Many do not realise they are being hoodwinked. They accept the constructed narrative… and run with it. This then leads to distortion at best and out and out lies at worst. We then enter in to discussion and debate with the distortion and/or lies leading the discourse.

A clear example of this is this interview by CNN with ex Pink Floyd member Roger Waters. Much of the substance is edited out of the piece that was broadcast and skews it in favour of the western position which CNN represents. However, when the original interview is viewed it becomes very apparent that by ignoring the Minsk ‘agreements’ the population inside and outside of the US are being manipulated to reach a conclusion NOT based on context or facts.

First the interview:

Then the information about the Minsk agreements and the outcomes that changes everything.

Map of Ukraine with shaded areas of Russian control as of 2014

Former member of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, Lidia Powirska looks back at the Minsk agreements and why they failed to bring even temporary peace to the Donbas conflict.

Days before the recent invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin made two major declarations. First, that the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine were independent republics, making Russia the first UN member state to recognize them. And second, that the 2014/2015 Minsk agreements—aimed at restoring peace in the region by ending the separatist war—had long been dead. On this last point, Putin was mostly correct. 

The ongoing war in the Donbas region in southeastern Ukraine was supposed to stop when the Minsk agreements were signed in 2014 and 2015 by the members of the Trilateral Contact Group—consisting of Ukraine, Russia, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and representatives of the self-proclaimed republics. Indeed, even heads of state Angela Merkel, François Hollande, and Vladimir Putin gave the final version a high-profile public blessing. 

As we know, peace did not ensue after Minsk. In spite of the agreements, the military operations conducted in eastern Ukraine continued with variable intensity. Ukraine and Russia blamed each other for their non-implementation. 

Why did the agreements fail? Now that nominal efforts are underway to discuss a possible peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine, it’s important to understand the myriad ways in which the Minsk agreements were inadequate and improbable, so that lessons can be learned from its failures. Perhaps the biggest failure of all was context. As the saying goes, possession is nine-tenths of the law. Indeed, diplomacy can only go so far if one party maintains possession of a territory and the military force to hold it. 

Minsk (Dis)agreements 

First, it’s useful to note that the signatories/representatives from Ukraine and Russia did not have the authority to sign international treaties on behalf of heads of state, whom they were representing. Therefore, the Minsk agreements (first, the Minsk Protocol in 2014, second, the updated “Minsk II” in 2015) had the status of political commitments rather than legally binding documents1. Moreover, Russia insisted on inclusion in the Trilateral Contact Group of representatives of the self-proclaimed republics. This in itself constituted a step toward recognition of their legitimacy, apart from the fact that creation of the republics constituted a grave violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Provisions of the first agreement (the Minsk Protocol) signed on September 5, 2014, at first did not raise turbulent animosities. It consisted of twelve short general points, which addressed:

  • practical aspects of implementation of a ceasefire; 
  • impunity for offenses committed during military operations in the self-proclaimed republics; 
  • transfer of power from central to the regional level (decentralization) in Ukraine; 
  • determination of the interim status of the self-declared republics; 
  • organization of local elections in self-proclaimed republics; 
  • and improvement of the economic and humanitarian situation in Donbas. 

At the time of signing of the Minsk Protocol, for the first time, the approximately 420-kilometer line of contact was established, dividing Donbas into territory controlled by the government in Kyiv and territory occupied by separatists. Its course was fluid. The line was drawn based on the distribution of positions held by the forces of the conflicting parties. Eventually, it moved deeper into Ukrainian territory. This is an example of how a written provision can be easily decimated simply by one party taking possession of more territory.

The protocol’s provisions on ceasefire were the following: 

  • withdrawal of heavy weapons and military equipment from both sides; 
  • removal of militarized formations and other fighters; 
  • release of prisoners of war (POWs) on both sides; 
  • and monitoring of the ceasefire and of the Russian-Ukrainian border by the OSCE.

These practical aspects of implementation of a ceasefire were further detailed in a separate memorandum, signed on September 19, 2014. 

Only upon implementation of the agreement did its imperfections become obvious. Provisions of the memorandum were too general and vague to determine the actual resolution of the conflict and stabilization of the situation in the eastern Ukraine. The memorandum left its parties free to interpret individual provisions, which ultimately led to escalation of the conflict. 

Despite the signing of the ceasefire agreement, armed actions of a lesser intensity carried out by the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics and Ukrainian forces never stopped. Their subsequent intensification led to the signing of the second deal in February 2015 (Minsk II). 

