February 13, 2015

Tough Questions Posed by the Ceasefire

Reuters/Scanpix
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L), Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (R), Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (2nd R) and France's President Francois Hollande attend a meeting on resolving the Ukrainian crisis in Minsk, February 11, 2015.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L), Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (R), Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (2nd R) and France's President Francois Hollande attend a meeting on resolving the Ukrainian crisis in Minsk, February 11, 2015.

The most positive implications of the ceasefire achieved on February 10 in Ukraine may be for the civilians living in the area. It’s not a pleasant feeling to know you could be killed by a projectile or mine any second. If the shooting war ends, humanitarian aid workers would also have better access to the region, which is one of the points agreed upon by the parties.
But the main question is whether the ceasefire signed in Minsk is a prelude to a broader peace treaty and a stable future for Ukraine. Or will it just buy some time before hostilities resume?

In this sense, one of history’s most notorious pacts was the Munich Agreement of 1938, where the West sold Czechoslovakia to Hitler. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain became a byword for political naiveté for the way he paraded the agreement in London before the public. But some ceasefires that were just that have lasted decades – such as the one between Japan and the Soviet Union, which now extends to Russia.
According to media, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko displayed a muted reaction to the ceasefire. No doubt he and others remember well the similar truce from last September, which lasted only a few days.
The evasiveness around the signing of the ceasefire was also a bit odd. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and the host, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko were all there. But do we see their names on the ceasefire agreement?
Actually, no. The agreement was signed by OSCE representative Heidi Tagliavini, former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zubarov, Donetsk People’s Republic leader Alexander Zakharchenko and Luhansk People’s Republic leader Igor Plotnitsky.
Poroshenko can thus say that he has not signed any documents with the separatists. This was done by Kuchma. It’s interesting that the ceasefire was signed not by the current but the former president of Ukraine. And the separatists themselves can also say that they have not made any deals with Poroshenko. It is quite likely we will hear such claims being made.
At the same time, the leaders in Minsk did adopt a declaration supporting the ceasefire. This also supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Of course, the irony should be noted that the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, under which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, also supported the country’s territorial integrity.) The guarantors in that agreement were Russia, the US and the UK. But now Crimea has been de facto split off from that territorial integrity; hopefully eastern Ukraine will not be involved in similar subtractions. The tragic irony lies in the fact that Putin was the first to push for peace, although he himself is behind the Russian aggression.
These are not exactly promising signs. The key question is how much control Moscow has over the separatists, who have often stated their unwillingness to work with the Ukrainian government. The separatists hold the keys to the lasting ceasefire.
This piece, originally in Estonian, aired on Retro FM on Friday. 13 February.

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