Opening Minsk Amid a Closing Door on Peace

"One Further Attempt"

Today, French and German Leaders will meet with Ukraine and Russia in Minsk for what Angela Merkel has called, “one further attempt” to end the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Even though pro-Russian separatist leadership and the Untied States are conspicuously missing from representation, European leaders hope that this will be the final round of negotiating on Ukraine. Meanwhile the United Stated has bluntly stated the consequences of failure in Minsk – a fresh round of sanctions and potentially lethal aid. The prospective sight of American weaponry in Ukraine has never been higher, with internal support from John Kerry and General Breedlove – both of whom Obama trusts on foreign policy issues. However, Obama may reverse position while he has the rare occasion of bipartisan support.

 

Moscow on Behalf of Luhansk and Donetsk

On the other side of the brewing proxy war is a force of Russian-backed separatists who have won a series of impressive victories since last fall. The previously negotiated Minsk Protocol immediately fell apart with ceasefire violations by both sides and key Minsk Protocol conditions defied by separatists—including declarations of sovereignty and unrecognized elections in Donetsk and Luhansk. In the lead up to the Minsk Round, Ukraine has seen some of the fiercest fighting yet. The most likely scenario for Minsk is for Russia to readily agree to terms it that cannot be enforced on the absent separatist representatives. This provides Moscow supposed cover; once Minsk is violated yet again, Russia can use its doublespeak to blame it on western intervention and a separatist movement that is de jure outside its control. If talks in Minsk have any real effect, it will be to allow rebels time to resupply, train, and plan their next ceasefire violation.

 

American Response Muted by Allies

What comes after the next violation? Continuing the consistent trend, the EU and the United States will likely bicker over the proper reaction while separatist forces are likely to continue to seek a long-term objective: the critical Black Sea city of Mariupol. International perceptions however seem to downplay the effect of any American-led escalation of the conflict. In this week’s joint press conference with Chancellor Merkel, Obama stated: “We can’t simply try to talk [Russia] out of it. We have to show them that the world is unified in imposing a cost for this aggression.” The German press facetiously asked, “[Can] Nobel laureate Obama do more to defuse this conflict?”

Pessimism is rife, yet few press corps are discussing the human toll that a failed Minsk 2.0 would bring. Alternatively, the American political science elite wish to debate the issue of weaponry. An all-star cast of fellows from Brookings and the Atlantic Council, as well as Anders Aslund have taken a hardline approach, while the likes of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have argued for a more distant approach. Yet these esteemed scholars seemed to ignore what Donetsk looked like the night before the Obama-Markel press conference. Perhaps the most relevant analysis of the present situation on the ground in Ukraine has come from French journalist Benefit Vetting who said that “absurdity” is the only work to use to describe the situation. Despite all the debate of weapons, peace, or zones of control, all signs seem to point to more absurdity.