1. The conflict in eastern Ukraine is developing against a dangerous international background. The existing system of international relations and security has entered highly turbulent waters, which automatically turns the conflict into a systemic, rather than local, one. Any scenarios of future developments in the Donbas, thus, build on systemic uncertainties about the present and future of the European security architecture.
Minsk-II Accords: Achievements and Failures
2. One year later, it is difficult to assess the results of the Minsk-II Accords unequivocally: hostilities have subsided but peace has not been reached. The main accomplishment is that the parties have managed to decrease the intensity of the warfare (in particular, they have stopped using multiple-launch systems almost entirely), which has significantly lowered the number of casualties.
3. Debaltsevo became a ‘birth injury’ of the Minsk-II Accords, which only further undermined the otherwise poor mutual trust.
4. One year after the Normandy meeting in Minsk, only one of the thirteen points of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements has been fully implemented: point 13 (intensification of the work of the Trilateral Contact Group). The following points have been implemented partially: 1 (ceasefire), 2 (withdrawal of heavy weapons and the creation of a security zone), 3 (monitoring of the ceasefire regime and withdrawal of heavy weapons by the OSCE), 4 (local elections and law on local self-government), and 6 (release and exchange of all hostages and unlawfully detained persons). Some improvements can also be observed in the conditions of humanitarian aid provision, as well as infrastructure (railway transport and electricity). The ceasefire regime has had a ‘teetering’ character (e.g., in September-October 2015, almost all hostilities were brought to a halt).
5. Another accomplishment of the Minsk process is the launch of negotiation formats of different levels and intensity. The dialogue is complicated by multiple factors and is not always productive. However, it continues and some points of mutual interest are being found; moreover, the sides increasingly agree about the challenges they face.
Lessons Learned and Future Challenges
6. The Minsk process has entered a decisive stage. Progress in the realisation of the Package of Measures in 2016 can open a way forward for the resolution of the conf lict. Otherwise, the conflict faces some variant of ‘freezing’. At the same time, there is little ground to expect that the ‘freezing’ will go along the scenario of one of the existing post-Soviet territorial conflicts. The internal and regional circumstances look too different.
7. Therefore, in the short-term, Track-I and Track-II discussions need to focus on the necessity of a fully implemented ceasefire, rather than on various ‘freezing’ alternatives.
8. Today, the parties to the conflict are not ready emotionally and psychologically for reconciliation. This is why the implementation of the Minsk-II Accords should not be forced at any cost, since it would only undermine the process. At the same time, delaying the implementation leads to an unknown form of ‘freezing’, which raises multiple human, political and regional risks. In particular, ‘freezing’ the conflict would mean inevitable socio-economic degradation in the conflict zone and in a broader regional context.
9. A ‘freezing’ scenario also poses fundamental questions about the future of Russia-West relations, which are now developing within the sanctions logic and depend on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Importantly, the relations between Russia and the West are crucial for the future of the European security system.
10. The lack of a compromise model, as well as of political will on both sides, is the main challenge to the conflict settlement in the Donbas. The format of peace talks and the composition of their participants are secondary problems.
11. The emergence of real political will and progress in the implementation of the military part of the Package of Measures would necessitate a roadmap for the implementation of the other parts of the Accords. As the political part of Minsk-II looks deadlocked, a new version of it might be needed.
12. It is important that a system of deadlines within a detailed step-by-step implementation strategy be introduced. Without deadlines, parties to the conflict are inclined to delay the process by thinking that time works in their favour.
13. The Minsk-II Accords’ most complicated provisions have to do with consitutional reform in Ukraine and the reintegration (in any form) of the territories of the self-proclaimed republics into the socio-economic and political space of Ukraine. A practical question that remains off the agenda of Track-I and Track-II negotiations is related to the future of the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR in case of the implementation of the Package of Measures.
14. Diverse and often poorly controlled forces are active in the conflict zone. However, the events of the last year have shown that the influence of this factor on the implementation of the agreements can be minimised when political will is there.
In Search of a Sustainable Model of Regional Security
15. Leading international actors understand the need to de-escalate regional tensions but do not show readiness for a serious discussion about a new security architecture for Europe. The global and regional security systems are accumulating defects and the bifurcation point has not been reached yet. At present it is difficult to foresee a point after which the system’s ‘reset’ will become a shared priority.
16. However, this does not make the task of designing parameters for a new all-European system of security and international relations less relevant, particularly on Track-II level.
17. A new security system cannot be built locally in eastern Europe. It can only be part of an all-European system. In this respect, the German chairmanship of the OSCE will indicate the horizons of the agenda for the years to come.
18. An under-appreciated problem is that global and regional actors remain confident that a large-scale conflict is impossible in the nuclear era.
19. In recent years, against a background of geopolitical tensions in Eurasia, Track-I and Track-II platforms for conflict prevention, de-escalation and the search for systemic solutions in the realm of international relations have been marginalised. In the course of the crisis in Ukraine, Belarus has demonstrated potential to offer such a platform for eastern Europe. This has been possible due to a number of factors: Minsk’s sovereign neutral position on the conflict; the intimate knowledge of the conflict’s context and its sides’ specific actions that the Belarusian authorities possess; the dependence of Belarus’s security and economy on regional stability.
20. It is in the interests of both East and West to have such a neutral platform. At the same time, the existing realities require more effort and intensified political and expert activity from Minsk.