Minsk Agreement: How International Mediators Can Break the Stalemate

European leaders must develop a plan for elections in eastern Ukraineand here’s how they can get Moscow and Kyiv on board.

March 8, 2016

By Mikhail Troitskiy

The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine met in Paris last week to discuss implementation of the Minsk accord for Ukraine, amid growing Western concern about Moscow and Kyiv’s unwillingness to implement their sides of the agreement. Ukraine argues that Russia’s continued military presence in the eastern part of the country makes it impossible to move forward with constitutional reforms required under  Minsk that would grant special political status to the east. Russia claims that these reforms must take place prior to any changes on the ground. As a result, both sides are locked in an impasse that neither is willing to break. 

International mediators—the major European powers that helped to broker the Minsk accord of February 2015—should be expected to make the first proactive move in the current limbo. If the conflict in and around Donbass is to be resolved in the foreseeable future, a transparent election in the breakaway regions would be necessary. A real election worth conducting would be one with unpredictable results. That is, neither the incumbent authorities in the self-proclaimed people’s republics, nor any political forces from “mainland Ukraine” should feel that their victory is guaranteed.

To set a legal framework for such an election, Ukraine and Russia would need to show significant political flexibility. Ukraine, for example, would have to allow the refugees and other migrants from Donbass to vote in the election. All those who have left Donbass and currently reside in Russia should be allowed to access polling stations in the Ukrainian embassy and consulates. Meanwhile, Russia will have to agree to close monitoring of the election by the OSCE, and perhaps to an expanded role for international bodies to play in printing the ballots and counting the votes.

The international mediators should take the initiative at this stage. They would need to develop a roadmap that describes the step-by-step measures needed in the run-up to the election, as well as a number of subsequent steps to ensure that whoever wins will be able to exercise authority in Donbass. The end result, though ambitious, should be the full restoration of all economic ties and communications between the breakaway regions and the rest of Ukraine.

A robust international monitoring regime should be enforced to prevent any potential reprisals from various actors in Ukraine against the inhabitants of the reintegrating regions. At the same time, a blanket official amnesty towards the separatists and their supporters may be difficult to achieve, given the political sensitivities in Kyiv. As a compromise, Ukraine’s international donors should establish linkages between the extension of their financial support and Kyiv’s observance of human and political rights of the Donbass population by any freely elected local authorities.

The mediators’ view would be heard and taken seriously in Moscow if the roadmap includes a condition for how the sanctions regime could be eased at the end of the road. Kyiv would take the roadmap seriously if it contains a clear promise of restoration of Ukraine’s de-facto territorial integrity—as opposed to the perpetuation of the current, and costly, status quo.

Mikhail Troitskiy
 is an Associate Professor at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO). He previously served as Deputy Director of the MacArthur Foundation’s Moscow office, and was a Fulbright-Kennan Grant recipient. Find him on Twitter at @MikhailTroitski.


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