Minsk II – East Ukraine ceasefire on the brink of collapse?

The fragile ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine risks devolving back into full-scale warfare

Image: Mstyslav Chernov

Between 11 and 12 February this year, the so-called ‘Normandy Four’, made up of the heads of state of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine met in Minsk to try to bludgeon together a ceasefire agreement in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine. The fighting up to that point had claimed over 3,500 lives, and a solution was desperately needed, both the Ukrainian government and rebels acknowledging that a humanitarian disaster was brewing. On the 15th, the Minsk II agreement came into effect.

Unfortunately, the truce took under 48 hours to break down. By the 17th, the Ukrainian government forces were routed from the Debaltseve pocket as the rebels pressed home a massive assault, ostensibly with Russian backing. Somehow, by the 24th, the truce had been resurrected, and with international backing, artillery and tanks were being withdrawn from the front line.

Despite numerous incidents, the truce has managed to somehow hold, mainly due to massive international involvement in the conflict. One of the nations with the greatest stake in maintaining the peace is Russia. Should the peace break down, their international reputation would be yet further damaged. President Putin has been using his vast influence with the rebels to force them into maintaining the truce.

However, among the fighters in both Donetsk and Luhansk tension is increasing, many believing that Russia has abandoned them. In early October, days before beginning his campaign of airstrikes in Russia, President Putin used his influence once again to delay local elections in the breakaway regions until February 2016. With Russian involvement in Syria being stepped up, the support being granted to the breakaway regions in Ukraine has been put on standby.

Allegations have recently been made by senior members of the ‘Ghost Brigade’, a rebel militia force, that Moscow has threatened the end of aid convoys to support the civilian population if hostilities resume. Due to the total reliance on this aid, such a move is tantamount to the Russian government threatening the rebels with the starvation of civilians and the collapse of medical services.

As such it is probably a somewhat justified feeling of betrayal that is being felt by the fighters in the Donbass.

As well, somewhat ironically, the rebels feel that they are at an advantage in the conflict and that they should be consolidating their position instead of dragging their heels.

Unless President Putin can re-establish his control over the rebels, there is a serious risk that the truce will break down and full scale warfare will resume.

Should the truce break down and the war break out once again, the chances of lasting peace being established in the Donbass before 2020 will become confined to the imagination of international diplomats.