by Thomas Fazi
Wednesday, 14
December 2022
Spotted
17:30

Were the Minsk agreements designed to fail?

Russia has responded to controversial remarks made by Angela Merkel
by Thomas Fazi
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L). Credit: Getty

Angela Merkel is no longer “the most powerful woman in the world”, as TIME Magazine described her in 2015, but when she talks, her words continue to have a global resonance. Her recent interview in Die Zeit is a perfect case in point. In it, she made a rather controversial statement regarding the Minsk agreements negotiated in 2014-15. This series of international agreements aimed to end the Donbas war fought between Ukraine and armed Russian separatist groups, by agreeing to a ceasefire and the start of negotiations on some form of autonomy for the self-proclaimed republics of Luhansk and Donetsk.

The agreements, however, mediated by France (President Hollande) and Germany (Chancellor Merkel), failed to stop the fighting, and were never really implemented — eventually culminating in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.


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For the past eight years, the two sides have been blaming each other for the breakdown of the negotiations. Russia has always claimed that Ukraine was never serious about implementing the agreements. Ukraine — and Western countries — have always denied such allegations, putting them down to Russian disinformation. Now, Merkel describes the Minsk agreements as “an attempt to give Ukraine time” to build up its own military capacities. “[Ukraine] used this time to get stronger, as you can see today”:

The Ukraine of 2014-15 is not the Ukraine of today. As you saw in the battle for Debaltsevo in early 2015, Putin could easily have overrun them at the time. And I very much doubt that the NATO countries could have done as much then as they do now to help Ukraine.
- Angela Merkel, Die Ziet

State-backed media in Russia (as well as Putin himself) have leapt on Merkel’s words as evidence that Ukraine and Western countries never had any intention of negotiating a peace deal in which the Donbas republics would enjoy a degree of autonomy. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has even said that Merkel’s comments could be used for an investigation in an international tribunal.

Regardless of who you blame for the failure of the Minsk agreements, it’s clear that from Ukraine’s perspective there was a logic to the ‘buy time and rearm’ strategy. But what interest would Germany have had in passively facilitating an all-out war between Ukraine and Russia — an outcome that was bound to unravel German-Russian economic relations that Germany, and especially Merkel, had spent more than a decade building? Indeed, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a massive infrastructural project part-financed by Germany, was completed only months before the outbreak of the war.

Pro Russian analysts claim, unsurprisingly, that provoking Russia into invading Ukraine was part of Germany’s plan to revamp its defence capabilities and (re-)impose its military hegemony over Europe. They offer as evidence of that Chancellor Scholz’s claim that “the crucial role for Germany at this moment is to step up as one of the main providers of security in Europe”.

This explanation seems far-fetched. It seems more likely that Merkel is now coming up with a way to justify what many view as her irresponsible appeasing of Russia. Indeed, her explanation for the decision to build Nord Stream 2 — that refusing to do so would “have dangerously worsened the climate” with Moscow — is hard to believe. Betting Germany’s long-term gas supplies on Russia just to deceive Putin seems too Machiavellian even for a shrewd politician like Merkel. As for Germany’s military build-up, it seems more like an attempt to transform an unwelcome crisis into an opportunity rather than part of a grand strategy. Unfortunately for the former Chancellor, her legacy has been irrevocably tarnished — and there is nothing she can do to restore it.

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R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago

So it seems that Merkel is not only an idiot, but an idiot trying to retroactively pretend that her idiocy was in fact a rare breed of foresightedness.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 month ago
Reply to  R Wright

Remember Blair and the c**k-up over GP pay

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  R Wright

Though it’s remarkable how very high the pedestal was that the establishment and the ‘informed’ placed her on, which I never accepted myself, and her subsequent dramatic fall from grace.

David McKee
David McKee
1 month ago

Possibly the most reasonable explanation of the Minsk Agreement was that it was a messy compromise that was spatchcocked together by the West to stop the fighting. In that case, it resembles the Dayton Agreement, which ended the Bosnian War, and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. The object of all three agreements, I suggest, was to limit the arguments to pushing and shoving, rather than using lethal force. That way, the territory concerned disappeared from the headlines of Western newspapers. They were never intended to solve anything.

