By Nikolai Zlobin Despite continuous media reports of the impending collapse of the ceasefire in Ukraine, the situation in fact appears to be stabilizing. The leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia have re-confirmed their commitment to the Minsk agreement on Thursday, following the humiliating retreat of Ukrainian troops from Debaltseve at the hands of pro-Russian rebels. The egregious violation of the ceasefire in Debaltseve has not, by all appearances, convinced the negotiating parties to proclaim the agreement dead–an indication that the accord serves their greater interest in seeing the conflict brought to an end. Russia has emerged as the main beneficiary of the latest ceasefire. First, much to the Kremlin’s approval, Kiev has been forced to accept an autonomous status for eastern Ukraine while being saddled with continued economic responsibility for the region. In this way, Russia gains a free foothold in Ukrainian domestic politics that will serve as a stumbling block for Ukraine’s Western aspirations. Second, the deadline to restore Kiev’s control over the Ukrainian border is not until the end of 2015, by which time Russia predicts the government in Kiev will collapse over its failure to implement Western reforms. Finally, the seizure of Debaltseve by pro-Russian rebels has given Russia a hand in controlling a major railroad hub between Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as a critical juncture point of Gazprom’s transit pipeline through Ukraine. The European leaders seem willing to concede these realities in order to avoid a military escalation on the continent. The United States, preoccupied with turmoil in the Middle East, are just happy to take the prospect of military involvement off the table. It appears the only loser of the ceasefire in strategic terms is Ukraine itself. Having achieved his main objectives in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be open to playing nice for the time being. The West can expect him to go along with peacemaking efforts as long as they don’t pose a threat to Russia’s latest gains on the ground. And for German and French leaders, an imperfect ceasefire is a lesser evil than a continuation of the war. It remains to be seen whether Kiev will seek to amend its unfavorable terms under the ceasefire–and how Russia might respond.
Nikolai Zlobin is the President of the Center on Global Interests.