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Two years of fragile peace: What awaits the "Minsk-2?"

Author : Kateryna Zarembo

17:06, 13 February 2017
Two years of fragile peace: What awaits the "Minsk-2?"

Author : Kateryna Zarembo

February 12, marks two years since the signing of the so-called "Minsk II," the set of measures to solve Donbas war

17:06, 13 February 2017

Read the original text at eurointegration.com.ua.

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The official reason for elaborating "Minsk II" was the desire of leaders to implement "Minsk I." And it is hard not to agree, that there is little progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Although we constantly hear that the rejection of the "Minsk" would lead to a number of challenges and risks.

In this article, we tried to answer three questions:

- Whether the current Minsk arrangements will be further implemented as a settlement plan;

- Whether the Normandy Four will be improved (quantitative changes);

- Whether US and the EU would prolong sanctions on Russia, provided that implementation of the "Minsk" is becoming illusory.

Related: Minsk Agreement may be written anew, - Tuka

Timeframes of our review embraced 2017 year; wider chronological framework would hardly give us clear and realistic answers. All the forecasts are based on an analysis of current positions of key players, existing and probable; and time will tell, how long these positions are valid.

"Minsk" and "Normandy": yet in force

Today, all parties insist that the "Minsk" and "Normandy" remain in force. Ukraine and Germany expressed a clear position on this, as well as concerning preserving the Normandy format as the negotiation site.

In 2017, Germany continues to play the role of "locomotive" of the negotiating process;  "Norman Quartet" at the ministerial level is to meet February 16-17 in Bonn as an initiative of Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's new Foreign Minister.

Related: EU and US to maintain sanctions against Russia until full implementation of Minsk agreement

The last time they met in late November last year; and there was almost no result on it.

German parties agree that Germany is not going to reduce the pace of the negotiation process, especially that the whole body of officialsб responsible for the Ukrainian directionб has not changed (except the leader of the Foreign Ministry).

Diplomats of one of the mediators also say that Russia also supports the safety of Normandy format. By the way, February 2, 2017, all members of the UN Security Council on Ukraine, including the Russian representative, referred to the Minsk agreement as the current settlement plan.

One key unknown variables is the position of France on "Minsk" and "Normandy" talks after the presidential election.

Related: What to expect from meeting in Minsk concerning situation in Avdiivka?

But whoever becomes the next president of France, it is unlikely to come out of the Normandy quartet.  In such a way, Paris is cooperating with Berlin; and it implements its traditional leadership position on foreign policy.

The risk, however, is that the victory of some candidates would open their pro-Russian visions, and it might ruin the balance of "Normandy" system not in favor of Ukraine.

However, the French sides note: during the war, political and intellectual circles started to better understand Ukraine (before the war, it was seen mostly through the Russian "glasses"). And that legacy will remain, no matter who is the new master of the Elysee Palace.

Related: Kyiv adheres to Minsk agreement and does not give up its principles regarding Russia

Currently, it is unclear what the Minsk agreements mean for Donald Trump, predecessors’ commitment or reference point for developing policy on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

So far, the signals coming from the White House, give cause for cautious optimism.

Bankova is generally satisfied with both telephone conversations that took place between Trump and Poroshenko. An important promise was voiced by the US representative to the UN Nikki Haley during a speech at a meeting of the Security Council on February 2, 2017 calling on Russia to fully implement the Minsk agreements.

However, these signals should not be overestimated.

Trump policy towards Ukraine and the conflict is still being formed.

Related: Kremlin believes Minsk agreement must be implemented by Kyiv and Donbas

Related: Savchenko revealed details about meeting with militants’ leaders in Minsk to SBU, - Tandit

Candidacy of a person, who would be directly be responsible for Ukraine and the conflict settlement, is still unknown (similar to the powers of Victoria Nuland in a previous administration). American insiders agree that the world expects Ukraine to be constructive and reasonable. It depends on Ukraine itself, whether these trade-offs would be painful or acceptable.

