Policy Alert: Rising Powers Debate Ukraine Ceasefire Deal
After sixteen-hours of diplomatic talks in Minsk last week, leaders from Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany reached a ceasefire agreement, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel described as a “glimmer of hope” for the longstandng military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Although the ceasefire came into effect on Sunday, there have already been reports of fire by pro-Russian rebels in some towns. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from Russia, China, Japan, and India on the ceasefire agreement and the future of the Ukraine crisis.
Russians took a cautious wait-and-see approach to the ceasefire, with some pondering the casefire’s implications for the global and regional order.
- Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged all confronting parties in eastern Ukraine to stop hostilities everywhere in line with the Minsk agreements reached last week. The minister also slammed US Vice President Joe Biden for his “threats” to introduce more sanctions against Moscow, using Debaltsevo as an excuse. “This is one more proof of Washington’s non-constructive stance,” Lavrov said.
- Vladimir Zharikhin, first deputy director of the CIS Countries Institute, told the state-owned TASS news agency, “Despite all of the flaws in this agreement – and it is certainly a compromise solution – the situation has been evolving in a positive fashion for the time being.”
- “There is no guarantee that the agreement will be long-lived, because the fresh agreement, to some extent, is a replica of the September deal,” said Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of Russia’s National Defense magazine.
- RPI author Andrew Kuchins weighed in on the Minsk agreement, stating that “”[T]he [Minsk] agreement is reasonable and fair enough under the circumstances, but obviously the key variable will be sustainability of political will on all sides for effective implementation, and on that we will just have to wait and see.”
- Political analyst Georgy Bovt wrote in the Moscow Times, “The main difference between the current Minsk agreement and the one reached in September is supposedly that now the two new powerful players, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, will put pressure on Kiev… That is partly true, but so is the fact that Europe is slowly but surely growing tired of Ukraine…There is another land mine that is potentially more powerful than all of the others combined – the fact that the United States was not directly involved in any way with the settlement negotiated in Minsk. Washington continues to view Ukraine as a stage for countering Putin, whom it believes wants to change the global rules of the game.”
- Another Moscow Times op-ed posited that the Ukraine issue is exposing a “lack of European unity,” pointing out the wide range of views on the crisis. “Countries as different as Austria and Greece have raised objections to sanctions against Russia, the former because of the Russian money parked in its banks, the latter because of historic ties to its fellow Orthodox nation and its rage over the effects of northern-mandated austerity. Even among countries with a seeming community of interest – like Hungary and Poland, both newly-minted eastern EU members – there is a radical divergence in their views.”
- Moscow Times journalist Ivan Sukhov wrote, “The vague presentiment that something terrible is about to happen on the domestic front [in Russia] makes Russian leaders peer through their window on the world with a similar sense of impending doom. But the view from Debaltseve is even worse: From that vantage point, it seems that something really is not working in the world if the major powers cannot stop the killing.”
Chinese officials stressed the importance of finding a political solution to the Ukraine issue, while media regarded the ceasefire with skepticism.
- Liu Jieyi, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations stated, “China has been of the view that in addressing the Ukrainian issue, we must stay the course of a political solution…A fundamental and long-time solution of this issue must both accommodate the legitimate interest and concerns of all the ethnic groups throughout Ukraine and address the legitimate concerns of all relevant parties so that a balance of interest can be achieved”
- The state run Global Times published a cartoon depicting a dove sitting on two smoking guns with the caption “Nervous peace.”
- One China Daily op-ed sarcastically posed a question: “The Minsk agreement has indeed come as a boon for the battered and shattered people of Ukraine. But how can any agreement to end the Ukraine crisis, or for that matter most of the crises around the world, work without the United States being a party to it? Doesn’t the US have a finger in every global and regional pie?“
Newspapers in Japan expressed relatively grim views on the ceasefire agreement as well as the future of the conflict in Ukraine.
- The Sankei Shimbun argued that while the ceasefire presents “a step toward” the resolution of the Ukraine crisis, “international society must continue demanding Russia to return Crimea while calling for peace in Ukraine.”
- The Asahi Shimbun expressed concerns over “the prospect of the United States and Russia starting a ‘surrogate war,'” in response to reports that the U.S. may supply arms to Ukraine, depending on what President Vladimir Putin would do.
- The Japan Times characterized the ceasefire deal as “a pause, not peace,” as it “locks in Russia’s ability to meddle in Ukrainian affairs, to turn up the heat as it sees fit to destabilize that government as well as the European governments that support Kiev.”
- The ongoing conflict shows that the U.S. and Europe “miscalculated Russia’s true intentions over Ukraine,” posited the Mainichi Shimbun, a miscalculation that “they could explore the possibility of co-existence and co-prosperity with Russia.”
- The Yomiuri Shimbun argued that the real challenge for Ukraine is not only to stop the military confrontation but also to “reconcile deep-seated confrontation between its eastern regions, where there are many pro-Russia elements, with the other areas, which have strong antipathy toward Russia. Reconciliation must be achieved by granting autonomy to areas controlled by pro-Russia groups and the reconstruction of residents’ lives and the economies of the regions that have seen conflict.”
Indian newspapers debated what gains parties made via the ceasefire agreement.
- “Russia and the rebels are makingtactical gains, with the Ukrainian military having to give up its current line of control and Kiev compelled to introduce a new constitution allowing rebel regions to form their own police, appoint their judges and conduct trade with Russia,” posited The Indian Express.
- However, the newspaper also emphasized the ceasefire agreement also benefits Ukraine overall, as it “upholds Ukrainian sovereignty, with full control of rebel-held areas and the border with Russia set to return to Kiev by end-2015, post a full political settlement. Also, the IMF’s $17.5 billion reform package would enable Kiev to reopen banks and transfer pensions to the east. So, Ukraine may be the strategic winner.”
- The Hindu warned that “the fluid situation on the ground” in Eastern Ukraine may drive a wedge between the United States and Europe: while Washington considers supplying arms to Ukraine troops, European powers insist on a peaceful resolution due to their economic and energy interdependence with Moscow.