Three years ago, on February 12, 2015, the heads of state of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine brokered an attempt at a ceasefire that was signed in Minsk. The agreement was signed by former President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, Russia’s Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, the “separatist” forces leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics,” respectively, Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky, as well as Heidi Tagliavini of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The agreement consisted of 13 points, including establishing a ceasefire as of midnight February 15, removing all foreign armies from Ukrainian territory and withdrawing heavy weaponry from what is in effect a newly created buffer zone.
Western leaders and Ukrainian leaders hailed the agreement as a critical step toward de-escalation in the Donbas war. The United States had voiced the possibility of providing lethal arms to Ukraine, while Germany and France did not support the U.S. position. Days later, Ukrainian forces would surrender the rail hub city of Debaltseve, Donetsk Oblast, which had prompted the renewed negotiations due to the increased violence and civilian casualties.
There was also increased skepticism following the failed first ceasefire agreement of September 2014, with many of the points being similar in both agreements. However, Russian-backed forces never upheld either agreement.
German Foreign Affairs Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier said that Minsk II “can be a step that can remove us from the spiral of military escalation towards a political impulse after weeks of violence.”
Overnight negotiations began on February 11, and during that time Russian-backed forces had killed two soldiers and injured 21. Three civilians were killed and five injured in the towns of Kramatorsk, Debaltseve, Vuhlehirsk and Avdiyivka, as reported by Vyacheslav Abroskin, head of the Donetsk Oblast police.
The negotiations were led by the “Normandy format” – France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. Moscow’s demands had proven to be such an impasse, that on the morning of February 12, the press conference for the signing ceremony was canceled.
The agreement also guaranteed pardons and amnesty to Russian-backed fighters, which many Ukrainian observers saw as a concession to Moscow. The Ukrainian government refused to recognize the 212 square miles (550 square kilometers) controlled by the “separatists,” but the agreement offered its recognition of that territory, requiring the withdrawal of heavy armaments “from the actual line of contact.”
For Ukraine to regain control of its border with Russia, a number of conditions needed to be met by the end of 2015, including a law on establishing special status of the Russian-occupied territory, elections were to be held locally in the Donbas and the amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine would provide for decentralization in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite described the overall agreement as “absolutely weak.” Ryszard Czarnecki, vice-president of the European Parliament, said some European countries “would like to have calm at any price,” adding: “Merkel and Hollande, without the participation of the EU and representing the economic interests of their states, sacrificed Ukraine. This peace is definitely more beneficial for Moscow than Kyiv because it de facto politically sanctions the gains of the Russian Federation.”
Source: “Second ceasefire deal signed at Minsk summit,” by Zenon Zawada, The Ukrainian Weekly, February 15, 2015.