Adam Bacon
Adam Bacon
1 month ago
Reply to  David McKee

The nature of the these conflicts doesn’t really allow for them to be ‘solved’.
Perhaps these agreements, by creating a truce in the situation, allow the opposing sides time to reflect on whether they want ongoing conflict, if nothing else.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  David McKee

Good analysis – but why so cynical about western headlines? Is this not pretty standard for diplomacy? If two sides have incompatible demands, things cannot be ‘solved’, So you look for a form of words where both sides can claim they got something close to what they wanted – even if they interpret those words to mean completely different things. Meanwhile nobody is fighting, and eventually things may cool down.

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
1 month ago
Reply to  David McKee
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

This certainly would not be the first treaty whose actual purpose was the opposite of its stated purpose. On its face, Merkel’s claim seems plausible, but the author correctly points out that Germany’s actual actions during this time do not lend any credence to Merkel’s claim but stand rather as evidence to the contrary. Germany, like most of Europe and Ukraine itself, did not expect Russia to actually invade as recently as last December. Only the American intelligence services unambiguously warned of an imminent invasion. The skepticism is understandable given other prominent failures of American military intelligence over the past two decades, but this time, they were correct. Moreover, everyone, including the Americans expected Ukraine to be swiftly defeated. One is hard pressed to find anybody last January predicting Ukraine would have been launching a counterattack to reclaim territory within the year. Most believed that Ukraine, if it survived at all, would end up a rump state surrounded by Russia or Russian satellite states on all sides. Merkel’s attempt at revisionist history falls laughably flat in light of the facts, but what else could one expect from a career politician.

Last edited 1 month ago by Steve Jolly
David McKee
David McKee
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

“Only the American intelligence services unambiguously warned of an imminent invasion.”
Not so.
https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uks-johnson-says-intelligence-is-gloomy-over-ukraine-invasion-2022-01-24/

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago
Reply to  David McKee

Good catch. You’re correct. I should have added “and the UK”. I had forgotten about that.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 month ago

Poroshenko was the one who said immediately after his surrounded army had been rescued that he only signed Minsk 2 to give him time to rearm, and try again. They’ve spent the interim 7 years using the militias like Azov to destroy local villages and towns, rape and murder, and giving there real army valuable training in firing howitzers and mortars at Donetsk and other cities, while staying behind the contact line. It was only under Biden and Zelinsky that they felt strong enough to try and take Donbass again, and they were stopped, big style.
Merkel couldn’t do anything to change what happened, she’s just stating facts and make herself look ridiculous in the process. Apart from that NATO couldn’t have helped in 2015, of course they could have. Whatever, that’s the last cheap gas Europe will ever buy.

peter worthington
peter worthington
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff Andrews

NATO certainly could have helped by remaining within its founding mission statement as a defensive partnership from a real threat. Putin’s war is unforgivable but one can’t deny provocation by the US Empire.

ian wright
ian wright
1 month ago

Merkel is only confirming what Poroschenko has already admitted. Bringing a halt to immediate hostilities and hoping that more sensible leadership would, in time, emerge in Ukraine was probably the best that could be achieved at the time. However, despite minimal support at the ballot box, Ukraine’s policies have continued to be driven by the ultra-nationalists who have been encouraged and supported by the US and the UK since the end of WWII. Armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia was probably inevitable. The problem is we probably backed the wrong kleptocrats – much to the cost of the peoples of Ukraine and Europe.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 month ago
Reply to  ian wright

Could you please describe how an ultra-nationalist differs from a nationalist?

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
1 month ago

The same way the Waffen SS differed from the Wehrmacht?

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 month ago

Like the covid Plandemic changing the whole world through insanely illogical actions by every government (unless one assumes there was some Other motive than health)

This regional conflict becoming, basically, WWIII – as it has divided the world into two camps; The Allies- the West and a couple others, and The Axis (BRICS, Iran, KSA (?) Venezuala, and the resource producing nations and so on, and for ever changed global Economics for the worse. Maybe wrecking EU, has wrecked the West Middle Class and Working Class pensions, savings, real income and wages, and future….

This war is not for the reasons said – and every day another clue that it is not as it seems surfaces.

