The situation in Ukraine is about to escalate once again. The Minsk agreement is hanging in the balance. It can't work this way, Bernd Johann writes.
In recent weeks, we were tempted to think, to some extent, that the situation in eastern Ukraine was about to calm down. Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe reported incidents along the ceasefire line on an almost daily basis, but heavy weaponry was used only rarely. Now, the period of treacherous calm is over.
Using mortars and tanks, Russia-backed combatants of the so-called "people's republics" launched a massive military attack from Donetsk along a major road stretching to the west. This onslaught could pave the way for a new large-scale attack, which people in the region have been fearing for a long time.
As yet, no one has come forward to declare that the Minsk agreement, negotiated four months ago in the Belarusian capital, has failed. Instead, there is talk of a "setback" and a "violation of the agreement." European politicians are voicing their concern and warning of a new spiral of violence. They have made a habit of that since the beginning of the conflict - always, it seems, simultaneously viewing the situation through rose-tinted glasses. Can the Minsk agreement work at all? Is a peace plan realistic if just one of the parties involved shows no commitment at all with respect to the objectives agreed upon?
A fragile ceasefire and a partial pullback of heavy military equipment are the only regulations in the Minsk agreement that the parties have complied with, if not totally, in recent months. Thus far, neither side has made a serious effort to engage in further dialogue. The Ukrainian government is not prepared to recognize the self-styled representatives of the "people's republics" as negotiating partners. It was only through violence and political and military support from Russia that those people came to power there in the first place. Combatants demand a "Novorossiya," a "New Russia," on Ukrainian soil. How can there be any wiggle room for an agreement, especially as the Minsk accord calls for preservation of Ukraine's state unity?
A secret war
To this day, Russia has denied involvement in the war. In fact, however, there was a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Soldiers from Russia were captured there; many have even died in Ukraine. The issue is controversial to such an extent that, a short while ago, a new law was passed in Russia according to which any reporting on the circumstances leading to the death of an army member is forbidden: a measure adopted to ensure secrecy, as if Russia were involved in a war.
There are a number of indications that a large-scale attack is being prepared in Ukraine. In that case, the Minsk agreement would definitely be history. In Ukraine, nothing can be gained from sugarcoating. There is no indication that Russia - or the separatists - has renounced the path of war: Peace cannot be achieved under such circumstances. All Ukraine can do is warn of the "colossal threat," as President Petro Poroshenko called it in a fiery address to parliament in Kyiv, and be prepared to face it.
All eyes are now set on the upcoming G7 summit of the heads of state and government in Germany. Was it a mistake to exclude Russia from the meeting? Among those who share this view are several German politicians, but they are wrong: G7 leaders could not go around Ukrainian officials and negotiate directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Bavarian resort Schloss Elmau. Plain and simple, G7 is not the proper forum for a solution to the conflict.
Participants have to use the meeting to map out the way ahead. Adhering to diplomatic dialogue with Moscow is the right thing to do, and this includes continuing the Minsk process, even if it hardly works. After all, the alternative is war. Simultaneously, it has to be made clear to Russia that every further escalation will immediately result in a drastic tightening of sanctions. Sugarcoating is not the way forward.
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