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Crisis in Ukraine: what do the Minsk agreements contain, at the heart of the negotiations?

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The Minsk Accords are for Emmanuel Macron one of the keys to resolving the current crisis between the West and Russia. Signed in 2015 to end the war in Ukraine, they have never been fully implemented.

why were the Minsk Accords signed?

The so-called “Minsk II” agreements were signed in 2015 to end the war between the Ukrainian power and the separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, supported by Moscow.

As a reminder, these provinces located in the Donbass region, in the east of Ukraine, had seceded in 2014, shortly after the annexation of Crimea by Russia. A first agreement signed in September 2014 (Minsk I) failed to end the conflict.

Gathered in a negotiation format called “Normandy”, the French, German, Russian and Ukrainian heads of state reached a new peace agreement (Minsk II) on February 12, 2015.

What do the agreements provide?

The result of long hours of negotiations, the compromise is often described as complex and fragile.

First of all, it provides for appeasement measures such as an immediate ceasefire, the establishment of a demilitarized buffer zone, amnesty for participants in the conflict, the release of prisoners and the resumption of control of the border through Ukraine.

The Minsk agreements also address the very sensitive issue of a reform of the Ukrainian constitution, the aim of which is to grant more autonomy to the provinces of Donbass with, as a result, the organization of local elections.

Where is the application of the agreements?

Except for the exchange of prisoners, none of the provisions were really applied. The ceasefire has been regularly violated since 2015, the separatists have not been disarmed, Ukraine still does not control its eastern border and the holding of elections is not on the agenda.

The talks stumble over the timeline for implementing the various provisions. Ukraine believes it cannot hold free elections in Donbass until the ceasefire is complete, the Russians are still present in the region and it regains control from its eastern border. For its part, Russia does not want to let go of the border before the elections are held.

Why are negotiations stalled?

For many Ukrainians, the application of the Minsk agreements represents a capitulation to Russia. In 2015, riots broke out after Ukrainian MPs passed a bill granting greater autonomy to breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.

In 2019, an agreement reached between the separatists and the new President Zelensky once again aroused the indignation of part of the population. Dubbed the “Steinmeier formula”, after the German minister who proposed it, the agreement provided for the application of a temporary special status to the secessionist provinces as well as an electoral calendar. 10,000 demonstrators then marched through Kiev to cries of “No to surrender!” and “No to amnesty!”

The question of the prerogatives granted to the new autonomous region crystallizes the tensions. If Kiev wants to grant him limited powers, the Kremlin believes that the future representatives of Donbass, which it is very likely that they are pro-Russian, will have to have representation within the federal government. A situation which, according to Ukraine, would give Moscow a right of veto over its foreign policy.

Can negotiations be restarted?

Emmanuel Macron wanted to reactivate the “Normandy” format, which had resulted in the signing of the Minsk Accords. A first meeting of this type was held on January 26 in Paris.

After meeting Presidents Putin and Zelensky, the Head of State assured on Tuesday that he had obtained “a double commitment” from Russia and Ukraine to respect the Minsk agreements, saying that he believed in “concrete solutions” to achieve to a de-escalation.

“There have been positive signals about Ukraine’s decision to act solely on the basis of the Minsk agreements, that’s a plus,” acknowledged Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

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