What the Minsk peace deal means to Ukraine and Russia

Transcript of Professor Stefan Hedlund talking about the Minsk peace deal agreed on February 12, 2015, and what it means to Ukraine and Russia.

In this second round of peace talks, do you see the deal holding with both sides keeping to the ceasefire?

Professor Hedlund:

Well, I am not so sure that this agreement in Minsk means that much. It’s been my understanding for some time now that the ambition of the separatists has mainly been to straighten out the front lines to create the defensible perimeter for their pseudo states, the People's Republics.

That means that they want to sort out the pocket around the rail junction at Debaltseve, where fierce fighting has been going on, and they now have three days until the ceasefire comes into effect to do that. So we are going to see very bloody intensive fighting around Debaltseve now and the Russians are likely to win that. Once they’ve done that, and stabilised the frontline in the south with Mariupol, I think they are content with the ceasefire and that would probably have happened even without Minsk. So, it will be stable for a few months and then it is going to flare up again.

What does this agreement mean politically for Europe, Ukraine and Russia?

Professor Hedlund:

Well, for European political leaders it means that they can pretend that they have made a big step towards peace, although everybody knows that this is a very small step that probably won’t lead anywhere for Ukraine. It means that the killing may stop temporarily, which is obviously a very major benefit, but it also means that all the hard work is still to be done.

They need to come to an agreement with Russia on a confederation of Ukraine, maybe. If they do that they will have an explosion of protests in the western and central parts of the country. They would need to force the Russian’s to agree that the Ukraine state takes over control of the border between the Peoples Republics and Russia, which will not happen, so all the hard work is still to be done for Ukraine.

For Russia this means that Russia has yet again got away with claiming that it is not involved, that it is an internal conflict in Ukraine between the separatists and central government in Kiev. And they made a stunt during the night involving the leaders of the People's Republic saying that we have an agreement but they were not involved so they couldn’t sign and then you went back, so they’ve really emphasised yet again that the Ukrainian government will need to negotiate with these ‘hoods’ that nobody recognises beyond Mr Putin. So it’s a step forward for Russia, I would argue.

Will the IMF’s US$17.5 billion rescue plan sort out Ukraine’s financial troubles?

Professor Hedlund:

Ah yes. This was the big news to come out of Minsk. And it's obvious that it had a big connection. I mean for the past few weeks nobody has been willing to talk even about the fact that Ukraine was on the road to a sovereign default.

Its hard currency reserves are now below US$7 billion which is literally nothing and the pressure has been intense on the IMF to come up with this huge additional credit. Now, it has done so and that means that the fear of an immediate sovereign default has been postponed.

But the fact remains that someone will have to inform the Ukrainians that there is a big difference - that is not semantic - between credit and gift. These are credits that will have to be repaid. And as long as we don’t see any sensible reforms that turns Ukraine into a viable entity with a working economy then these monies are just going to be spent, not on objects that make it possible for Ukraine to repay them.

So my guess is that the mountain of debt that will go into default has now been increased so the default will be postponed but when it happens it will be larger.

(Photo credit: dpa)

  • A deal aimed at ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine was agreed on Thursday, February 12, 2015.
  • Leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France announced a peace deal following talks in Minsk, Belarus.
  • The agreement includes:
  • Ceasefire to begin at midnight on 15 February.
  • Heavy weapons to be pulled out.
  • All prisoners to be released.
  • Unresolved issues include the status of Debaltseve, a government-held town surrounded by rebels that has been the focus of fierce fighting.
  • Further talks will also be held on self-rule in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions.

Ukraine timeline:

  • November 2013: President Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet abandoned an agreement on closer trade ties with EU, instead seeking closer co-operation with Russia.
  • January 2014: Riots in Kiev's Maidan square between pro-EU and pro-Russia supporters saw many killed and hundreds injured.
  • February 2014: Ukraine President Yanukovych fled Ukraine.
  • February 2014: Pro-Russian gunmen seize key buildings in the Crimean capital, Simferopol.
  • March 2014: Russia annexed Crimea.
  • April 2014: Protesters occupied government buildings in the east Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv, calling for a referendum on independence. Ukraine acting prime minister launched military operations against pro-Russian militants in the east.
  • May 2014: Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence.
  • May 2014: Ukraine elected Petro Poroshenko as president.
  • July 2014: Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam shot down over rebel-held territory. 298 die.
  • September 2014: A peace deal was pulled together in Minsk. It failed to hold. Fighting escalated.