Over the weekend, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement to the UN Security Council (UNSC) accusing Russia of “yet again (having) violated Ukraine’s state sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Supporting the statement are observations made by the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine, that heavy weapons fighting in eastern areas of the country have intensified. The Ministry’s statement went on to declare that Russia’s brazen violations counter its “international commitments, as well as the core idea and principles of the Minsk agreements.”
An escalation of fighting and violations to agreed withdrawal lines, by both sides, has made monitoring and access to disengaged areas increasingly dangerous for the SMM who operate under the authority of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) . Yet action on the ground appears in coordinated step with Russia’s revised political attitude toward Ukraine.
International observers suggest President Putin’s recent decree to recognize documents issued in rebel controlled areas of eastern Ukraine provocatively undermine the Minsk II agreement and are an aggressive posture toward Ukraine. Many observers believe Russia’s renewed assertiveness reflect a bold political confidence that the new US presidential administration, under Donal Trump, will be less willing to support Ukraine or verbally reprimand Russian actions.
Russia, for its part, has long been critical of the Minsk II agreement, which it maintains is too deeply flawed to achieve a lasting political or diplomatic resolution to the conflict. However, this stance is deeply ironic, considering Russia drafted the resolution which was endorsed by European guarantors and unanimously adopted by the UNSC’s 15 members in February 2015.
Minsk II (UNSC Resolution 2202 (2015)) details a thirteen point peace pathway, beginning with an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons. Though Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, urged that all parties complied with the agreement, violations quickly followed the resolution’s adoption, indicating a lackluster willingness to abide by the written agreement.
Progress toward achieving Minsk II milestones have been painfully slow, reflecting a combination of factors. Russia’s formal involvement in the Syrian conflict deftly shifted international focus to a new theater, away from what Russia maintains is an internal civil conflict in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s political landscape remains fractioned and increasingly tense, following growing civil resentment and pressure from opposition parties toward western-supported Petro Poroshenko’s government. To many, the government’s eroding support base stems from on-going allegations of corruption that make the government appear like old news rehashed.
And finally, there is the question of how unified the European political attitude is toward supporting Ukraine and the Minsk II agreement. Rising nationalist sentiment across many western European countries; the shock of Brexit, and the potential of other states to follow; persistent issues with regional economic growth and confidence; European reliance on stable energy supplies from the east; and the high intake of displaced people from the Middle East and north Africa have left Europe nearing a tipping point.
However, while Europe’s numerous considerations are individually contentious, an escalation in Ukraine’s conflict would be extremely dangerous for the entire region.
Based on this, the Minsk agreements—as recognized by the UNSC—remain the most appropriate action for both Russia and Ukraine if they are to pursue ongoing dialogue and achieve a peaceful solution. This is supported by the Co Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group who recently stated “War is not an option”.