20 years under Putin: a timeline

On September 5, 2014, a ceasefire between the Ukrainian government and separatist groups in eastern Ukraine was signed in Minsk, Belarus. According to political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya, the Minsk agreement is impossible to implement and will ultimately fail on all fronts.


Despite the ceasefire agreement, separatists and Ukrainian military continue to sporadically clash in Donbass. Photo: Reuters.


The September 5 ceasefire was signed by the Trilateral Contact Group, which included Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) representative Heidi Tagliavini, former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, Russian ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, and leaders of the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (LPR and DPR) Igor Plotnitskiy and Alexander Zakharchenko, respectively. The parties agreed on three major provisions, including the withdrawal of troops, the exchange of prisoners, and the supply of humanitarian aid.

When it was signed, the ceasefire was hardly shocking news. The 12-point plan had been negotiated over the course of several weeks of telephone conversations between Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko. Although many experts would concur that these ongoing discussions are a sign of positive change—given the fact that the parties had consistently failed to establish a continuous dialogue—such an optimistic outlook could hardly be justified. The advancement of this peaceful initiative appears to be nothing more than a sham, as each of the opposing parties has already recorded multiple violations of the ceasefire since it took effect at 6 p.m. local time on September 5.

These violations came as no surprise. Under the first two provisions of the peace plan, the OSCE pledged to monitor the immediate ceasefire. However, as the RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing unnamed sources, it is in fact the parties to the conflict who will be responsible for ensuring adherence to the terms of the agreement, while the OSCE will only be in charge of general monitoring. Such an arrangement may precipitate more provocations.

Having read all the terms of the ceasefire, my major concern is how leaders from both Kiev and the pro-Russian rebel forces will divide the territory of eastern Ukraine if there is no established front line. For example, how will the conflict in Mariupol, the city that continues to be the epicenter of all the major battles that have occurred, be resolved? On September 7, after the declaration of the ceasefire, combatants from the self-proclaimed Novorossiya (“New Russia”) posted a statement on their official Twitter account promising to storm Mariupol.

The ceasefire also demands the removal of all illegal military units, military hardware, militia fighters, and paid contractors from the territory of Ukraine. This provision is aimed at the military reinforcements the separatists have been receiving from Russia. This provision raises another conundrum, since Russia refuses to admit it is backing the rebels and sending military materiel and troops to eastern Ukraine. From the Kremlin’s viewpoint, there is no one it should remove from the combat zones. At the same time, Kiev has shown no intention of withdrawing the army from the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts either, because it considers such a step the equivalent of admitting defeat.

In reality, both parties are involved in a type of warfare in which hardly any of the fighting groups are directly controlled by Kiev, the DPR, or the LPR. The conflicting parties will consistently fail to meet their commitments under the ceasefire until one of them makes a critical strategic decision. Either Moscow will completely abandon its support for the separatist rebels or Kiev will relinquish any hope of keeping eastern Ukraine. Neither of these scenarios is feasible, which means that military clashes in the region are likely to continue.

The plethora of questions that result from even a very cursory examination of the ceasefire reflects the core issue of the crisis in Ukraine: the wide rifts between the positions of each party.

Another important issue is the control that Russia wields over the Russian-Ukrainian border in order to provide separatists with weapons and military hardware and to send paid mercenaries to Ukraine. Some military experts believe that if Russia had not boosted its military support to the pro-Russian rebels in mid-August, Kiev would now control Donetsk and Luhansk. Instead, the Ukrainian forces suffered a significant number of casualties. It does not currently seem possible to close national borders between the two countries or to put a stop to military aid from Russia.

The only authority that can still maintain at least a minimum degree of control over the borders and sustain a semblance of trust between the two conflicting parties is the OSCE. Europe’s security watchdog, however, is not in a hurry to engage in the conflict as a peacekeeping force. The ceasefire stipulates that the OSCE should coordinate the establishment of safety zones in the border areas between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, but even this provision will be difficult to implement. On September 9, Igor Plotnitskiy, leader of the self-proclaimed LPR, said that his republic had no plans of handing Kiev control over the territory. “I have stated before that any effort to turn the Minsk agreement against us will fail,” he said. “We have signed the protocol as an agreement of peaceful co-existence. No one will succeed in isolating or suffocating us. We will never surrender our borders with neighboring Russia into the hands of our enemies. We are also ready to compete financially with Ukraine.”

Other provisions in the ceasefire resemble science fiction storylines, particularly those spelling out the framework for provisional self-government in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This part of the agreement will be impossible to implement, because, as participants and multiple anonymous sources from both sides have confirmed, that issue was not discussed during the ceasefire negotiations. A reasonable compromise on this matter—if it is even remotely possible—is hard to foresee. Moreover, immediately following the signing of the agreement, representatives of the LPR and DPR stated that the republics’ secession from Ukraine is still part of the negotiation agenda. First Vice Prime Minister of the DPR Andrey Purghin underscored the insistence of the leadership of both republics on proclaiming their independence.

Even the format of the peaceful talks held in Minsk would raise an eyebrow—especially with regard to the authority and legitimacy of the parties. Ukraine, for instance, was represented by former president Leonid Kuchma, who presently holds no significant official position in the Ukrainian government and acted as a private citizen during the negotiations. How reliable can the commitments given by the Ukrainian side in this matter be? Furthermore, the signed agreement does not spell out any provisions for the LPR and DPR, and consequently it is unclear whether the ceasefire recognizes the authority of their leaders. Where are the borders of the self-proclaimed republics? Do their leaders have any legitimacy if Kiev views them as terrorists? What is the status of the separatist battalions that do not answer to either of these republics? Finally, what is Russia’s role in this peace process—that of a mediator, or that of a participant in the conflict? Officially, Russia has not taken any responsibility for the conflict, but neither Kiev nor the global community recognizes it as a mediator.

The plethora of questions that result from even a very cursory examination of the ceasefire reflects the core issue of the crisis in Ukraine: the wide rifts between the positions of each party. This also means that very likely, the military conflict in eastern Ukraine will continue to be an unending loop of unending “solutions.”