The Terms of Ukraine's Cease-Fire
Following marathon talks in Minsk that lasted more than 17 hours, the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement that appears to align with the Kremlin's demands. The document calls for a cease-fire to begin Feb. 15, the withdrawal of weapons and the enactment of constitutional reforms in Ukraine. Though Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has denied that the agreement includes provisions for the creation of autonomous regions or the federalization of Ukraine, the document on the whole does fulfill several of the Kremlin's long-standing demands with regards to the status of Donbas.
The new cease-fire agreement is based largely on the original one that went into effect Sept. 5. It focuses on the withdrawal of heavy artillery systems, which have been prominent throughout the conflict, within 14 days of the cease-fire's implementation. The new cease-fire requires these artillery systems to be withdrawn far beyond their maximum effective ranges, a move that will create a buffer to prevent escalation and heavy artillery fire on the demarcation line. Missing from the agreement, however, is a decision on the fate of the still heavily contested Ukrainian positions in Debaltseve. Because both sides will have to withdraw their artillery systems, the result will be a very deep area without artillery cover in the center of the demarcation line.
The agreement's most important impact on the military balance is its requirement to withdraw foreign forces and mercenaries from Ukraine. Separatists have depended heavily on the combat power of the Russian military and Russian volunteer forces. Without these, the separatists would have been incapable of repelling the Ukrainian offensive, and in the future would be rendered much weaker than their Ukrainian counterparts.
The signing of the new Minsk agreement, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin's direct participation in the negotiations, points to the Kremlin's willingness to at least partially de-escalate the conflict at this time. The agreement includes some vague measures and conditions that all sides may ultimately chose not to implement. Several key points of contention remain unaddressed, and there are still many opportunities for the agreement to break down if they are not resolved. Therefore, political will, rather than the actual terms of the agreement, will determine whether a significant de-escalation is to take place.