including the power to establish their own police force:

The more ambitious political aspects of the pact stipulate that Kiev is to draft a new constitution by the end of the year, with a “key element” entailing decentralisation and special status for the breakaway regions. An eight-point annex to the accord lists elements of the special status, including local control of police, court, and judicial systems and a regime of “crossborder cooperation” between the eastern regions and Russia.

Some commentators have claimed that some 9,000 Russian troops are active inside Ukraine. The body of the agreement refers rather vaguely to the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenary forces. The Kiev government will push for the withdrawal of Russian troops and equipment, which Putin denies are in the Ukraine. Russia and the seperatists will push for the withdrawal of mercenaries and other militia inside the western part of Ukraine.

The probable result will be that most of the heavily armed and well equipped foreign forces inside the eastern Ukraine will simply join the police force the rebels will establish; we can expect some token and highly publicized withdrawals of ‘volunteers’, who will probably drive over the Russian border in an eclectic array of vehicles, leaving the big guns and tanks and transports inside the rebel controlled area.
The concern in many part of the USA is that their police forces are becoming militarized; the eastern part of the Ukraine will most likely become – in one fell swoop – a highly militarized police force.

The cost of the war:

While politicians in Russia, Ukraine, the EU and USA dithered, the people of the Ukraine have paid a high price, with many dead and much destruction.

Reality check:

There is nothing in this Minsk II agreement that could not have been negotiated a year ago, by leaders who realistically assessed the causes of the tensions in the area. Much more blood will be spilled before the final division is settled.

This is what happens when high-sounding words are allowed to be substituted for interest-based negotiation.

Let’s all hope for peace and prosperity for the ‘united’ Ukraine.

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