Minsk II and the Donbas Conflict: Six Years Later
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This February marks six years since the Minsk II Protocol was agreed upon by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany in order to work toward ending the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Since then, the implementation of Minsk II by the OSCE-led Trilateral Contact Group has been difficult, with some moments of stabilization but an overall failure to move toward the conflict resolution phase. Additionally, recent ceasefire violations are evidence that the situation is worsening. In this panel, experts discussed what is happening on the Donbas frontline today, assessed the implementation of Minsk II, and shared major achievements and shortcomings on the development of the situation in the region.
"Unfortunately, what we’ve seen since January is there has been a new wave of ceasefire violations happening, and the tactics of the violations have changed [...] The second problem is the unexploded materials from around the contact line. This is still a huge problem from both the military and civilian [perspective]. But since January, we have started to see that not only snipers are active there, but more and more heavier weapons are used. What is important is it is not only the Ukrainian side reporting this, but the OSCE and their monitoring mission in their daily reports have started to witness a return in heavy weapons from the uncontrolled territories closer to the contact line, which is quite a dangerous trend."
"Because of the pandemic, Russian authorities and Russian proxies have started to use pandemic restrictions as an excuse to limit the free movement of people at the contact line. The Ukrainian situation was quite unique for years because if you compare any of the other conflict zones, usually people from two sides are rarely moving. It is usually single or small amounts of people who are daily crossing the line. Between controlled and uncontrolled territories, daily we have tens of thousands of people crossing the line because of personal issues. So with the pandemic, we have had regular situations where people are just prevented from crossing the line, and there have even been very negative incidents when people were stuck in the grey zone."
"It’s quite understandable that we spend so much time when discussing the Minsk process talking about the negotiations towards the final political settlement. The lives, property, political agency of several million people are at stake and yet, so much of the Minsk process is observing Ukraine and Russia orbit around the basic incompatibility of their interpretations of the accords. If there is a mutually acceptable compromise that would get it to a final negotiated political resolution, it would require such an extraordinary alignment of political planets on both sides, and we haven’t even thus far come close to seeing that alignment."
"The hourglass of the economy is draining before our eyes. It truly is a question of running out of time. Economic conditions in the non-government controlled parts of the Donbas, the so-called People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, are catastrophic and they’re degrading at such a rate that if that dynamic doesn’t change soon, a political settlement that comes potentially much later could be moot. These so-called People’s Republics will be basically non-viable as a place to support millions of people who still call them home and several million who might still want to return home."
"Minsk-2 was designed to help start conflict management that would probably lead to conflict resolution. However, if we look at this six years afterwards from the resolution, this document became the source of the problem. So back in 2015, it actually stopped the active phase of war when the frontline, an approximately 450 kilometer line, was stabilized and both sides started creating these shields, security measures that would help protect from further attacks. Then, up until July 2020 […] it was kind of a stabilized situation with approximately ten to twelve attacks per day on this frontline and only for the Ukrainian side, it cost 20 to 25 lives of our military. But since August of last year, there has been a hope for Minsk-3. Even the term appeared before the document was proposed, and this Minsk-3 was a symptom of that the older agreements were not functioning properly [...] So basically, by January of this year, there was still hope that the Normandy format of the Minsk process would come up with something less toxic, more implementable, and instead we have a radical worsening of the situation."
"[Zelensky] was literally elected on the expectations, rather than promises, expectations of peace and resolution with Moscow. However, right now we can see that those 20, 30 percent of the Ukrainian population that are stably supporting the president, they are more inclined to military action for reintegration. So the sympathies of the people towards the policy and the president are changing towards a more critical stance towards the separatist units and Russia. So right now, I would say that there is less and less [of a] social group that would support peaceful resolution and the president at the same time. There is some division and the president is also taking more and more radical actions to find a solution to also get to the stronger position in future talks with Moscow."
The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange. Read more
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