The leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia may meet in Belarus’s capital Minsk to discuss a peace plan for Eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, Feb 11. The meeting comes after the four leaders discussed the ongoing situation by phone on Sunday, Feb 7th. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande are seen to be leading the effort to achieve a peace agreement. The German Chancellor is expected to have discussed the events in her trip to the United States to meet with President Barack Obama.
The challenging situation in Eastern Ukraine started in April 2014 when pro-Russian groups proceeded to gain control of government buildings across the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in a repeat of events in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. The pro-Russian groups were seen as a reaction to pro-EU groups who wanted their country to distance itself politically from Russia which caused a response from areas, such as Eastern Ukraine, which are widely Russian speaking regions. The appearance that Russia has been covertly supplying the pro-Russian groups has also led to calls in the US government for supplies to the Ukraine government.
A peace deal was reached on 5th September 2014 which was challenged by the separatist’s decision to hold elections in November that were promptly followed by the government’s removal of Donetsk and Luhansk’s special status which was within the agreement. The new peace plan is thought to possibly involve a demilitarized zone of 31-43 miles along the front line and wider autonomy for parts of Eastern Ukraine. Each party involved may aim to establish the status of pro-Russian controlled territories, the withdrawal of armaments and who may control the border with Russia.
The meetings in Minsk are expected to take place on Wednesday and involve the discussion of some of these preceding factors however an attempt to establish a preliminary ceasefire might be the initial aim. France and Germany appear to be pushing for a diplomatic establishment of peace rather than a policy of supplying the government. Peace talks might be bolstered by economic sanctions on Russia which, coupled with affordable oil prices, has challenged the Russian economy which might ease the path to an agreement. Equally, the orders of Ukrainian generals for their soldiers to hold the line during the Minsk talks might be an indication of the possibility of a peace agreement. The presence of German and French leaders may also lend urgency to the discussions and provide some diplomatic mediation to the talks.
The situation in Eastern Ukraine may be examined from the perspective of Russia’s changing relationship with former Soviet states. The Maidan protests in Ukraine, which called for a closer relationship between the EU and the Ukraine and the pro-Russian reaction in the East as well as Crimea, highlight the different perspectives in Ukraine and possibly other states. Whilst some living in former Soviet states may wish for greater establishment of their independence from Russia there are still many who feel that Russian culture is still an important part of their identity.
The Minsk peace talks seek to be an opportunity for the Ukraine to begin to establish its future relationship with Russia and the type of nation it wishes to be. The recent events have been about the population’s cultural identity as much as regional politics and the establishment of a secure peace agreement might allow a platform for a dialogue about the future of the nation. Furthermore, it might be watched intently by other former Soviet states that also may have similar questions regarding their identity. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania being within the European Union shows that some of these former Soviet states see their future being tied to the EU: and this may also be an indication that the Ukraine might look for a similar route. The discussion of this concept of identity is important due to the role it might play in preventing similar situations happening and increasing understanding in the political position that former Soviet states might possess within Europe.
How might the peace talks improve relations between the West and Russia?