The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a media call on the situation in Ukraine and the ceasefire agreement reached by leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in Belarus. Judy Dempsey, Eugene Rumer, and Dmitri Trenin participated in the call. Tom Carver, vice president for communications and strategy, moderated.
TOM CARVER: Good morning, everyone. This is Tom Carver here at the Carnegie Endowment, and this is the media call on Ukraine and the recent talks in Minsk. It'll be on the record for approximately 30 minutes, and a transcript will be available afterwards. I'm pleased to say I have with me here Eugene Rumer, who's the director of our Russia abd Eurasia Program here in the States; Judy Dempsey, who many of you know as the author of the Carnegie Europe blog, Strategic Europe, who is over here in the States, actually, for a few days. Welcome, Judy.
JUDY DEMPSEY: Thank you, Tom.
CARVER: And Dmitri Trenin, well-known, longtime head of our Russia office in Moscow. So we've got all sides covered, Europe and America and Russia. I just ask everyone – we have a lot of people on this call who are calling in from all directions, from Europe, from Russia, from the United States, so we'll just ask people to mute their phones when they are not asking a question, for the benefit of everyone else, because otherwise, it gets very hard to listen.
Okay. Let's start with Gene. What's your reactions to overnight in Minsk, Gene?
EUGENE RUMER: My reaction is this. You know, we've seen so much terrible human tragedy in Eastern Ukraine, and so much bad news coming out of the region, that at this point, any agreement in my view is better than no agreement at all.
Clearly, this was a very difficult negotiation. I can't imagine that Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande would willingly spend a night in Minsk, of all places, negotiating with Mr. Putin. And Mr. Putin in a television interview this morning said that this was a very difficult negotiation. And there are clearly many, many holes in this with just a long list of questions about the implementation, about the meaning of certain agreements, about the timing of certain aspects of this deal. And we can try to answer them.
I think right now, if we really go down the list of what was agreed, we'll very quickly end up asking a lot more questions than we can answer. But on the plus side, if there is hope that in 60 hours or so the shelling will stop, there'll be some pullback, it's good news. And if the Ukrainian government is able to restore some of the support to the residents of Eastern Ukraine, again, it's a relatively small, relative to the scale of the tragedy, but a positive step forward.
And again, I don't want to be Pollyannaish, but hopefully, we can build on this.
CARVER: Okay. As you said, Putin said I think it wasn't the best night he had ever had.
CARVER: Dmitri, how does – how is it being seen in Moscow? How do you see what happened at Minsk?
DMITRI TRENIN: Well, I think people see it with relief, but also with a lot of concern. The war has been on Russia's television nonstop for the last eight, nine months or so, so the daily carnage is – has become pretty oppressive for the people to – to hear the – and actually see what's happening on their TV screens. So anything that puts an end to the war is a welcome thing. Second of all, people who – especially people with young males in their families were becoming increasingly concerned about the potential of Russia being drawn into the war in a much bigger way, and conscripts being called up for military service related to Ukraine.
So that is – again, the agreement is a good thing for those people. But at the same time, I think that most knowledgeable people will take the many points of the Minsk agreement with a huge grain of salt. My own view is that beyond the cease fire and prisoner exchange, everything else is pretty – pretty uncertain and problematic. I don't think that Donbass will be reintegrated within Ukraine as the agreement calls for, and I don't think that the Ukrainian/Russian border in Donbass will be turned over to the Ukrainian government.
So I think that what we can expect is hopefully a continuation of the cease fire, which will save lives, but on the other hand, I think that the situation will be frozen as to the lines of division within Ukraine, and I would say in Europe writ large.
CARVER: Thanks. Judy, do you think Hollande and Merkel will see this as a victory for them?
