Representatives of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), and the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) signed the Minsk Protocol, an agreement to halt the war in the Donbass region of Ukraine, on 5 September 2014. It was signed after extensive talks in Minsk, Belarus, under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The agreement, which followed multiple previous attempts to stop the fighting in the Donbass, implemented an immediate ceasefire. It failed to stop fighting in Donbass.
Minsk process and drafting
The agreement was drawn-up by the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, which consisted of representatives from Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE. The group was established in June as a way to facilitate dialogue and resolution of the strife across eastern and southern Ukraine. Meetings of the group, along with informal representatives of the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics, took place on 31 July, 26 August, 1 September, and 5 September. The details of the agreement, signed on 5 September, largely resembled Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko's 20 June "fifteen-point peace plan". The following representatives signed the document:
- Swiss diplomat and OSCE representative Heidi Tagliavini
- Former president of Ukraine and Ukrainian representative Leonid Kuchma
- Russian Ambassador to Ukraine and Russian representative Mikhail Zurabov
- DPR and LPR leaders Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky
The text of the protocol consists of twelve points:
- To ensure an immediate bilateral ceasefire.
- To ensure the monitoring and verification of the ceasefire by the OSCE .
- Decentralisation of power, including through the adoption of the Ukrainian law "On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts".
- To ensure the permanent monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian border and verification by the OSCE with the creation of security zones in the border regions of Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
- Immediate release of all hostages and illegally detained persons.
- A law preventing the prosecution and punishment of persons in connection with the events that have taken place in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.
- To continue the inclusive national dialogue.
- To take measures to improve the humanitarian situation in Donbass.
- To ensure early local elections in accordance with the Ukrainian law "On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts".
- To withdraw illegal armed groups and military equipment as well as fighters and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.
- To adopt a programme of economic recovery and reconstruction for the Donbass region.
- To provide personal security for participants in the consultations.
In the two weeks after the Minsk Protocol was signed, there were frequent violations of the ceasefire by both parties to the conflict. Talks continued in Minsk, and a follow-up to the Minsk Protocol was agreed to on 19 September 2014. This memorandum clarified the implementation of the Protocol. Amongst some of the peacemaking measures agreed to were:
- To pull heavy weaponry 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) back on each side of the line of contact, creating a 30-kilometre (19 mi) buffer zone
- To ban offensive operations
- To ban flights by combat aircraft over the security zone
- To withdraw all foreign mercenaries from the conflict zone
- To set up an OSCE mission to monitor implementation of Minsk Protocol
After the follow-up memorandum, the Second Battle of Donetsk Airport broke out, and both parties continued to accuse each other of ceasefire violations. In late October, DPR prime minister and Minsk Protocol signatory Alexander Zakharchenko said that his forces would retake the territory it had lost to Ukrainian forces during a July 2014 offensive, and that DPR forces would be willing to wage "heavy battles" to do so. Subsequently, Zakharchenko said that he had been misquoted, and that he had meant to say that these areas would be taken through "peaceful means". While campaigning in the lead-up to the 2 November elections held by the DPR and LPR in violation of the Protocol, Zakharchenko said "These are historical times. We are creating a new country! It's an insane goal". OSCE chairman Didier Burkhalter confirmed that the elections ran "counter to the letter and spirit of the Minsk Protocol", and said that they would "further complicate its implementation".
Speaking on 5 December, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that the 2 November DPR and LPR elections were "exactly within the range in which they had been negotiated in Minsk", and that the Ukrainian parliament was supposed to pass an amnesty bill for DPR and LPR leaders after the Ukrainian parliamentary election in late October. According to Lavrov, closer monitoring of the Russo-Ukrainian border, as specified by the Minsk Protocol, could only take place after such an amnesty law was approved. He noted that he thought that a Ukrainian presidential decree banning prosecution of Donbass separatist combatants was issued on 16 September, but said that "a bill has now been filed proposing to overturn" the decree.
By January 2015, the Minsk Protocol ceasefire had completely collapsed. Following the separatist victory at Donetsk International Airport in defiance of the Protocol, DPR spokesman Eduard Basurin said that "the Minsk Memorandum will not be considered in the form it was adopted". Later in the day, DPR leader Alexander Zakharchenko said that the DPR "will not make any attempts at ceasefire talks any more", and that his forces were going to "attack right up to the borders of Donetsk region". The New York Times said that the ceasefire had "all but vanished".
Amidst increasing violence in the combat zone, another round of Minsk talks was scheduled for 31 January. Members of the Trilateral Contact Group travelled to Minsk to meet representatives of the DPR and LPR. The DPR and LPR signatories of the Protocol did not attend, and those representatives that did attend were not able to discuss the implementation of the Protocol or memorandum. These representatives asked for the revision of the Protocol and the memorandum. The meeting was adjourned with no result.
Both sides are guilty of breaking the Minsk Protocol; although most reports by international monitors regarding ceasefire violations come from the territories controlled by the separatists.
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