It might be to early to draw final conclusions, but today’s events in the eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve suggest that the second ceasefire agreed upon in Minsk (Minsk II) has also failed.
The widely expressed skepticism towards the recent agreement in the Ukraine conflict could have been justified. Expectations in Minsk II were never very high and it was criticized right from the start, that Debaltseve wasn’t mentioned in the ceasefire plan at all. In fact fighting around this strategically important traffic hub continued after the ceasefire officially stepped in force in the night of 14 and 15 February. The separatists also stated earlier that they don’t consider Debaltseve as part of the ceasefire agreement.
Today it seems that Ukrainian government troops have lost control of at least large parts of the town as a consequence of ongoing separatist offensives involving heavy weapons. The town was according to separatists encircled by their troops for over a week with only one road open (but mined and under fire) to government controlled areas. The number of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in the cauldron is believed to be as high as 8,000. Separatist sources and Russian media claimed today that up to 300 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered, showing video footage allegedly showing Ukrainian prisoners of war (see below).
Several media reports from today suggest that the Minsk II ceasefire has failed, e. g. this article and this. Should this be the case, it would significantly escalate the conflict as it would be considered as failure of diplomacy thus leaving the arena for those who demand harder measures against the separatists and Russia. It is hard to believe that European leaders Merkel and Hollande would again use all their diplomatic weight for something that too many consider as useless.
The failure of Minsk II would almost inevitably lead to the delivery of Western arms at least from the USA to Kiev which would also necessarily involve training of Ukrainian troops by Western instructors. Interestingly some observers express the opinion that Kiev would sacrifice Debaltseve in order to get arms support from the West (see Tweet below):
— Conflict Reporter (@Conflict_Report) February 17, 2015
Most likely a failure of Minsk II would also lead to new Western sanctions against Russia that could this time affect also the Russian energy sector and endanger e. g. Finland’s nuclear deal with Russia. Let alone this prospect would threaten unity within the member states of the European Union where only a few weeks ago voices to end the existing sanctions grew louder.
Also the Ukrainian government could declare martial law which would set the entire country in the state of war with all the consequences for economy, society and life.
A failure of Minsk II as failure of diplomacy could bring the world closer to a rather dark scenario that some were discussing already weeks ago: a direct military confrontation between Russia and the West or in other words World War 3. However, there is still hope in the reason of political (and military) decision makers to solve the Ukraine conflict in a peaceful way.