The heads of state of Russia and Ukraine made some progress towards ending the bloodshed in the Donbass on Thursday, but how much depends on other actors.
It was clearly a tough night of negotiations. At one point, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko walked out of the talks, exchanged comments with journalists, and was then persuaded back to the table. Speaking to reporters after the 16-hour marathon session, Vladimir Putin said “It was not the best night in my life but the morning, I think, it is good”. Germany’s leaders, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande seemed elated by the outcome.
The basic gist of the agreement is to go back to what was agreed in Minsk last September: a ceasefire, some degree of self-government for the eastern regions and the withdrawal of heavy weaponry. Putin, who made the main public statement following the talks, expressed doubts that Ukraine would be able to act “with restraint”, suggesting that some of Kyiv’s forces were effectively surrounded. Poroshenko, who has not made a public statement but briefed non-Russian journalists (according to Reuters), seems far less keen on constitutional reform than the peace plan suggests.
In effect, the upcoming EU summit meant Hollande and Merkel needed to leave Belarus with something, and the ceasefire is that prize. Whether it will be self-sustaining seems far from certain, given fighting in recent weeks. Mark Adomanis sums up the sceptics’ view:
Nonetheless, a break in fighting is valuable, and especially if it allows for further talks. Even if there is need for a Minsk III in two or three weeks’ time, Ukraine may be able to use a temporary peace to make overtures to the rebels while putting a new $17.5 billion IMF loan to good use. If there really is to be a new Cold War-style division of Ukraine, Kyiv will want to play the role of the Federal Republic in any “magnet theory” scenario.