Keeping the sanctions: USA factor

One of the priorities of Ukrainian diplomacy in 2017 is maintaining US and European sanctions against Russia. And US sanctions are especially important. They are much stronger than European ones, unlike European sectoral sanctions, the list of companies, which fall under them, is constantly updated. Thus the US does not only put an additional pressure on Russia, but also ensures their effectiveness. If you do not properly update the sanctions, objects of these sanctions tend to quickly find ways to avoid them.

In addition, some European restrictions, including financial, will simply not make sense without imposing parallel US sanctions: for example, European banks will be able to transfer money to Russia through the United States.

Related: Normandy Four meeting preserves EU unity in support for Ukraine

The first weeks of the presidency of Donald Trump show that he still prefers to keep sanctions against Russia; it would be like as a trump card in his sleeve. The key message for this is Nikki Haley’s statement that the sanctions associated with Crimea will be valid as long as Russia does not give Ukraine control over the peninsula.

In this case, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer noted that Haley spoke on behalf of the president.

Perhaps partners from Europe - Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May also contributed to Trump’s vision on sanctions.

Yes, Trump considered the opinion of some EU Member States leaders, at the same time, it cannot be said about his attitude to the EU as a whole. For three weeks after his inauguration, Trump did not find a minute to talk to EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Related: Klimkin's press conference after negotiations of Normandy talks group: Quotes

Returning to Haley’s statement, everything seems to be clear with Crimea, but what about the penalties associated with aggression in Donbas?

American lawyers might give an answer to this question. The thing is that all the four decrees of Obama that introduce sanctions against Russia, were connected with the occupation of Crimea.

The first three were published in March 2014, when the aggression in the East did not even start, and the last one was signed in December 2014. It was also clearly articulated as an additional measure in response to the occupation of Crimea. All further sanctions lists of individuals and organizations, including those associated with aggression in the East, were formed with reference to one of those four decrees.

Haley’s statement does not give clarity whether Trump is going to cancel the orders of Obama. The US president might have a defined a position, but he can change it tomorrow.

Related: Russian Foreign Ministry: no contacts in Normandy format planned in near future

According to his spokesman Spicer, "Trump is a successful negotiator, because he keeps everything on the table), so no one knows what to expect from him."

It is also clear that the US Congress could play a decisive role in maintaining sanctions. In particular, if both houses this year would be able to carry a bill to legally consolidate the sanctions (last year, a similar bill has not been put to a vote in the Senate), and push "The Russia Sanctions Review Act" through Congress, which requires the approval of any easing of sanctions against Russia at the level of Congress. February 8, relevant laws were registered in both by Republican and Democratic senators.

European clumsy unity

If the United States are thinking over reducing/ expanding the sanctions, the European Union considers over prolongation/ non-prolongation. It might involve a full stop of sanctions. Especially, concerning sectoral sanctions linked to the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which the EU reviews every six months, since December 2015.

Related: Germany invited Ukraine to hold meeting of Foreign Ministers in Normandy format

Sometimes you can hear the outrage, why sanctions should be reconsidered instead of just engaging them to restoration of Ukraine’s the territorial integrity. The representatives of various EU institutions repeatedly confirmed: nobody expected that twenty-eight Member States will be able to maintain unity on sanctions for so long.

In December 2016, Europe has prolonged the sectoral sanctions, the next review is scheduled for June 2017. Brussels says that as of today the EU-28 has unity for the further extension of sanctions, recent escalation on the line of demarcation has contributed to this.

Related: Normandy talks: Reaction of the social media

At the same time, EU is not ready to expand sectoral sanctions - the interlocutors in Brussels recognized that they do not rise the issue of sectoral sanctions package, as they are afraid that some pro-Russian members might demand to reduce sanctions.

So, in the short term, we can carefully talk about the status quo at the diplomatic level. This does not mean that Ukraine should just wait for the other players to determine their positions. Political restart of the partner countries is also a "window of opportunity" for Ukraine to advocate its own position.

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