EU’s approach after Minsk: Wait and see

In your opinion, with a plan from Minsk what woud especially the EU do next with relations towards Russia. Basically keeping the status quo with sanctions, but no weapons for Ukraine or maybe to signal that that could be a debate about gradual easing of sanctions?  Read few comments.

Tomas JaneliūnasAssociate Professor at Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University

As for now, it seems that there is a lot of suspicion whether the ceasefire and the pull out of weapons from Ukraine’s territory will be sustainable. So, I would predict that EU would take a stance “See and wait” for some time and only after initial fulfillment of the agreement it could be a talk about easing of sanctions. Lithuanian minister of FA, Mr. Linkevičius just said on the national radio, there are no pretext as so far to stop sanctions or to talk about easing. But as for now the weapon supply for Ukraine should be suspended as well, I guess.

Susan Stewart, Deputy Head, Eastern Europe and Eurasia Division, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik – German Institute for International and Security Affairs

I don’t think that the signing of the documents in Minsk alone will serve as a reason for the EU to indicate a willingness to ease sanctions. It will depend much more on the degree to which the documents are implemented, especially after the negative experience following the signing of a supposed peace plan in September in Minsk, which was then only very partially implemented, and mainly by the Ukrainian side. So there will probably be a wait-and-see attitude on the part of the EU. If in the end there is no significant improvement in the situation, the issue of providing certain types of arms to Ukraine could resurface, but at the moment I think that suggestion will become less acute while the member states wait to find out whether or not the agreements about a ceasefire and a pullback of heavy artillery will actually hold. If they do, then there will be some hope that some of the other points agreed upon today could also be fulfilled.

Stanislav Secrieru, Senior Research Fellow, Polish Institute of International Affairs

After a more detailed Minsk accords were agreed, EU will struggle to maintain unity on sanctions. Some EU MS will try to push for gradual removal of sanctions allegedly to reward Russia for “cooperation”. At the same time, others will argue that because previous deal in Minsk didn’t work, EU should not rush to remove sanctions but to focus on monitoring implementation of ceasefire and other steps aimed to restore Ukrainian control over its border with Russia. Germany will be key actor to swing the balance for one or another position. I anticipate Germany to show caution and work towards maintaining sanctions until essential elements of Minsk accords are implemented. Pending to immediate developments in conflict area, debate whether to provide Ukraine with defensive capabilities might recede temporarily. If this time ceasefire does not hold, discussion on military assistance to Ukraine will resurface again with more vigour than before.

Stanley SloanDirector, Atlantic Community Initiative

The new Minsk accord has some encouraging elements, but so did Minsk1. As is often the case, the proof will be in the pudding, and if the pudding comes from Putin’s kitchen, this accord will not bring peace to Ukraine.

Already, separatists are saying that they will not abide by the agreement, and in the days before the ceasefire is supposed to come into effect, we can expect intense fighting. The first test may be in Debaltseve, where Ukrainian government forces seem to be hemmed in. In Putin’s remarks after the meeting, he seemed to be saying that these forces should retreat from their positions, essentially giving this important transportation hub over to the separatists.

Under these circumstances, the EU should listen carefully to what Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande report on the summit outcome, but it would be a true Munich moment for the EU to back down from the current sanctions before it is proven that Putin is acting in good faith and that he can control what happens in Eastern Ukraine.

At this point, skepticism should be the rule and the EU should be careful that it does not find itself drifting away from America, which would be a disaster for European security. Those in the EU who admire President Putin should think twice about their future in the welcoming arms of a Russian president who represents a far different set of governing principles than those that have produced peace and stability in Europe for over six decades, and a transatlantic relationship that has guaranteed those principles.

Thomas NicholsProfessor of National Security Affairs, U. S. Naval War College

In the short term, this will undercut the argument for sending weapons to Ukraine, which may be exactly why Putin chose this moment to agree to a cease fire. He might have realized that a consensus in favor of sending arms to Ukraine was forming in the United States, and he is determined to prevent that. The sanctions regime is different: those are already in place and he will have to take concrete steps to get them removed. Whether he do enough to allow Europe to roll back the sanctions is a different question.

Paul Ivan, Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre (EPC)

I expect the EU to wait and see how the Minsk agreement will be implemented. If the ceasefire will hold and the heavy weapons will be pulled back I expect to see calls to ease the sanctions on Russia and a debate about that. So very much will depend on the actual implementation of the agreement. The agreement also calls for negotiations between Kiev and the Russian separatist leaders regarding the organization of elections in Eastern Ukraine or about the decentralization of Ukraine and if these don’t advance and the Russian side is not constructive, I would expect the EU to maintain the sanctions.

That said, I am rather skeptical regarding the prospects for the agreement to be properly implemented. There are several points in which Russia/the rebels can veto its implementation.

Is a first step in solving this conflict but many and very difficult ones are to come.

Igor Merheim-Eyre, PhD Candidate in International Relations, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent

The Minsk Agreement is, essentially, a plan – a set of conditions which must be implemented with action, not words. Given that we have witnessed on Wednesday the third round of talks in Minsk shows that a failure to do so can easily bury any hard-won peace plan. Therefore, although the EU has made clear that the sanctions against Russia will only remain in place for as long as there are signs of continuing  Russian destabilisation of Ukraine, we must wait and see what will first happen on the ground. However, it is unlikely that sanctions will be rolled back any time soon – they are, after all, an essential tool for the EU to keep pressure on Russia and the rebels in implementing their part of the agreement. At the same time, supply of lethal weapons  to Ukraine now seems even a less likely scenario than before, unless there is another escalation in the conflict. In other words, any normalisation of relations will depend on the situation on the ground.

Nevertheless, even if sanctions are eventually eased, in the long-term, it will take time before animosity and distrust are replaced. The current state of relationship can be described as frosty at best,  while many analysts have failed to see the growing frustration and misunderstanding between Russia and the West that has been appearing even before the Ukraine crisis began. This is not likely to disappear overnight, and will have a lasting impact even when a thaw in relations will eventually occur. A new wave of confidence-building between the two sides is needed, but this also requires Russia to be less hysterical and the EU (as well as NATO) to be more clearer about its strategic aims in the shared eastern neighbourhood.

In an ideal world, Russia will at last move away from its neo-imperialist tendencies and sense of insecurity, while the EU will abandon its illogical post-Cold War triumphalism. A new European security architecture can still be created, but it is now less likely (and, yet, more needed) than ever. Idealism, unfortunately, often plays a far less important role in international relations than misunderstandings and delusions. For too long we have deluded ourselves about the end of history after 1989. History, however, is back and is likely to have a lasting impact on the relations between two powers who have a very different view of the world.

Florent ParmentierProgramme Director chez Sciences Po

The new Minsk agreement is an essential step towards conflict desescalation. However, the situation on the ground is far from consolidated: the last hours before the deadline might see very intensive fights. Whether Europeans should deliver or not weapons will be a hot debate in the forthcoming weeks, but in the end, the French and German orientation should prevail (i.e. no delivery of weapons). It is highly probable that the Europeans would not bother Russia on the question of Crimea; rather, they will, after a while and if the Donbass region is stabilized, consider a ‘reset’ in EU – Russia relations, meaning gradual easing of sanctions, particularly on the economic level.



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