DEMPSEY: No. What's very curious and interesting about all the statements, and they were very short statements – the Chancellor gave a short statement. The Foreign Ministry in Germany was a tiny bit more upbeat. But first of all, they were all very, very downbeat, and even Putin was. Poroshenko was, Merkel was, Hollande was. It's – they're not raising any hopes at all. And as Merkel said, they face an awful lot of hard work now.
Secondly, the devil, as always, is in the detail, which brings us to the whole mechanics of the cease fire. This cease fire, I'm sorry to say, will probably go nowhere, if there isn't a huge political will to really beef up the mandate of the OSCE, pull in many, many more monitors, give them clear support, and at the moment, the OSCE has been totally dependent on the pro-Russian separatists to bring them round to various places. The Minsk 1 Accord said they should have access to the border, monitoring the Russian/Ukrainian border.
This will still be out of the question. I'm very pessimistic about the OSCE being able to do anything on this. Which brings me to the point, then, what's left, but we can discuss this later.
CARVER: Okay. Well, let's get into the – some of the detail of the agreement. Let's open it up for questions. When you ask a question, please just state your affiliation and who you are. Anyone have a question?
CARVER: Yes. Hi. Please go ahead.
REPORTER: Hi. I'd like to ask, Dmitri, you mentioned that you think that in fact, the situation would probably be frozen, and I'm wondering if you see that perhaps, you know, despite Putin's – maybe his – maybe, you know, downcast public response, maybe – is that maybe something that he was out for, looking for?
TRENIN: Well, Putin is someone who is a tactician and an operations person. He will be looking for dangers, threats, and also opportunities. And he will also be realistic. So this is the most you can get at this point. It was very important for Putin I think to bring the fighting to an end, now that the rebels have been able to secure ground to make their capitals. If – if the cease fire – if the cease fire is also complemented by the – by the demilitarized zone, where you will not have heavy military equipment, if that's the case, then the capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk, but particularly Donetsk, will be safe from enemy fire, and the rebel republics will be able to start operating more normally than so far. I think that anything else is up for grabs.
This – I talked about the frozen situation as one of the better scenarios. There are many ways in which this agreement can unravel. The rebels may decide that they have been prevented from liberating the entire territory of Donbass, and there are people who hail from the areas which are now under Kiev control. There is an interest in getting Mariupol, not as a land bridge to Crimea, but as a critical mass for the Donetsk Republic.
There are people in Kiev who will be very unhappy, I think, with the agreement, or the implementation of the agreement. There may be political turmoil in Ukraine. Mr. Putin will be watching the situation in Ukraine, social, economic, and political, very closely. And this may not be the last final act of the Ukraine drama.
So Mr. Putin, as I said, is someone who is not so much strategizing ten years ahead, as using the various opportunities that present themselves, and protecting himself from the various dangers that abound.
REPORTER: Two questions. Will Russia have an interest in getting a proper control at the Ukrainian/Russian border? And how will Russia look at political developments in Kiev is they start implementing some of the association agreement features?
CARVER: Dmitri, do you want to have a go at that?
TRENIN: Well, I think that – I think that if they start implementing the association agreement, you know, the Russians will be – will be watching. I don't see them acting very much, not these days. But the border will be the last thing to go. The control of the portion of the Ukrainian/Russian border which is now not controlled by Kiev will remain in the rebel hands on the Ukrainian side, unless and until the rebels get what they want within Ukraine, which I don't think they will.
So in a way, I see this situation as falling somewhere between the analogy of Transnistria and the analogy of Karabakh. The difference of course is that in Transnistria, you basically have a peaceful, largely peaceful situation with very – really very rarely a shot being fired, whereas in Karabakh you have – you have skirmishes, you have the line of engagement, which is basically the modern equivalent of the Cold War border in Europe. You cannot trespass across that line. So somewhere between Transnistria and Karabakh. I know it's a bleak prediction, but that's how I see it. At least people will not be dying, and that will be a huge upside for this agreement, if that happens.
