Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine on Feb. 24, approximately 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 20,000 Ukrainian civilians have died and 14 million Ukrainians have been displaced, according to Ukrainian sources. This didn’t have to happen.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president of Ukraine in 2019 on the promise he would make peace with Russia. Last April, Russia and Ukraine were close to an agreement to end the war according to a recent piece in Foreign Affairs journal. “Russian and Ukrainian negotiators appeared to have tentatively agreed on the outlines of a negotiated interim settlement,” wrote Fiona Hill and Angela Stent. “Russia would withdraw to its position on February 23, when it controlled part of the Donbas region and all of Crimea, and in exchange, Ukraine would promise not to seek NATO membership and instead receive security guarantees from a number of countries.”
The problem was that no Western country or the European Union was interested in helping Zelenskyy realize his peace objective. Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to stop negotiations were successful. The decision to scuttle the deal coincided with Johnson’s April visit to Kyiv, during which he reportedly urged Zelenskyy to break off talks with Russia, in return for accepting arms shipments from the U.K. and presumably from the United States and other Western nations as well.
The Minsk II agreement, if implemented, could have earlier averted the entire war. On Feb. 12, 2015, the Minsk II agreement was signed between Ukraine and Russia as brokered by France and Germany. It would have stopped the fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine between Russian Separatists and the Ukrainian military and would have granted a degree of autonomy to the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of the Donbas that had voted for independence from Ukraine after the 2014 coup in Ukraine. The basic problem with Minsk II was that the Ukrainians refused either to let the Donbas republics become independent or to pass the laws on autonomy which were necessary in order to implement the Minsk agreement.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy defeated Petro Poroshenko in the 2019 election on a platform that included making peace with Russia by signing the Minsk II Agreement. Unfortunately, he came under intense pressure, to which he succumbed, not to implement Minsk II, pressure from the far right ultra-nationalists that have large power disproportionate to their moderately small number. Zelenskyy abandoned his campaign peace promise and refused to talk to the leaders of the Donbas and implement the Minsk Agreement.
The United States and the UN both endorsed the Minsk agreement in 2015. But the West did nothing to push the Ukrainians into implementing it. And Ukraine also refused to offer a treaty of neutrality. Nothing can excuse the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the U.S. and the Ukrainians tragically and inexcusably missed numerous diplomatic chances of averting this war.
Andrew Mills lives in Lower Gwynedd.
This article originally appeared on The Intelligencer: Implementing Minsk II agreement could have prevented Russia's invasion