Something is going on, and it is not good. I just cannot stop thinking the WEF is really what they openly say they are on their website – basically the Bond Villains which Klaus so admirably impersonates. (Merkle is a ‘Young Leader’ of the WEF, as is Macron and the majority of the others)

martin logan
martin logan
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

Great conspiracy theory, worthy of anything produced in Stalin’s Russia:
“Boilers don’t explode by themselves!”
(Actually, they do)

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
1 month ago
Reply to  martin logan

As I have pointed out twice in this Comments section, and Peter Hitchens has pointed out repeatedly, Russia was lied to before.
Why did Kissinger, George F Kennan and many others, warn that the US/NATO treating Russia as the ‘Beast’ that US and NATO claimed would result in it becoming one?
Why was it only the Warsaw Pact that was disbanded, and not NATO? Was it simply that Moscow was in Russia, that meant of the 2 corrupt oligarchies of the former Soviet Union, it was Russia who became public enemy number 1 for the US, and Ukraine the banker for the Biden family, or even the Democrats?
The west made Putin and though he and Russia may be paranoid, it doesn’t mean the US/NATO isn’t out to get them.

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill Bailey

Marking me down doesn’t make me wrong 😉

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill Bailey

Yes, you are wrong.
Warsaw Pact was not disbanded. It was not the pact.
Soviet Union collapsed, so slaves no longer need to pretend to be friends of their jailer.
I admire your continuous belief in good nature of Russia, blah, blah.
So you are right, but dozen of countries occupied and terrorised by Russia are wrong?
So please explain why Finland and Sweden now joined NATO?

Robert Kaye
Robert Kaye
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

“This is complicated. I don’t understand it. This is evidence that there is a secret, simple explanation”.

B Emery
B Emery
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

I know the WEF is bad right but I doubt Klaus schwabb is a bond villain puppet master. Im so sick of people throwing his name around I personally feel the need to go on an Internet mission to prove this at some point – when the obsession takes me. Do stop thinking that, it is narrow minded and unlikely. You were closer to sanity with the peak oil stuff. War is always complicated, like the people fighting them. There’s rarely a simple explanation. Seems more to me a big old fashioned geopolitical battle between East and west.

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
1 month ago

Occams razor suggests Merkel was and is an asset.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian McKinney

Yeah that does seem to be the obvious conclusion now we can view the totality of her career actions and their eventual impact.
She set up Ukraine for a fall, and with her manipulation of energy policy, set up the west to swallow the invasion.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Stewart
Andy E
Andy E
1 month ago

Great diplomatic successful step for Mrs Merkel but terrible leap for Germany’s diplomacy in a long term. As far as I remember, Minsk talks started with a ceasefire much needed by Ukraine. I think the place was called Debaltsevo and the Donbas separatist fighters were at the moment winning and advancing. Well, they were restrained, surrounded Ukrainian troops were let go.
That was clearly an achievement for the moment. But now price for that might be total loss of credibility. I am sure Russians are furious for how they were played. Anyway Russia is not going to be wiped out from this planet, so eventually Germany would want to sign something with Putin or the next guy. That would be when we see the price of one leader bluntly deceiving another.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

Agree with the general conclusion in this article. Merkel doing a bit of post facto rationalisation but it’s weak.
Historical equivalent – Munich 38? Obviously things unravelled much faster then but quite a few of the ‘peace in our time’ supporters subsequently argued it had all been about buying time for rearmament. Which indeed it importantly did, but the evidence it was the primary reason for appeasement remained weak.
The counter factual may be useful here. Where would we be if Zelensky had taken that ‘ride’ on 25th Feb which many expected him to do? Sometimes an individual can change the course history.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

Wish he had. Would have saved us a fortune.

Konstantinos Stavropoulos
Konstantinos Stavropoulos
1 month ago

This article is repeating what many individuals are saying about the wrong doings of the west in Ukraine, especially when analyzed as a pure power game.

A lot of commenting here is trying to justify the actions of the west and the actual double-crossing on the agreement. The truth is that the west can not accept a strong Russia, though it is and has been a powerful country for centuries. To my understanding this is a fearful behavior driven by a superiority complex of strongholds that can not share dominance. Nowadays, clearly a sign of decadence.

Adding to the above, the so called “moral” element of the “right side of history” (Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ super “heroic” claim on supporting western actions in Ukraine) is not only unjustifiable, it also rottens the fundamental understanding and meaning of truth and justice in the west. Unless these are more of anecdotal fairy tales for the masses.