REPORTER: Hi. I wanted to ask about the de facto cease fire on the front lines. There seems to be a difference that the – in the agreements, that the cease fire lines for the rebel – the pro-rebel forces starts from the December 19th front line, according to Minsk, whereas the zone for the Ukrainian troops is starting from the de facto front line as is.
And as some point, there's supposed to be a decree within the Ukrainian Parliament within 30 days to define the geographical area of self-rule. Is this going to be a problematic – one of the most problematic areas, actually defining what the proper de facto kind of borders of this self-rule area is, are?
CARVER: Gene, do you want to have a go at that?
RUMER: It's hard to tell which is the most problematic area of this agreement. Clearly, this ambiguity about the difference between what Ukrainian military have to do and the separatists have to do with respect to pulling back the weapons is something that at least at this time, upon reading the text of the agreement, is entirely not clear.
And this could be a positive thing, because this could result in a larger separation zone between the two, or, depending on how the separatists choose to interpret the terms of the deal, this could actually put Ukrainian – the Ukrainian military at a disadvantage. So right now, we simply cannot answer that question with certainty. Now anything that has to go through the Ukrainian Parliament I think is – has a huge question mark attached to it, because one thing we can say with certainty is that this agreement is going to be very controversial in Ukrainian domestic politics, and it's going to be the subject of a huge, huge and very fierce debate in Kiev.
REPORTER: This question is for anybody. But at the EU Summit today, Lithuanian President Madame Grybauskaite said that – called the agreement weak, and for the reason being I think Dmitri just touched on, is that why she called it weak was because the border was not addressed properly. As we know, that's one of the main concerns, is that – you know, the free flow of weapons, munitions, soldiers, and that was not properly addressed, according to her. And I think in Ukraine, that will also be criticized. And somebody can just make – give their assessment on that once more. And also, why – what's the rationale behind February 15th cease fire? Why do they need two days to stop firing, instead of just putting the safety button on their weapons? So can somebody please address those two things again?
CARVER: Okay. Judy?
DEMPSEY: Mark, hi. Judy Dempsey here. Mark, two things. The cease fire, frankly, two days is very, very short time to even get the word down to start a cease fire. So it's quite – it's very, very short. I'm surprised it's actually not a bit longer. But clearly, Merkel and Poroshenko had to push for this, because they have to sell it. Merkel really has to sell this today at the summit, which brings me up – which brings me to your first question. I'm not at all surprised that the Lithuanians, and they'll be joined by the Latvians, probably the Estonians, and probably the Poles, that they'll be very disappointed about this agreement.
As far as I can tell, very – nothing is said about Crimea, but ultimately, intellectually and philosophically and morally, the Baltics, Poland, and one or two other countries in Eastern Europe and in Western Europe, particularly the Swedes, will regard this as a potential sellout, because they don't see the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine being guaranteed by this. And fundamentally, who are the guarantors of this accord?
REPORTER: Mm-hmm. Thank you.
CARVER: Okay. Next?
REPORTER: I'd like to ask a question, if I can. I'm wondering if anyone can – if anyone has thoughts of the importance of the role that German Chancellor Angela Merkel played in this process.
CARVER: The role that Angela Merkel played. Do you want to take that, Judy?
DEMPSEY: She's – I mean, there's no – there's no question that Merkel has taken this lead – just before – actually, she took the lead when Crimea was annexed, and she has been at this ever since. As it escalated, Merkel herself not only discovered foreign policy, but she really took this on because she knew what the stakes were, and they're very, very high. She's been instrumental in this.
Obama delegated this to her. He didn't want anything to do with Ukraine. In some ways, he wanted it off his agenda. Other European leaders, very weak. President Hollande was very weak. Cameron didn't want anything – he couldn't, anyway. He had no credibility. And the Poles couldn't do it for many reasons. They tried. So it was left to Merkel, and she's taken it at very high risk, especially given her coalition partners, the Social Democrats, who are still – there's a residual pacifist and very pro-Russian ____ sentiment in the party.
