The Minsk II Protocol is not a viable mechanism for peace in Ukraine
The agreement achieves nothing when Putin continues to manipulate cultural boundaries
By Tane Moorhouse
Image courtesy of European External Action Service via Flickr
The Minsk II Protocol was a multilateral treaty signed on February 2015 by representatives of the Russian and Ukrainian governments, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the representatives from the breakaway Peoples Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Its raison d'être was the peaceful resolution of the conflict that had erupted in the region following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the occupation of large parts of the Donbass region by Russian-backed separatists in 2014.
Peace was to be achieved through the de-militarisation of eastern Ukraine and, crucially, the eventual restoration of Ukrainian authority to its full territorial extent as stated in article 9 of the Protocol–and originally confirmed in the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of 1994. This feature was to be attained through the withdrawal of all Russian and separatist affiliated forces. Importantly, however, this measure was itself conditional upon the implementation of constitutional reform within Ukraine that would provide significant processes of decentralisation for the eastern oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk outlined in article 11.
Thus until early 2022, the prospect that a peaceful conclusion to the conflict could be attained through the Minsk Protocol was plausible, albeit unlikely. It is not surprising that, on the 8th of February 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that the Minsk Protocol remained the only viable mechanism for peace.
However, recent events have witnessed the severe undermining of the fundamental lynchpins of the protocol. The full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces that took place earlier this year has once again laid witness to the drastic violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity by the Russian authorities. Therefore, through this action, the Russian government has highlighted their disregard for the Minsk II Protocol and component principles.
Despite the existential threat posed to Ukraine, various politicians have criticised many western governments’ decisions to prioritise the nation’s survival via military resistance. Political actors such as Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage – from a British perspective – have instead called for the re-commitment to, and for the proper implementation of, the Minsk II Protocol. As stated by the Stop the War Coalition, western governments ’should encourage a return to the Minsk II agreement, already signed by both sides […] as a basis for ending the crisis in relations between Ukraine and Russia’ adding that ‘This dispute could and should be resolved peacefully, and that remains the only basis for a lasting settlement, rather than the imposition of military solutions’.
Yet the claim that the Minsk II protocol remains viable is absurd. Despite extensive changes to the geo-political reality of the region in 2022,
advocates of the Minsk II Protocol have deceived themselves into believing that this treaty remains unaffected from these recent developments.
While it was previously conceivable that Putin could withdrawal his forces from Crimea and Donbass upon the implementation of decentralisation in Ukraine (as per the Protocol), the notion that he would pull his forces out of these locations as well as the positions occupied in this year’s invasion is naïve to the extreme. As an authoritarian regime, Putin and his supporters maintain power through direct implementation of force and the accompanying ‘strong-man’ image of securitising Russian interest both domestically and abroad. Given that Putin has now fully committed his forces to a full-scale invasion of the entirety of Ukraine, it is unlikely that he would command his forces to retreat from any of their positions in fear of political suicide. Therefore, under contemporary circumstances,
the notion that Russian foreign policy and Ukrainian territorial sovereignty can be compatible – as attempted by the Minsk II Protocol – is based upon nothing but unfounded blind hope.
Moreover, calls for a return to Minsk II Protocol are problematic because they fail to realise that, for the Putin establishment, the inability to withdrawal forces from Ukraine go far beyond issues of power retention. Putin has evidently convinced himself that the very existence of a Ukrainian state – in its modern sense – is historically invalid. This is evident in Putin’s 2021 essay entitled ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians’, where he claims that ‘modern Ukraine is entirely the product of the Soviet era’ referencing in particular Lenin’s refusal to allow the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic to join Soviet Russia in 1918, instead forcing this region to join soviet Ukraine. Thus Putin claims and believes that Ukraine was built ‘for a significant part – on the lands of historical Russia’. When compounded with Putin’s conviction, regardless of its inaccuracy, that recent Ukrainian governments are Pro-Nazi and anti-Russian it is likely that Putin feels morally compelled to ‘defend’ Russophile Ukrainian citizens and regions from the from the apparent persecution of the Ukrainian authorities. Therefore, over the last couple of years the Putin establishment has seriously questioned the validity of the Ukrainian states territorial boundaries as agreed upon via both the Budapest Memorandum and the Minsk II Protocol. Seemingly, therefore,
Putin no longer has any intention to respect previously signed treaties
thus making the component parts of the Minsk II Protocol unachievable. This explains Putin’s formal recognition of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic as independent entities separate from Ukraine on the 21st of February 2022 – an action that sounds the death knell of the treaty.
It remains uncertain how the Ukrainian-Russian conflict will ultimately develop. Yet recent developments have made the Minsk II Protocol outdated and unsuitable as a future mechanism for peace.