12 months of Minsk-2. Examining a year of violations

Image: voxukraine.org

Image: voxukraine.org 

2016/02/13 • Analysis & Opinion, Featured

A bit of history. Minsk-1 and Minsk-2

“Minsk agreements” is a common name for a package of documents adopted in September 2014 and February 2015.

There’s Minsk-1: the Protocol on the results of the Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine, Russia, OSCE with participation of the separatist leaders) adopted on 5 September 2014 and the Memorandum dated 19 September 2014. provisions on establishing a cease-fire, withdrawal of the heavy weapons, withdrawal of the illegal combatants, prohibition for drones except those owned by the OSCE etc.

Minsk agreements

Image: snapshot from www.telesurtv.net video. (L-R) Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko, OSCE Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov and leader of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Luhansk Igor Plotnitsky speaks to the media during talks on resolving the Ukraine on 5 September 2014 in Minsk

Then there’s Minsk-2. Since Minsk-1 was violated many times by the combined Russian-separatist forces, on 12 February 2015 the Minsk-2 agreements were signed by the Trilateral Group representatives (Ukraine, Russia, and OSCE) and leaders of the separatists. Minsk-2 was an extension of Minsk-1, its content was developed by the “Normandy Four”-  leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France. In a contradictory and complicated way, it outlined the ceasefire, exchange of prisoners, withdrawal of troops and illegal formations from Ukraine. It was supported by the US, EU, and UNSC.

Minsk deal

Normandy format talks in Minsk (February 2015): Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, and Petro Poroshenko take part in the talks on a settlement to the situation in Ukraine.  By Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38345346

Despite the few steps made forward, the main clauses were systematically violated over one year of the agreement in place.

Here is how the clauses of Minsk-2 were respected by both sides over the last year.

Ukrainian concerns and actions

Russian-separatist concerns and actions

 1. A immediate and comprehensive ceasefire shall be established on 15 February 2015. 

This clause of the Minsk agreement was violated by the Russian-backed separatists at the moment it was signed and remained to be the most violated over the year. Russia tried to postpone the date of the cease-fire initiation after the Minsk agreement of 11-12 February 2015, waiting for the final results of the battles near Debaltseve. But even though the date was agreed on 15 February, the fighting continued till 20 February. Ukrainian positions continued to be shelled with heavy weapons up to the end of August 2015; only when Russia started preparing for the military operation in Syria did the fighting decrease for a short period. It is increasing again in the first months of 2016.

C:\Users\User\Desktop\euromaidan\2016\february\8\attacks.JPG

Graph: Euromaidan Press

For the period of 15 February – 4 December 2015 there were only 47 days (15%) without wounded and killed from the Ukrainian side. In total 430 Ukrainian servicemen were killed during March – October 2015, including 54 during the relatively ‘calm September–October 2015 period.

One of the signatories of this document, the current “President” of the “DNR” Zakharchenko said that he was not bound by the ceasefire around the strategic town of Debaltseve. The Russians continued to attack Debaltseve, saying it was “surrounded” and therefore the troops there had to surrender. Five days after the ceasefire went into effect on 15 February, the OSCE condemned the continued attacks on Debaltseve.

One of the largest and most flagrant Russian ceasefire violations was the battle of Maryinka in June 2015. The Russians made a large attack on this Ukrainian-controlled town with heavy weapons. The Ukrainiansacknowledged that they were forced to use heavy artillery to beat off the attack.

2. The withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides to create a security zone of 50-70 km for weapon systems of caliber 100 and more. 

According to the ‘Control plan for coordination and implementation of a package of measures to implement the Minsk agreements’ that was signed on 20-22 February 2015, weapons should have been withdrawn by both sides starting on February 22. However, this was already a violation of the Minsk-2 since it required the withdrawal of weapons to begin on 17 February. The reason was that combined Russian-separatist troops were busy capturing Debaltseve, a strategic town linking Luhansk and Donetsk, which they didn’t manage to take in time before the start of the Minsk negotiations on 11-12 February 2015.

Map by Euromaidan Press. Line of contact data by informnapalm.org; terrorist-occupied territory data by liveuamap.com

Map by Euromaidan Press. Line of contact data by informnapalm.org; terrorist-occupied territory data by liveuamap.com

Ukrainian positions were shelled 55 times between 24 August-1 December  2015 with prohibited weapons – mortars, grads, artillery. This is not counting handguns, grenades etc. Only with the start of Russia’s military campaign in Syria did the amount of attacks decrease.

