The Ukraine summit has produced a ceasefire deal. But the agreement leaves many open questions. There is every reason to be skeptical whether the killing in eastern Ukraine will really cease, says Ingo Mannteufel.
The long night of marathon negotiations and the EU summit in Brussels following directly on its heels were certainly partly to blame for the fact that the results of the Ukraine summit in Minsk were revealed to the public only in dribs and drabs.
The first person to say something after the summit, attended by Poroshenko, Putin, Merkel and Hollande, was the Russian president, who told a short press conference that the parties to the conflict had agreed to a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine as of February 15. This was later confirmed by the German chancellor and French president, who both spoke, with cautious optimism, of a glimmer of hope. However, one can't help wondering what this hope is founded upon.
Minsk II no more than Minsk I?
An end to the fighting and killing in eastern Ukraine would certainly be a gratifying result. But in view of the details that have since been announced about the current agreement, skepticism would seem to be more than justified. For if the package of measures that has now been agreed is examined more closely, it becomes apparent that this new deal – Minsk II – does not go much further than the first Minsk agreement, which was struck back in September 2014. There, too, a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons were agreed upon, but the truce never really held.
The Russian-backed fighters have now won territory on several fronts through military offensives. The focus of fighting at present is the important railway hub of Debaltseve, which the separatists have allegedly surrounded, but which Ukrainian government troops understandably do not want to yield without a fight. As the ceasefire is not scheduled to begin for a good two days, it can't be ruled out that the clashes around Debaltseve won't grow in intensity over the next few hours, as both sides try to gain a military advantage before the truce goes into force.
But there are other reasons for considerable skepticism as to whether the truce agreed for February 15 will really be kept. For, in the end, no truce agreement has any chance of success unless the demilitarized zone between the warring parties is adequately monitored and enforced by independent forces. It is, however, very questionable whether the OSCE can afford to do this, because the new agreement only assigns it this monitoring task in a few and fairly vague words. For this reason, too, it is very likely that the fighting will continue.
What is more, the other items in the agreement call on the Ukrainian state leadership not only to tolerate a regime in eastern Ukraine that is hostile to Kyiv, but even to give this regime economic and financial aid. At the same time, the agreement only vaguely envisages the Ukrainian state being given back control of the Russian-Ukrainian border by the end of 2015. So this new agreement does not mean any more security for Ukraine.
Two-day-long glimmer of hope?
Until February 15, Europe can thus bask in the hope that the ceasefire will become reality. But it is by no means certain that Minsk II will really lead to an end of the bloodshed. And if it doesn't, the question of further sanctions or even the delivery of weapons to Ukraine will need to be discussed once more in the coming week.