Putin wins again? UE sanctions decision of September 5 appears to fall apart; Future of Minsk Protocol peace process in doubt

 

See Editorial, “Making Mr. Putin feel the heat of sanctions,” Washington Post, September 9, 2014 (8:07 p.m. ET).

The Achievement Represented by the Signing of the Minsk Protocol on September 5, 2014

For the text of the agreement and relevant analysis, see

“Full text of Minsk Protocol on Ceasefire in Ukraine (August 5, 2014),” The Trenchant Observer, September 7, 2014 (Official Russian text and informal English translation).

“Inside Putin’s Brain: Musings on the Ukraine and what is going on inside his head — Part III,” The Trenchant Observer, September 9, 2014. (“The Principle of “I make believe, you make believe”, the EU’s New Sanctions, and the Minsk Protocol”)

“Finland blocks entry into force of EU sanctions, gravely threatening prospects for peace in Ukraine,” The Trenchant Observer, September 8, 2014.

“Pacifists and appeasers in EU delay entry into force of new sanctions, undermining hard actions which produced Minsk ceasefire and peace process agreement,” The Trenchant Observer, September 8, 2014. (Includes informal English translation of Minsk Protocol)

The Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014 represents a significant achievement and an important milestone on the road toward reestablishing peace and order in the eastern Ukraine.

We should understand, however, that it was accomplished only as the result of the U.S. NATO, and the EU making really hard decisions to confront Vladimir Putin with the enormous powers at their command — both military and economic — and the unity of the West which stood behind them.

It is absolutely clear that Putin has now become a dedicated enemy of Europe, NATO, and the existing international legal and political order. Like the USSR during the first Cold War years, which needed to be watched and countered every minute of every day as it moved to take over Eastern Europe, Putin’s Russia must be watched and countered now.

Only the Truman Doctrine and the vigorous defense of Greece through economic assistance kept that country from falling under Stalin’s power and control.

Some may also recall or have studied the history of the Soviet Union’s attempt to strangle Berlin through the Berlin Blockade (June 24, 1948 to May 12, 1949), which was only forestalled by the decisive actions of the U.S. in conducting of the Berlin Airlift during this period.

Putin and Russia are, like Stalin and the Soviet Union of that era, highly organized, highly aggressive, and ready to pounce like a leopard on any opening or target of opportunity the West may give them.

This situation is not the dream we had in the first years after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, or during the period of progress that was made in the next 10 or 15 years. However, the invasion of Georgia in 2008 signaled the beginning of a new era. With Vladimir Putin’s reelection to the Presidency in 2012, and the repression of civil society and the opposition which soon ensued, democracy was crushed at home as preparations were made for aggression abroad.

The dream may in the future be revived.  But this can only occur if the xenophobic nationalism Putin has fanned and Russia’s policies of aggression are snuffed out, and their consequences unwound.

Now the West faces the the very different and very dangerous Russia of Vladimir Putin, which invaded the Crimea in February and “annexed” it in March, only then to turn to the eastern Ukraine in an escalating series of acts of invasion, culminating with the sending of thousands of Russian soldiers and their equipment into the Donbass region in August.

That is the situation we now face.

The history of events since February shows that threats of future actions and specifically threats of the adoption of harsher economic sanctions have had little or no effect on Putin’s behavior. Repeatedly, these threats have not been carried out, and have now lost whatever persuasive force they might once have had.

Now, finally, in response to strong pressures and the adoption of new and harsh EU sanctions against Russia on September 5, with parallel American sanctions to follow, Putin made very significant concessions behind the scenes as leaders of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic reached agreement with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at Minsk on September 5, signing a Protocol of 12 points for the establishment of a ceasefire and the taking of steps that might lead toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the region.

The key point is that the agreement in Minsk was reached as the result of actions that were taken, not threats of future actions.

That is the strongest lesson learned from dealing with Putin over the last six months vis-à-vis the Ukraine. Putin responds to countervailing actions, but not to threats of uncertain future actions, such as sanctions.

If the EU proceeds to implement the new sanctions agreed on September 5, and it should do so immediately, the EU, the U.S. and NATO will have continuing leverage over Putin to ensure he complies with the Minsk Protocol, not only with respect to a ceasefire, but also with respect to the agreement’s other provisions, which call for a withdrawal of “the illegal armed groups, military equipment, as well as fighters and mercenaries” from Ukraine. While Russian troops are not specifically named, it should not be too difficult to insist on their withdrawal–regardless of whether Mr. Putin admits they are there.

The Minsk Protocol provides a path for Ukrainians who became caught up in the insurrection launched by Putin and his intelligence and irregular forces to put down their arms, benefit from an amnesty, and to start getting on with their lives, in a region where their Russian language and cultural rights are fully protected. Prisoners will be exchanged.

Putin’s “stealth invasion” forced many good, innocent people to choose sides under extraordinary circumstances. With the benefit of the amnesty provided for in the Minsk Protocol, they should now be allowed to resume their previous lives, and in all probability many will choose to do so.

If implemented, the provisions of the Minsk Protocol hold out the possibility of a return to peace and a settlement of the conflict.

For that to happen, the West must use its economic power by imposing the new sanctions now. It can then slowly relax them, as significant steps are actually carried out on the ground. The most important of all of these, of course, will be the withdrawal of all the irregular and regular forces and equipment Russia sent into the Donbass as part of its invasion.

Only such an approach will have a chance of deterring Putin from undermining the deal, and resuming his military pressure on the Ukraine.

Moreover, only such an approach holds any hope for an eventual negotiated roll-back of the Russian invasion and “annexation” of the Crimea. A negotiated resolution here is conceivable. Without such an eventual settlement, long-term peace and stability in the Ukraine will be tenuous.

A settlement would require compensation to the Ukraine for war damages and expropriation of state property and assets. This could conceivably take the form of long-term gas supply and price concessions.

A second component of any final settlement would revolve around a plebiscite or referendum on independence. The Crimea could be put under international administration under OSCE auspices for a period of 2-5 years, for example, culminating in an internationally supervised plebiscite on independence and/or joining Russia. By this means, the international political and legal order might be restored to its integrity.

For any of this to happen, the West would have to deal from a position of strength. This would require immediate implementation of the EU sanctions decision of September 5, 2014.

As the EU showed weakness yesterday and today, reports emerged of statements by the separatists that if they did not achieve the independent status which they seek in negotiations scheduled in Minsk within a week, they would consider the entire Protocol void, including the ceasefire. That is a clue as to what is likely to happen if the West waffles, instead of standing firm and imposing the new sanctions.

In dealing with Vladimir Putin, an individual who has launched two military invasions of the Ukraine since February, filled Russia and the world with blatant lies and distortions, and broken every promise he has made regarding the Ukraine, the EU, the U.S. and NATO would be well advised to proceed from strength.

They should jettison their fear of Putin, feel and appreciate their own collective military and economic might, and take tough actions against Russia by implementing the new sanctions immediately.

Then, though the path may be winding and uncertain, the Ukraine may have a chance of achieving peace, not through capitulation but rather as a free and independent country.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.