But Merkel has been alone in this very much, in negotiating this, and the fact that she stuck it out for 17 hours, A, shows her experience as a negotiator, thanks to EU summits, and B, Putin has to – had to discover that here was a leader that seriously wants some kind of peace in Ukraine. But her role has been absolutely crucial. The big question is now what happens if this deal doesn't stick. What will happen – the risk she – she's carried an awful lot of risks.
RUMER: Yeah. I just wanted to add to something that Judy has already alluded, and that is sitting here in Washington, it's striking, it's stunning, that there's just no evidence of US participation in this conversation at all. There was a phone call between President Obama and President Putin a couple of days ago. The readouts that were released publicly suggest that the two leaders basically talked past each other. They didn't really resemble anything like a mutually agreed upon result of a conversation. And I can only join Judy in saying that, you know, kudos to Chancellor Merkel to – to her effort in leading this incredibly difficult diplomatic effort.
CARVER: Where does this leave the whole arming question? Do you think the wind goes out of that to some degree in America?
RUMER: No, because I don't see our – of course, there appears to be somewhat of a division, to the extent that we can tell, between the executive branch and our legislative branch, and the voices on the Hill here in Washington in support of arming Ukraine are likely to grow louder and more assertive if, as I fear the case is likely to be, this agreement will not deliver on what everybody wants it to deliver. So I don't see this debate dying down at all.
CARVER: Okay. Maybe – I just wanted to ask you about the buffer zone. What do you guys understand the buffer zone to be? Is that the same as a demilitarized zone or not?
DEMPSEY: The full details haven't yet been made – the full details, but the OSCE was telling me that the buffer zone would be widened in order to actually give the OSCE monitors some protection, and also widens so that there would be space to withdraw the weapons. But the Ukrainians have no doubt set the buffer zone to the advantage of the separatists.
CARVER: But it's the withdrawal of heavy weapons, but not necessarily troops? Would that be correct?
DEMPSEY: To withdraw the troops would be full admission that the – that, you know, Russia is behind them. But where will the troops go to?
RUMER: The reference in the text of the agreement is to pulling back of artillery pieces and rocket systems, the tactical rocket – missiles. But there is no reference to pulling back the troops, and I don't know actually physically how that is possible, to create a full demilitarized zone in the present circumstances, especially if as Judy said, there's no one really to enforce the implementation of this agreement.
REPORTER: I have one more question here from Bloomberg, if somebody could address it, anybody, regarding the situation where Ukraine pledges to again supply the occupied areas with budget – you know, budgets, renew the banking system. And this is I think what Putin was after, and I think he told this to Merkel, regarding Chechnya. Look what I did. I just bought – I bought Chechnya with large sums of subsidies, and I gave it great autonomy. And so I think isn't that what's going to happen to the rebel-held part of Donbass?
CARVER: Dmitri, do you want to have a go at that?
TRENIN: Well, Tom, I think that it's very unlikely that Kiev in its – ____ in its present economic and financial situation will do anything other than some token gestures to supply Donbass. So I think that Donbass will be Russia's responsibility, whether Russia likes it or not. But Russia will have to be – will have to be delivering food and supplies and energy to Donbass, much as the West will have to be bailing out Ukraine.
REPORTER: Okay. Thank you.
CARVER: Do you think they will try to
REPORTER: Can I ask another question?
CARVER: Yes. Go ahead. Who is it?
REPORTER: No, I just wanted to ask whether this agreement in some way indicate that Western leaders are selling out of the principle that Europe is built upon, you know, borders cannot be moved. As someone mentioned, Crimea hasn't been mentioned in these negotiations. The question is addressed to anyone.
TRENIN: I think we're beyond that, frankly. I think borders in Europe have been – I think it's an illusion that Europe's borders stayed permanent after the end of the Cold War. We've seen some things in the Balkans. We've seen things in – and now that's something that's recognized by the bulk of the European Union and the bulk of the international community.
