Minsk points the way towards peace

A year ago, Minsk Agreements were signed as a starting point to settling the conflict in Ukraine

In the history of diplomacy, the Minsk Agreements are a unique example of achieving an objective where goodwill exists between contracting parties. However, a year has passed and what has the course of events in south-eastern Ukraine shown? Do new aggravations and the armed stand-off threaten the region? How can we ensure peace for this country? How can good ideas be realised? What further actions do we need to take, following arrangements in Minsk?

Minsk, February 11th, 2015

A year ago, Minsk Agreements were signed as a starting point to settling the conflict in Ukraine. A sleepless night occurred in Minsk, with heads of European states Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko making history.

There have been various assessments of the Minsk process; regardless of the tone, participants of the conflict and observers coincide in their belief that there is no alternative to this mechanism of settlement.

One year on, Minsk has been again the meeting place for ‘Normandy Four’ experts, with analysts, politologists and representatives of research centres and political funds, from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France, gathering for the international conference, Minsk Dialogue. Discussing achievements and future challenges, they have announced that, despite peace being some way off, as critics like to announce, ‘Minsk-2’ has brought a lessening of conflict. Even a little is much when human lives are involved.  The Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in the trilateral contact group on Ukraine, Martin Sajdik, comments, “There has been a considerable drop in the number of victims, particularly among the civil population. This is an important success.” The Minsk Agreements have the example of Syria before them, where peace and security have failed to be achieved, despite Geneva’s efforts.

Germany’s Wolfgang Sender noted the need to re-assess Minsk’s role as having greater ‘political capital intensity’. He emphasised that we should look at the broader picture, since the conflict in Ukraine reflects wider confrontation. From as far north as the Arctic, through the Baltic States, down to Ukraine and Moldova and then to Syria, all spheres need to be tackled, including economic and social. The field of conflict is expanding, while the West and the East have lost platforms for negotiations. Accordingly, there are fewer opportunities to solve problems.

Official negotiations of the ‘Normandy Four’ at Independence Palace in Minsk on February 11th, 2015

Mr. Sender notes Belarus’ place as a focus of international attention following ‘Minsk-2’, which showed how the East and the West can successfully resolve conflict, with Belarus as a platform and a participant of negotiations.

Why is Belarus attractive as a venue to settle conflict?

Mr. Sender believes that Belarus is viewed as neutral territory, allowing it to act as a ‘go-between for West and East’. As a sovereign and independent state, Belarus may act as it wishes. Secondly, Minsk understands the regional context and knows how to interact with the West and the East. Thirdly, Belarus is keen to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, inspired by its own eagerness to preserve regional security. Belarus has suffered from sanctions (aimed at Russia) despite not taking sides in the conflict.

According to European observers, Minsk has done much to expand its influence, with ‘Minsk-2’ as a cornerstone. For the first time, Belarus is being referred to as a ‘soft power’, showing its ability to achieve results via voluntary participation and attractive diplomacy.

The West is reacting positively, since contemporary Europe desperately lacks such diplomacy. Mr. Sender would like to see the West aid Belarus economically, to help it concentrate efforts on peaceful diplomacy. It’s necessary to remove sanctions in order to improve trust.

Speaking to me, Mr. Sender said that a new horizon is opening before us. If the West can make a good proposal to Belarus, without attempting to include our country in geopolitical games, Minsk could become a new Vienna, Geneva or Helsinki, being situated between two major powers. Decisions have been adopted in Minsk which have improved the political background of Europe. No other country can boast the understanding and trust of Russia.

The hope that was seen a year ago

Alexander Lukashenko: Issues of war and peace usually take months and years to solve, while here we’ve managed to agree a ceasefire within 15 hours

Ban Ki-moon: Minsk has become a symbol of peace

Vladimir Putin: Minsk Agreements on Ukraine should be observed, being viewed by Moscow as part of international legislation

Angela Merkel: There’s now a real chance that things will improve

François Hollande: We have serious hope, which is a great relief for Europe

Petro Poroshenko: The vital thing is that an unconditional and overall ceasefire should be declared

Federica Mogherini: This is the only way to achieve peace in Ukraine

By Nina Romanova

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