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
1 month ago

Merkel’s just desperate to justify her “irresponsible appeasing of Russia.” And that’s what it was. Should have listened to ole Donald.

rob drummond
rob drummond
29 days ago

Many of us at the time knew Merkal was an utter disaster:

Abandoning Nuclear Energy
Buildont Nordstream
Allowing in 1m unvetted immigrants into THE EU!
Bullying Mediterranean states (2010)
Blindly appeasing Russia and so much more

Shame the German people didnt work it out. She never once had her own majority in what is a broken electoral system where the same politicians always get in (but sometimes change seats)

Germany wants to rebuild hegemony in Europe? Have we not been here before? Twice?

martin logan
martin logan
1 month ago

Just another conspiracy theory about Merkel, to set beside all the others about world leaders.
It’s promoted by people too lazy (or too duplicitous) to concede that the world is a very complex place, over which no one person (or groups of people) has effective control.
And the most fervent proponents are Russia’s current leaders
In medieval times they attributed bad events to “нечистые силы” (unclean powers).
Since then it has been the Swedes, the British Empire, “World Capital,” and now Joe Biden. But it’s essentially the same idea.
Putin and his circle fervently believe that they are fighting a heroic war inside their own country against western spies–and another desperate struggle outside with the US-led empire.
That poor old Joe is the “mastermind” behind it all shows just how isolated they are from reality.

peter worthington
peter worthington
1 month ago
Reply to  martin logan

Perhaps no one group has effective control on the world stage due to its largess and complexity. The IMF, The World Bank, NATO and US and European Intelligence Agencies certainly provide a sufficient force vector for heavy influence. Influence that Communists and Independent states may not want to be part of, or influenced by. Perhaps the Nationalistic movements growth across the globe is countering this vector.

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
1 month ago
Reply to  martin logan

Though curiously so much evidence supports Putin’s claims, no matter how much we may dislike the man, and decry his invasion. He’s consistently told the US/NATO that expanding East by fomenting ‘Colour Revolutions’ then moving NATO in, was not only unacceptable but would one day prove fatal. But the West either didn’t believe him or expected that the Ukrainian Army would make a decent Mercenary Force to bleed Russia white. Imagine, given the hysteria over the Capitol Loony’s day out, IF a Russian politician had been there and urged the fancy dressed to ‘overthrow’ the Government – which is what Nulands did in Maidan Square, though the ‘fancy dressed’ there were in combat gear and armed.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bill Bailey
Andrew F
Andrew F
1 month ago
Reply to  Bill Bailey

What nonsense are you peddling?
Former slaves of Soviet Union became independent and obviously, based on historical experiences of having savages as neighbours, wanted protection which membership of NATO provides.
What right Russia has to tell independent countries what is acceptable?
What vodka fuelled 3rd world s**t hole like Russia has to offer to the world apart of poverty and violence?

Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
1 month ago
Reply to  martin logan

As mentioned previously, just because Putin/Russia is paranoid, doesn’t mean the US/NATO isn’t out to get them.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 month ago

The analysis in this article seems correct to me, although I don’t agree with the final judgment on Merkel; in her time she managed well. NS2 might have worked out if Russia didn’t have a thug as a president. That’s all history now and the future ain’t what it used to be.

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago

Putin has led Russia since the turn of the millenium. Did it make sense for Merkel to think he would change his stripes? Of course not.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 month ago
Reply to  R Wright

It wasn’t just Merkel. Surely you don’t believe that? BTW, I do think *that* was a monumental mistake, and probably done for cynical reasons.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
1 month ago

Merkel is responsible for the tidal wave of economic migrants to Europe. That legacy can never be forgotten or forgiven.

Last edited 1 month ago by Sam Brown
Iris C
Iris C
1 month ago
Reply to  Sam Brown

Hardly! They have been coming from all the sovereign nations which America has invaded this century. Ukrainian migrants have just added to this.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
1 month ago

Merkel is responsible for the tidal wave of economic mi gran ts to Europe. That legacy can never be forgotten.

Sam Brown
Sam Brown
1 month ago

Merkel is responsible for the mass migr ation to Europe. That legacy can never be forgotten.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
1 month ago
Reply to  Sam Brown

Play it again Sam.