The OSCE has regularly observed Russian heavy weapons stationed close to the “line of contact.” For example, in October 2015 OSCE observers saw self-propelled howitzers. Also, new weapons modifications that are present only in Russia have been spotted by OSCE observers, such as TOS-1 Buratino, 220mm. Heavy weapons (tanks, IFVs, self-propelled and towed howitzers, air defense missile systems) were spotted 58 times inside the withdrawal zone, according to the OSCE.

3. Ensure monitoring of the ceasefire regime and withdrawal of heavy weapons by the OSCE 

Additional OSCE monitors were deployed to Ukraine to monitor the implementation of the Minsk-2 agreements. This was welcomed by Ukraine, which also seeks deployment of a wide international mission in the conflict area, perhaps under the auspices of the UN or the EU.

“LNR/DNR” members, as well as Russian officials, have regularly interfered with OSCE monitoring of Russian forces in Ukraine. For example, OSCE drones have been attacked with military-grade GPS jamming while trying to monitor Russian-occupied territory. OSCE monitors are not permitted to enter many areas close to the border with the Russian Federation in Luhansk Oblast (example).

4. Launch a dialogue on holding local elections in the occupied territories; provide that the Ukrainian parliament adopts a resolution on the area enjoying a special regime 

For the time being, the main violations and non-conformity lay in the security domain, which should be considered a prerequisite for political settlement. Ukraine insists that the elections be held in ‘in accordance with the Ukrainian legislation’ and ‘in compliance with the relevant OSCE standards’, as stated in Minsk-2 Agreement. This means free access of the media and international observers; free competition of the Ukrainian political parties; the top authority of the national Central Election Committee; proper security situation with disarmament of illegal military groups; and possibility for more than 1 million IDPs to come back and participate in the elections.

Free and democratic elections as well as reconstruction of the destroyed towns are not possible while security situation remains fragile.

However, provision of a secure environment demands not only a steady ceasefire but also effective control over the Ukraine-Russia state border and stop of the illegal inflow of weapons and military to the uncontrolled territory.

On 17 March 2015, the Parliament of Ukraine adopted corresponding amendments to the Law “On the special procedure of local self-governance in some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts”  as well as  adopted a resolution on the determination of individual regions, cities, towns and villages of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The only violation was that the adoption was delayed by 3 days from the Minsk-2 schedule.

The position of “DNR”/ “LNR” leaders is that the admission of the Ukrainian political parties, Ukrainian media and IDPs to the elections is unacceptable. At the same time, the separatists demand a total amnesty for all as a precondition for holding local elections. Overall, it is obvious that Russian/‘DNR’/‘LNR’ intention is not to have free and fair elections in Donbas but to limit political competition there and get legitimization of the rule of the armed Russian proxies.

Russia insists that the political negotiations should take place between the Ukrainian government and leaders of the so-called “LNR” and “DNR,” while Ukraine insists that the format of the Trilateral Contact Group is adequate and defined by the Minsk agreements.

Elections:

On the eve of Ukrainian local elections in October, the separatists of “LNR” and “DNR” announced that they would hold their own elections in late October without any correspondence to Ukrainian legislation. They were persuaded to postpone the elections until 2016 by the “Normandy format” summit in Paris.

5. Ensure an amnesty for separatists 

The law “On prevention of prosecution and punishment of persons – participants of the events in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts” was adopted back in September 2014. The only restrictions for amnesty envisaged were terroristic acts and murder, rape and plunder. This law is not in force due to Russia’s chronic failure to comply with the conditions of the Minsk agreements. After the Normandy summit in Paris on 2 October 2015, Ukraine confirmed that legislation on amnesty could be considered, but that it can’t be full.

Ukraine’s position is in line with international practice and the provisions of the Additional protocol II of 1977 to the Geneva Convention of 1949: heavy crimes and crimes against humanity are not a subject to amnesty. This rule is followed by all countries overcoming an armed conflict.

If the conflict is classified as an internal one, as Russia claims, the amnesty cannot be extended to Russian citizens who took part in the conflict.

