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EU and Russia: No option but peace and coexistence
February 13, 2015, 9:47 am

At the moment of writing, the ink on the second Minsk agreement has not yet dried.

On February 15, fighting is supposed to come to an end in Ukraine. What are the chances for success of this agreement and what’s in it for the EU and Russia?

Are we on the path to a new peace or to a new cold/hot war? That is the question that will be on the minds of many in the days to come.

There are too many uncertain factors to reliably predict what will happen. The EU and the US have different agendas, and one can even make a case that they have conflicting interests.

For Russia, a peaceful resolution to the conflict means ending the sanctions and facilitating closer economic cooperation with the EU.

But tighter economic relations with Russia, the natural hinterland of Europe, goes against the core of the transatlantic NATO alliance. This has been a nightmare scenario for the Washington elite since 1945.

Pointedly, neither the US nor the UK were involved in the Minsk negotiations, so for Washington all options are still on the table. Considering the warmongering majority in the US Congress, that is not a good omen for peace.

Then there is the matter of the government in Kiev. Hardly ever mentioned in the news, it is far from stable. Extremist militias who do not bother to hide their fascist ideologies have been integrated into the Ukrainian army.

Considering their behaviour on the battlefield so far, it is very doubtful that Kiev will be able to make them abide by the ceasefire conditions.

Besides the extremists in their own ranks, the Kiev government faces another problem – young Ukrainian men in the west are bitterly resisting military conscription. This is not to say that they sympathize with their compatriots in the east – they just do not want to die fighting them.

Furthermore, there is the inner political struggle for power.

While President Petro Poroshenko is more then willing to find a pragmatic solution to the conflict, his prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, however, is a fanatic Ukrainian nationalist, who is not a man of compromise.

He wants total victory and would be more then happy to replace his president.

Then there are the rebels in Eastern Ukraine, the so­-called ‘pro-­Russian separatists’.

Western media make it look like they are mere pawns in Putin’s hands, but that is hardly the case.

Nobody denies that Russia is giving them ample logistic support, but the leaders of the resistance are very unreliable. Will they accept the ceasefire? Hard to tell.

First step toward peace

Russian and Ukrainian officials have said the talks were long and hard, but voiced the final February 12 ceasefire deal is a first step toward lasting peace [Xinhua]

Russian and Ukrainian officials have said the talks were long and hard, but voiced the final February 12 ceasefire deal is a first step toward lasting peace [Xinhua]

Yet, despite all these challenges, history shows that worse situations have led to lasting peace.

The second Minsk agreement might just work. It is only a first step, and a peaceful long-term resolution of the conflict is still to be negotiated, but it is the only way out for the EU, Russia and Ukraine.

One of the reasons it might just work is precisely that the EU alone brokered it, or rather Germany and France, and not the US. That might seem contradictory given the different variables mentioned above, but it’s not. It all depends on who and what will prevail.

The real issues are still on the table – disarmament and federalization of the country. If the EU really wants it, Brussels has the financial leverage to force Kiev’s hand in accepting a new constitution granting the eastern regions meaningful autonomy.

The EU has experience with forging complex compromise solutions. After all, the EU itself is a permanent compromise.

What is really at stake is much more then just an end to an internal conflict stoked by outside forces. A resumption of violence carries with it the risk for an all out war between nuclear powers.

This is about a possible major war on European soil.

Border control

Hence, peace is the only option for Europe and Russia.

Personally, I consider one of the last paragraphs in the Minsk agreement, which focuses on control of the border, the most difficult one.

Kiev wants to regain full control of the border between the eastern provinces and Russia. This may at first appear to be a technicality, but it isn’t. Control of the border is highly symbolic, for all parties involved.

Kiev’s control of the border would impede Russia’s direct influence on the ground; for the rebels it would symbolize a partial surrender. The only party that stands to gain from this paragraph in the agreement is Kiev, which would have been delivered a highly symbolic victory.

A reasonable option would be to deploy UN troops on the border. Russia has proposed it, but apparently it was not on the negotiating table in Minsk.

While the Cold War has prevented Europe and Moscow from peaceful coexistence on their common continent, peace in Ukraine might just open up the whole Russian hinterland to the European economy.

At the end, it boils down to two options: The renewal of the old transatlantic pact with the ally overseas leading to a new Cold War (that could turn very nasty), or peace and coexistence with Russia.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.