Ukraine Minsk Meeting: Peace Talks Breed Skepticism After Continued Fighting, Failed First Accord
Ukraine peace talks in Minsk, Belarus, are in progress Wednesday, as the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany have all arrived there to negotiate a lasting peace in eastern Ukraine. Continued fighting there and the impotency of a comprehensive resolution signed in Minsk in September raise questions about the effectiveness of any new truce deal.
As the much-anticipated peace talks get under way, some experts have looked to similar, unsuccessful instances in the past to forecast what is likely to emerge from Wednesday’s session. Those examples include Tuesday night’s rumored ceasefire that was reportedly agreed upon by the Trilateral Contact Group (representatives from Ukraine, the separatists and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) that had apparently little to no effect as the Ukrainian army reported 19 soldiers were killed outside Debaltseve and at least 11 were killed in artillery strikes in Donetsk, a rebel city, on Wednesday, underscoring a lack of trust between the warring sides.
“One problem with [the September 2014 Minsk Accords] is it’s good on paper, but separatists and their Russian backers have shown willingness to follow a twofold policy of making military moves underground and then moving separately on the negotiating table,” said Roman Popadiuk, who was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in 1992 and 1993. “…They used the Minsk agreement as a cover-up. If you look at all the equipment and troops that have moved in since then, they have clearly stepped up support. Hopefully this is a true settlement and not a Minsk II, so to speak.”
Because of that, the Ukrainian government may be going into the talks with little negotiating power. Its military is outfitted with Soviet-era weapons and has lost more than 200 square miles of territory to separatists since September’s failed talks. That agreement was meant to set up a process to pull back heavy weaponry on both sides — including the artillery that’s accounted for up to 60 percent of Ukrainian casualties — and draw a demarcation line to start negotiations and give some kind of autonomous status to the two self-declared separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.