EXPLANATOR: What are the key elements of the peace agreement with Ukraine?

MOSCOW (AP) — A peace deal for the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that never quite ended is back in the spotlight amid a Russian military buildup near the country’s borders and growing tensions over the invasion of Moscow.

Senior officials from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany are meeting in Berlin on Thursday to discuss ways to implement the agreement signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk in 2015.

Here is an overview of the document’s key points and disputed issues regarding its implementation:

CONFLICT IN THE EAST

Russia responded to the February 2014 ouster in Kiev of a Kremlin-friendly president by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and backing a separatist insurgency in the country’s mostly Russian-speaking eastern industrial region known as Donbass. .

Ukrainian troops and volunteer battalions fought fierce and devastating battles with the rebels involving heavy artillery, armor and combat aircraft.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting the separatists with troops and weapons. Moscow dismissed the charges, saying all Russians fighting in the east were volunteers.

Amid the fighting, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board. An international investigation concluded that the airliner was destroyed by a missile fired from a rebel-held area. He said the weapon was smuggled into Ukraine from a military base in Russia, but Moscow has categorically denied any involvement.

French and German leaders began efforts to broker a truce in talks with Russia and Ukraine when they met in Normandy, France, in June 2014 in what has become known as the Normandy format.

FIGHTS AND NEGOTIATIONS

After a massive defeat of Ukrainian troops in August 2014, representatives of Kyiv and the rebels signed a truce in Minsk in September 2014.

The document, dubbed Minsk I, called for a ceasefire monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a withdrawal of foreign fighters, an exchange of prisoners and hostages, an amnesty for insurgents and the promise that the rebel regions could have a degree of autonomy.

The accord fell apart quickly and full-scale battles resumed. In January and February 2015, Ukrainian troops suffered another major defeat in the Battle of Debaltseve.

France and Germany moved quickly to help negotiate another peace deal, and on February 12, 2015, representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the rebels signed an accord providing for a new ceasefire. , a withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact between the troops and the rebels, and provisions for a political settlement. A declaration of support for the agreement was signed by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.

PROVISIONS OF THE MINSK AGREEMENT

The deal, dubbed Minsk II, included an OSCE-monitored ceasefire, a withdrawal of heavy weapons and foreign fighters from the line of contact, and an exchange of prisoners.

In a major diplomatic coup for Russia, the document forced Ukraine to grant special status to breakaway regions, allowing them to create their own police force and have a say in the appointment of prosecutors and prosecutors. local judges. He also demanded that Kiev offer a sweeping amnesty to separatists and negotiate the details of holding local elections with rebel leaders.

It stipulated that Ukraine could only regain control of the border with Russia in rebel areas after it gained autonomy and held OSCE-monitored local elections – a ballot that would almost certainly keep the rebels pro- Moscow in power.

Another advantage for the Kremlin, the document did not contain any obligation on the part of Russia, which insisted that it was not a party to the conflict and made it part of Ukraine’s internal affairs.

Many Ukrainians did not agree with this agreement, considering it a betrayal of national interests and an attack on the integrity of the country. Widespread public dismay effectively stalled the implementation of the agreement.

MOSCOW AND KYIV TRADE BLAME

While the Minsk Agreement helped end large-scale battles, frequent skirmishes continued, with both sides blaming each other. The parties negotiated a long series of new ceasefires, but all were quickly violated.

Ukraine has accused Russia of not withdrawing its troops from conflict zones. Moscow strongly denied their presence there and pointed to the deployment of Western military instructors in Ukraine.

While denying any military involvement in eastern Ukraine, Russia has offered political and economic support to the rebels and granted citizenship to more than 700,000 people in the region.

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany pledged to join the Minsk agreement when they last met in Paris in December 2019, but have made no visible progress.

MORE SPEECH

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pushed for another four-party summit, but the Kremlin has said it will be pointless until Ukraine agrees to meet the agreement’s obligations.

Amid rising tensions over Russian military build-up near Ukraine, France and Germany have stepped up efforts to broker more four-party talks on the conflict in the east, seeing it as a possible way to appease disputes. tensions in the wider crisis.

Representatives of the four countries met in Paris on January 26, achieving no progress, but they agreed to hold the session in Berlin on Thursday, with the aim of agreeing on a common interpretation of the Minsk agreements.

French President Emmanuel Macron sought to revive the Minsk agreement during his visits to Moscow and Kyiv this week, describing it as “the only way to build peace…and find a lasting political solution”.

PRESSURE ON UKRAINE

In the face of Western calls for the implementation of the Minsk agreement, Ukrainian officials have become increasingly critical of the document.

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told The Associated Press last week that the deal was signed “under Russian cannon” and warned that “respect for the Minsk agreement means the destruction of the country”.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba claimed that Moscow intended to use the deal to reintegrate rebellious regions into Ukraine and use them to block the country’s pro-Western aspirations, swearing: “It does not ‘won’t happen’.

Zelenskyy was more diplomatic but noted that he disliked every point of the Minsk document, a comment that prompted a sardonic and rude remark from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Like it or not, you have to put up with this, my beauty,” Putin joked, using a crude verse from Russian folklore. “You have to fill it. It won’t work otherwise.

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