Running down the Minsk II clock

Having received an email asking why no erudite (or not) entry has been published relating to the resignation of Heidi Tagliavini as OSCE mediator for the tripartite talks between The Kremlin, Kyiv and the “people’s republics”, it is perhaps time to write a few lines.

The resignation of Heidi Tagliavini, for whatever reason - and the reason is somewhat irrelevant in the broader scheme of things - has repercussions of timeliness as far as the Minsk II process is concerned.  Minsk II is nothing more than a process aimed at finding a route to implement Minsk I - or not.  As always, the sequel is never as good.

Clearly Minsk II was more than a little onerous upon Ukraine, and more than a little hopeful from a Kremlin perspective.  Ukraine was indirectly asked to cede territory in return for time, and The Kremlin hoped to get the “federalisation” of Ukraine meeting its own definition of federalisation.  Federalisation in Germany is not the same as federalisation in the USA or (on paper) Russia.  There are differences, though all are federal.

Thus the interpretation of “federalisation” may be understood as two very different things by a German interlocutor and a Kremlin interlocutor.  Different again by the US.  Regardless of all that, the vast majority of Ukrainians are robustly set against “federalisation”, even if strongly in favour of a devolution of powers to local government.  Thus political suicide for any Ukrainian politician that tries to force “federalisation” upon the nation.

Whilst many consider Minsk II dead in the water - and indeed the ink wasn’t dry before Debaltseve made a mockery of the document - it is currently the only floating corpse to cling to in the complete absence of anything else when it comes to a process.

Minsk II however, has a deadline.  That deadline being the end of 2015.  It is a deadline that will pass without the “process” being anywhere near complete - The “rebels/separatists” will not agree to elections under Ukrainian law as Minsk II requires.  The Russians will not close its border, nor instruct its proxies to return it to Ukraine by the year end, unless its definition of “federalisation” becomes legislation in Ukraine - which it clearly won’t.  The “rebels/separatists” have a very short self-life once the border is closed having ably assisted in destroying much of what was previously very heavily subsidised Donbas industry.

Indeed, The Kremlin and its proxies have managed to permanently close coal mines due to irreparable damage that Ukrainian politicians were too afraid to close over preceding decades, in order to reduce the massive subsidies from the public purse during peace time.

In short, The Donbas economy post-conflict will not return to how it was, no matter who is in charge.  However it develops, such a dependency on coal mining seems unlikely.

The EU has made clear that its sanctions on Russia are tied to its compliance to the completion of Minsk II.  When Minsk II time lines expire, there will be scope for certain Kremlin-friendly capitals to question, and perhaps block, the renewal of open-ended sanctions.

The US, undoubtedly, had a dim view of what emerged as Minsk II.

Thus with no interested party getting anything like what they may have expected from Minsk II, running down the clock past the year end 2015 deadline is very likely to be an acceptable outcome for all parties, providing the opportunity for Minsk III negotiations (and probably Minsk IV, V) all of which may very well suit the EU, US and perhaps even Ukraine, despite appearances, if it retains considerable “western” assistance.  In the meantime, if sanctions remain into 2016/17, then they will continue to burn slowly but surely, becoming evermore burdensome on The Kremlin.

If Ukraine can hold its military line, and the “west” continues to support it with finance, reform, trade and political assistance, then Kremlin options become “go for broke” or simply “go” as Kyiv, the Golden Gates, and the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy head toward European integration politically and economically, with or without the blessing of The Kremlin or the “people’s republics” - far from the desired Kremlin outcome.  This is, unless, The Kremlin can insert far more onerous, yet prima facie “reasonable” demands on Ukraine with the tacit acceptance/appeasement of the Europeans - and that means new demands in Minsk III (IV and V), as Minsk II has clearly failed to deliver for The Kremlin.

The only other realistic hopes for the Kremlin is that the “West” blinks and tires of the confrontation before it does, or that Ukraine does something entirely stupid and on such a grand scale that it alienates its western allies.  Stupidity perhaps will occur, but probably not on a scale grand enough to alienate as and when it does.

Naturally Minsk III will not be a success if agreed text is woolly and open to wide and numerous differing interpretations.  With Minsk II, The Kremlin has its interpretation, Ukraine a different one, the US yet another, and the EU, if not all of its Member States, perhaps yet another.

The resignation of  Heidi Tagliavini, whatever her reasons, therefore only assists the running down of the unfulfilled Minsk II clock toward the year end when its internal deadlines expire, as whomever her replacement may prove to be, has then to gain the trust and acceptance of all parties, for trust is not a given.  Trust also takes time to establish.

Tick-tock, tick-tock!

6 months and the floating corpse that is Minsk II expires per the deadlines within its text.

6 months for The Kremlin to up the anti without crossing lines it perceives will generate new sanctions.

6 months for Ukraine to further prepare militarily for the very long haul, whilst withstanding any (expected) up-tick in hostilities during the summer months.

6 months for Ukraine to prepare politically and diplomatically to withstand and rebuff yet further onerous Kremlin demands presented sometime in 2016.  As Minsk II was certainly a poor sequel to Minsk I, it seems very likely Minsk III will become the worst of a trilogy.

6 months for the Europeans/USA to decide upon just how much more appeasement would be enough - if any - in Minsk III.  It seems unlikely any attempt to roll back already ceded political and diplomatic ground will be made (unless the US directly joins the negotiations for Minsk III).

6 months for the Europeans to maneuverer and manipulate their capitals most reluctant to renew sanctions when Minsk II expires, to renew them once again.

6 months for Ukraine to make some serious inroads into the most pressing of reforms.  Actions, not words, prior to the year end.

6 months, however, is nowhere near the persistence required to turn Ukraine into the consolidated and robust antithesis of today’s Russia, or to stop The Kremlin rot in its most obvious manifestations both in Ukraine and further afield -  Here it is necessary to think decades.

That the unfulfilled Minsk II clock will run down seems almost guaranteed - and it is difficult to see any vested interests that will be terribly upset when it does.  Whomever replaces  Heidi Tagliavini will have one eye on mediating the results of any half-baked Minsk III negotiations.