After all diplomatic efforts to end fighting in eastern Ukraine by means of a peaceful solution have failed so far, the leaders of France and Germany have initiated new peace talks in Minsk on Wednesday. Many observers consider this as possibly the last chance for a peaceful solution of the conflict (though peace is always possible if there is a will). Any other outcome would only further escalate the conflict into a yet more dangerous level.
If the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France can agree on a new peace plan, the next question will be whether such a plan will really bring peace or turn out as just as worthless as the previous agreement. Most likely an agreement in Minsk will also not be the final solution, but only a first step towards a possible peace in eastern Ukraine. It can only succeed if all conflict parties really commit to a possible new plan. For many – and this is not unjustified – that means that also Putin must must commit to such a plan as more and more indicators suggest that Russia actively provides not only military equipment to the separatists, but also soldiers. This conflict is not only about geostrategic interests as discussed in previous articles, but also about Putin’s political future in Russia as he has brought himself into a situation where he could easily lose his face and support among the Russians. A solution considered as weakness will – especially in economically difficult times – undermine his power. It is also to be considered that reports and rumors about Russian military personnel deployed in Ukraine and funerals of soldiers allegedly killed in the conflict zone are increasing.
Assuming that Putin in fact has the power to end the war in eastern Ukraine and is willing to do so, the minimum price for Ukraine and the West to swallow might be a (pseudo-)independent (=independent from Kiev, dependent from Russia) Novorossiya. There seems no way back to a centralized Ukraine as it was a few years ago.
On the other hand some argue that Putin wants a further escalation (others claim the USA wants it) as an inevitable reaction from EU and the USA could increase the inner European friction. Besides the question of supplying Kiev with defensive weapons, any new sanctions could split opinions within the EU as especially Greece could be driving a pro-Russian policy. In combination with the current developments regarding the Greek debts and a possible Greek exit from the Euro zone and alleged Russian financial aid for that case, the political unity of the European Union could be threatened.
An obvious fail on Wednesday or a fail of the real implementation of a possible peace plan is likely to make the delivery of weapons to Kiev more probable. Such a step – though having its justification in the opinion of quite a few Western politicians – would really bring this conflict to a new level. It has to be considered that new (Western) weapon systems can not just be applied by the Ukrainian army over night, it also needs time consuming training which could involve foreign, Western military advisers being deployed in Ukraine. In the mean time the separatists could further continue their pretty obvious advance in eastern Ukraine.