“DNR” representatives announced in October 2015 that they would like to exclude “terroristic acts from the list of exceptions.” Russia/”DNR”/”LNR” insist on the law on total amnesty for all participants to the conflict with momental effect as a precondition.

6. Ensure the exchange of hostages and unlawfully detained persons based on the principle “all for all.” This process was to be finished on day 5 after the withdrawal.

There are still prisoners in custody of both sides (though this is to be expected as there are still ongoing hostilities.) Should the weapons have been withdrawn as envisaged by Minsk-2, the prisoners should have been released on 13 March 2015. Therefore, the release of hostages is taking place on the basis of bilateral agreements.

According to a the human rights coalition “ “Justice for Peace in Donbas,” 2763 people have been imprisoned in the “LNR”/”DNR.” According to official numbers, 140 are still imprisoned today. In addition, there are 13 political hostages in Russia, including Savchenko and Sentsov, and 8 in occupied Crimea. They are not taken into account by the Russian Federation.

While Ukraine has repeatedly shown readiness for the exchange of detainees as quickly as possible on the “all for all” principle, Russia /”DNR”/”LNR” insist, contrary to the text of Minsk-2, on adoption by Ukraine of the law on total amnesty for all participants to the conflict with instant effect as a precondition.

There have been at least three prisoner exchanges between the Russian irregulars and Ukraine, with the last one taking place in early December. Russian propaganda claims that there are only 20 Ukrainian soldiers still held prisoner and claim that the Ukrainians are holding “thousands of political prisoners.” Previously negotiators from the Russian side have tried to include imprisoned pro-Russian subversives from Odesa on the list of prisoners to be exchanged. Odesa is far outside the conflict zone. This impasse continues even though one of the lead negotiators for the Ukrainian side is Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and a known friend of Putin.

 7. Ensure distribution of humanitarian assistance to those in need on the basis of an international mechanism 

Ukraine welcomes humanitarian aid from various organizations.

The situation with the humanitarian aid to the occupied territories is not stable, first of all due to the problems international humanitarian organizations have while acquiring accreditation from the separatist “republics” for delivering humanitarian aid to the area. Another problem is that there are plenty of cases reported when the humanitarian aid is not provided for free but sold on the occupied territories.

8. Ukraine should resume socio-economic ties, including social transfers such as pensions; taxation should be resumed and control of Ukraine’s banking system should be ensured 

According to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, there is a responsibility of the occupying side to provide services to the civil population in the conflict zone.  Nevertheless, Ukraine is paying pensions and other social benefits to the people registered at the uncontrolled territories but exercising this on the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government. For simplification, special logistical centers were created near the contact line with “DNR”/”LNR” to provide banking services and goods trade. There are numerous cases when separatists themselves or their close relatives were regularly receiving Ukrainian pensions.  At the same time, the uncontrolled territories are not paying their utility bills and taxes.

Not all socio-economic ties can be quickly restored due to the security situation. Numerous cases of attacks to the banks’ cars made them to stop money delivery to the uncontrolled territories. At present, “DNR”/”LNR” allows the flow of all possible currencies – Russian rubles, Ukrainian hryvnias and US dollars, with prices in supermarkets mostly presented in rubles. The uncontrolled territories are not paying their utility bills and taxes.

9. Ukraine should reinstate full control of its state border in the conflict area, starting from day 1 of the local elections 

Ukraine considers that implementation of other clauses of Minsk such as ensuring proper elections, restoring the infrastructure, withdrawal of armed forces require Ukraine’s control over the border.

As it is widely reported and confirmed by Russia itself, it continues to allow a free flow of fighters and weapons over the part of the state border not controlled by the Ukrainian government. Supplying separatists with fighters, ammunition, finance, and even regular troops should be regarded as taking a side to the conflict and thus defining Russia’s role as an aggressor state according to the UN General Assembly Resolution 3314.

Russia has expressed as a condition that it could close the Russian-Ukrainian border along Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts only after all other clauses of Minsk are implemented.

10. Withdrawal of all foreign armed formations and military equipment, disarmament of all illegal groups 

Russia considers Ukrainian former volunteer battalions as illegal, insisting on their disbandment.

However, Ukrainian volunteer battalions, which appeared in spring of 2014, starting from autumn 2014 have been fully incorporated in the Military Forces of Ukraine, National Police and the National Guard. A problem existed with the “Right sector” battalion, but its fighters have been integrated by autumn 2015.