I mean, Kosovo's independence, which was also a result of war. You also have de facto divisions of Moldova, Azerbaijan. There's Georgia, that no longer controls Abkhazia and South Ossetia. So Crimea just joined a fairly long list, and I can add Cyprus, of areas where borders have been moved. And anyone who studies political geography or historical political geography understands that borders have a habit of moving. So I think it's an illusion that a lot of people entertain that somehow you can win back on the negotiating table something that you lost in – on the battlefield. These things are – never happen.
REPORTER: But does that mean that the strongest now have a – have a voice, or can decide where borders are?
TRENIN: Well, this is not new, but I think we are back to the situation in which failing – a failure of diplomacy, cooperation – not so much diplomacy, the failure of the cooperation, period, that succeeded the end of the Cold War, has led us to a situation in which some problems are decided by the force of arms. This is a very, very bad thing, but you have a lot of proof of that.
CARVER: Either of you? Gene?
RUMER: Well, clearly, this is a matter of considerable disagreement between Russian and – commentators on the one hand and European and American commentators on the other hand. And we're not going to settle this disagreement.
What I would agree with is that the old – relatively old arrangement that we thought had existed in Europe since the end of the Cold War, you know, has not delivered, and we are now facing the challenge that is much greater even than the reconstruction and rebuilding in a political sense of Ukraine, and that is rethinking the entire European security arrangement, because this vision of Europe whole, free, at peace with itself and its neighbors, with Russia as the easternmost pillar of this Transatlantic security architecture, clearly, that's no more.
DEMPSEY: Can I quickly come in here? I can see – I don't know who the lady was. I can understand what you're saying, because many in Europe did set up this – did repeat this mantra of – that Ukraine's territorial integrity couldn't be undermined, we've got to protect the sovereignty. But clearly, this has gone by the wayside, and whatever is in the German Chancellor's text on this, announcing the general terms of the cease fire, clearly, the Europeans are not prepared to actually underpin the territorial integrity.
REPORTER: Can I ask just a couple of other questions? I just wanted to ask two questions really. Obviously, we have to see how this is implemented, but do you believe that this could – this agreement could forestall new sanctions by the Europeans or the Americans?
DEMPSEY: Ah, that's interesting.
REPORTER: And in some ways ____ sort of rolling back of the sanctions, which I believe for the Europeans have become certainly problematic over the last couple of months? And secondly, I'm struck by your comment about the Americans not being present in this. The Americans say that they don't feel that they've been sidelined, and they're quite happy to leave it to the Europeans. But does this suggest that perhaps in these negotiations, particularly with Russia that the United States is no longer seen as a trusted and trustworthy negotiator?
CARVER: Okay. Let's take number one quickly on the sanctions.
DEMPSEY: Quickly, briefly. Sanctions, it's always there, and Putin knows this. They didn't sit down for 17 hours and not look at the other options that are on the table. This is still there. It's out there. And secondly, the Americans. You know, it would have been actually quite useful if – even if the EU was at the negotiation table. The absence of the Americans and the EU is actually quite startling and quite shocking.
CARVER: But just on the sanctions, do you think it will reduce the pressure for a further round of sanctions?
DEMPSEY: It – so much happens over the next couple of days or weeks. They'll have to give the cease fire a chance, and Merkel will not take this off the table. It's the only tool that the Europeans have.
RUMER: Well, I think that to those who want more sanctions, this cease fire will be proof that more sanctions need to be put in place. And those who want to give the cease fire a chance will say absolutely not, let's give it a chance. So it works to both sides' arguments.
CARVER: Okay. Well, we're on half past. I think we'll draw that to a close. Thank you very much. We'll obviously keep this going. We'll have more in the future, depending, as everyone says, on how all this pans out. But a transcript will be available, if you want to email Clara for one. Thank you very much.
DEMPSEY: Bye, everybody.