Why Europe can’t acknowledge a failure of Minsk II

One of the big questions regarding the Ukraine conflict is currently whether the latest agreement that includes a ceasefire, Minsk II, is still valid or it already failed – latest with the capture of Debaltseve by separatist forces. Some argue that Debaltseve was not part of the agreement while others see it the opposite way. In fact it might have been a birth defect of Minsk II that Debaltseve was not mentioned. Then again fighting presumed also in different areas after the ceasefire came in force although not as intensive as the weeks before – at least partially. Currently some sources claim that the separatists are preparing new offensives against Ukrainian positions. According to several reports fighting and shelling is still continuing with both sides blaming each other. So it seems that are enough reasons to consider Minsk II as failed.

In the meantime European press and especially European politicians still seem to believe that Minsk II can be successful despite its precessing agreement from September 2014 failed. There are good reasons to not give up hope on Minsk II, as it is widely considered as last chance for diplomacy before another level of escalation. There are also other reasons why especially European politicians would like to avoid acknowledging that Minsk II failed.

Acknowledging the failure of Minsk II and the inherited consequences would inevitably mean that the West – especially the European Union – would have to react somehow.
Delivery of arms at least by the USA would seem very likely, but also new sanctions against Russia would be almost certain. Latter instrument is from Putin’s point of view one of the greatest weaknesses of the European Union. Alone the existing EU sanctions against Russia are not very popular in Europe and there were and are efforts to lift or ease them at least a little.

So  new sanctions which are likely to hit the Russian energy sector could create quite some resistance from some European countries and companies. Imposing new sanctions could fail right at the start, because of disagreement among the EU member states. The question of new sanctions would reveal the fissures within EU and the differences between individual member states on this topic. An open argue on whether to impose new sanctions on Russia or not could thus weaken Europe’s credibility as the EU could appear as a quarreling crowd unable to find a solution on a severe problem affecting it directly, because everyone is pushing own (mostly economical) interests.

For example sanctions affecting the Russian energy sector would threaten Rosatom’s nuclear projects in Finland and also Hungary. At least these two countries would most likely oppose such measures. Also Greece could make an agreement to new sanctions depending on a favorable outcome for Greece in its debt quarrel with the European Union.
Acknowledging that Minsk II (also) failed, could drive the European Union into a severe legitimation crisis with a dividing effect. In order to avoid that the European Union and its politicians will stick as long as possible to Minsk II.

Viewing this from an neutral point of view it seems that the EU’s negotiation position and  the diplomatic weight have deteriorated significantly.

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