Russian troops are still in Donbas. The so-called “militias” that are actually illegal Russian front-groups are still operating in Donbas.

At least 7,000 Russian troops are present in the occupied regions of Donbas. The so-called “people’s militia” of “DNR” and “LNR” are a 36,000 strong military structure. Ukrainian military intelligence has evidence that these forces are not only armed and supplied by Russia, but integrated in the Russia army structure.

 11. Carrying out a constitutional reform in Ukraine by the end of 2015 providing for decentralization and a special status for the occupied territories  

Legislation allowing special treatment of the currently uncontrolled territories is already largely in place. Laws on special status of certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts was adopted back in September 2014 when despite heated debate the Parliament of Ukraine, on the initiative of the President of Ukraine, adopted the Law “On the special procedure of local self-governance in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.”

In March 2015, the Parliament of Ukraine adopted amendments to provide basic requirements to hold local elections in the occupied territories.

It may be argued, however, that by imposing the requirement to pursue  constitutional changes under Minsk-2 agreement, the Western powers and Russia made President Poroshenko to go beyond his authority, since defining the Constitution belongs to the responsibility of the Parliament and the people of Ukraine.

Still, on 31 August 2015 the Parliament of Ukraine adopted in the first reading the draft of constitutional amendments on decentralisation for Ukraine together with a provisional article on “special status” of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, due to hints that Ukraine would lose its Western support. The vote was highly contentious, with a political divide in the ruling coalition, and clashes in front of the Parliament, when four National guards died from a grenade attack. The adopted draft is expected to come for the second reading, but it is estimated that it will be difficult to collect 300 votes out of 450 needed.

In the eyes of many Ukrainians, Western pressure on Kyiv to implement clause 11 on constitutional changes ahead of implementing a ceasefire and other urgent clauses of Minsk-2 looks like “appeasing” Russia for aggression and assisting it to achieve its goals of “Bosnianisation” of Ukraine.

Putin pointed out that this part of the Minsk Agreements has not been carried out by the Ukrainians.  Putin wants Ukraine to abide by this part of the agreement while he violates every other part.

Why does Putin care about this part? Putin wants his supposedly-independent forces to become part of Ukraine and to turn it into a dysfunctional divided state. He wants to be in control over the legitimized separatist “republics” and have a private and legal Russian army inside Ukraine, de-jure the “people’s militia.” From there, they could attack Ukraine at will, fix local elections, and destroy Ukraine from the inside-out. Putin wants Ukraine to swallow this poison in exchange for not resuming the war.

It’s clear that Putin wants the parts of the Minsk agreement that help him and hurt Ukraine to be enforced. Russia regularly violates all the other parts. Putin’s people will insist on the interpretations of the Minsk agreement that hurt Ukraine the most.

The Russians can violate it with impunity, but the Ukrainians must closely stick to a Russian interpretation of what was agreed. This is a recipe for Ukrainian defeat. So far, the West has supported him in this. 

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  • Lev Havryliv

    A strong Ukrainian military is Ukraine’s best guarantee of withstanding Russian aggression.

    As usual Moscow never abides by the treaties it signs. For Russia ” peacemaking” is just another form of warfare.

    The simple truth is that Putin’s word can never be trusted. He is an incorrigible Russian imperialist and chauvinist who is obsessed with destroying Ukrainian sovereignty.

    • Scradje

      Yes. Rather like Israel it faces an existential threat from a savage neighbour and has no choice but to build a heavily militarized state in order to survive. The failure of the US and UK to honour their Budapest obligations was a cruel disappointment to a nation already reeling from Putin’s blows. The question is who, if anyone, will help Ukraine permenantly and irrevocably rid themselves of the occupiers?

  • Quartermaster

    Minsk I & II aren’t worth the paper they are written non. Putin has systematically violated them and aided the so called “rebels” to violate them as well. Putin is a liar and a thug and his word can’t be trusted.
    Both agreements required a lot of Russia. They have simply ignored them, as Russia has normally violated all agreements to which it has been a party.
    The European Parliament has rubbed Russia’s face in its own dirt. The world knows what kind of a criminal regime occupies the Kremlin. The neo-Nazis and “Banderites” reside in Moscow.