What are the Minsk agreements and why they could help avert a Russian invasion

The Minsk agreements – named about the capital of Belarus where they were signed in 2014 and 2015 – attempt to secure a ceasefire between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine.
They also set out a roadmap for elections in the occupied regions on Luhansk and Donetsk and a plan to reintegrate the territory into the rest of Ukraine.

However, interpretation of the agreements by Kyiv and Moscow are fundamentally different.
The Ukrainian government views them as a means to reunite Ukraine and fully restore Ukrainian sovereignty, though with certain devolved powers given to the two regions.
By contrast, the Kremlin believes that the accords enshrine a process that would see a Russia-aligned administration in Luhansk and Donetsk and a special status granted to them before they are reunited with the rest of Ukraine.

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This would ensure – Trojan horse style – that Russia retains an influence over the country and Ukraine can never be truly sovereign.

Duncan Allan, a former British diplomat and associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, calls this irreconcilable divergence the “Minsk conundrum”.

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Image: The Minsk accords were signed in 2014 and 2015 after Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatists in the east
What are the main points in the Minsk accords?
There are 13 points in the most recent of the two agreements, Minsk 2, which was signed in 2015.
Nine of the points cover management of the actual conflict in the occupied territory such as a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons, an amnesty for those involved in the fighting, an exchange of hostages and detainees and the pull out of “all foreign armed formations, military equipment and also mercenaries” from Ukraine.
This would cover what Ukrainian officials say are Russian private and regular military personnel.
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A ceasefire is in place but it is violated most days, with shots fired from the separatist side towards Ukrainian forces based along what is known as the line of contact that divides the two sides.
The other four points address the politics, this includes a dialogue on local elections, a temporary law to give a special status to Luhansk and Donetsk and the re-establishment of “full-control” over the Ukraine-Russia border by the Ukrainian government.

Image: Key aims of the 13-point Minsk 2 agreement, signed in 2015, included withdrawing troops and reintegrating Luhansk and Donetsk
What is the main sticking point?
The core problem with the Minsk accords is the irreconcilable interpretation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, according to Mr Allan.
The Ukrainians believe their country is fully sovereign. But the Kremlin wants this sovereignty to the limited by using its influence over the two currently occupied regions to impact wider Ukrainian decision making through the “special status” they would be granted.
“This has always been the danger of the Minsk 2 agreement,” Mr Allan said in an interview.
“It comes down to the status of the special status. Russia demands the Ukrainian authorities grant very far reaching autonomy or social status to the occupied regions of Donbass which would then be formally re-incorporated into Ukraine constitutionally, but would in fact be a Trojan horse within the Ukrainian political system and controlled by Russia, which would therefore be able to control Ukraine from within,” he said.

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What part is the international community playing?
France and Germany played a key role in brokering the Minsk accords with Russia and Ukraine via a grouping called the Normandy Format. It provides a mechanism for all four countries to sit together and discuss – a tactic that helps to reduce misunderstandings and build relations.
Yet after almost eight years of trying there has yet to be any kind of breakthrough. With tensions escalating to the most dangerous level yet, French President Emmanuel Macron has tried to breathe life into the Minsk accords process as a tool to try and prevent a much bigger war between Russia and Ukraine.
However, his efforts have so far not produced results.

Image: Germany and France helped broker the Minsk 2 agreement in 2015, which France now hopes provides a path to peace in the current Ukraine crisis
What do Ukrainians think?
A big concern in Ukraine is that Russia’s military build up around their country will panic western powers into trying to force a Russian interpretation of the Minsk accords onto the government in Kyiv as a way to defuse the crisis.
Ukrainian officials warn that such a move would trigger street protests, creating internal instability, possibly even toppling the president – a scenario that would leave Ukraine weak and exposed to Russian influence even without the need for military action.
Mr Allan said: “This idea of special status is opposed by a large majority of Ukrainians. Any Ukrainian leader who even appears to be open to negotiating over the question of special status would run into intense domestic opposition and may well be driven from office.”

Source : Sky News