This second agreement imposed more obligations on Ukraine, especially regarding the scope of the “special status” of the self-proclaimed republics. It required the Ukrainian government to change its constitution to decentralize and adopt a special status for the republics. Moreover, these changes would have to be approved by representatives of the self-proclaimed republics—Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR)—which gave Russia an opportunity to influence decisions concerning the legal order of Ukraine2. By signing Minsk II, Ukraine agreed to this. 

State leaders meet in Minsk to discuss agreements in February 2015

Further, Russians demanded that the Ukrainian constitution include provisions on Ukraine’s neutrality, which would prevent it from applying for NATO membership3. Ukraine refused. Ukrainian authorities did agree to extensive provisions on the “special status” of the self-proclaimed republics, which would grant them, among others, rights to linguistic self-determination and creation of separate police units. It should be noted that dictating the conditions under which the constitutional reform would be carried out was contrary to the democratic standards of Ukraine’s rule of law, where it is the legislature that decides on the shape of the laws adopted. 

A major point of contention was the provision allowing the breakaway territories to hold local elections, which the Minsk Protocol obliged its signatories to organize. However, on November 2, 2014, less than two months after the Minsk Protocol was signed, presidential and parliamentary elections—“national” rather than local elections—took place in the self-proclaimed republics4. By arbitrarily holding these elections, separatists and Russia expressed their disregard for the peace process in eastern Ukraine. Their actions undermined the commitments taken under the agreements, undermined the sovereignty of Ukraine, and constituted a violation to its domestic and international law.

To add to the confusion, the updated Minsk II stipulated that local elections would be allowed when Ukraine deemed that the security conditions were sufficient or “right.” And after the local elections were held, Ukraine would take full control of the border. The conditions Ukraine had in mind included the withdrawal of illegal troops and other fighters from its territory. Therefore, in effect, Ukraine was asking to control the territory before local elections would be allowed to proceed. As Russia unofficially maintained its troops in the self-proclaimed republics, these security requirements were never met, and Russia preserved its advantage by holding territory. The failure to implement these provisions was used by both sides to blame each other for the noncompliance of the agreement.

Further, the provisions of Minsk II raised concerns among Ukrainian authorities that their consent to make far-reaching concessions to the republics would be used to legitimize their independence aspirations. 

Prevailing Conditions Affect Outcomes

The final versions of the Minsk agreements were strongly influenced by the fighting on the front line. The Minsk Protocol was signed in the wake of the successes of the military offensive of separatists supported by regular Russian troops. For example, separatists backed by Russia took control of the entire Ukrainian-Russian border by the end of August 2014, allowing for free movement of additional support from the Russian Federation territory in the form of military equipment, troops, and mercenaries. Similar circumstances accompanied the signing of the second deal on February 12, 2015. At that time, several thousand Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded by separatists in the town of Debaltseve, which was an important railway and road junction between the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Minsk II went into effect three days later. Over the course of those three days, some of the most intense fighting since the beginning of the conflict took place, with separatists seizing Debaltseve, thus shifting the line of contact agreed upon during the Minsk negotiations. 

Despite its military involvement in Ukraine, Russia presented itself during the negotiations of the Minsk agreements not as an aggressor-party to the conflict, but as merely a mediator. Russia also successfully sought to have the agreements signed by representatives of the self-proclaimed republics even though the agreements did not use the self-proclaimed names—Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic—a move that would have constituted a significant step toward recognition of their statehood. These territories remained part of Ukraine’s legal order. Kyiv refused to grant a “special status” to the whole Donetsk and Luhansk region, including territories which remained under control of the Ukrainian government5. Instead, they agreed to adopt the law on the special status for the two self-declared republics only, after Russia withdrew their armies. Since Russia at that time refused to acknowledge that their troops were in the region, nothing changed. 

Agreements Impossible to Implement

Despite the concessions made by both sides, none of the provisions of the Minsk agreements were fully implemented. The points relatively implemented were the exchange of prisoners of war and OSCE monitoring. The exchange of prisoners of war (POWs) between the self-proclaimed republics and Ukraine did not take place all at once, as intended. It took place sporadically, over time, and the list of POWs was a subject to lengthy negotiations6. The OSCE fulfilled its monitoring functions through activities of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and Border Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk7.

To summarize, parties to the conflict violated the ceasefire agreement and accused each other of starting the fighting. Heavy armaments were in the conflict zone at all times. Occasionally, rocket launchers were used on both sides. Before 2022, almost daily incidents of artillery shelling were reported from a dozen to more than a hundred8. The provisions of the agreements, which were supposed to enable the social and economic reintegration of separatist-controlled Donbas with the rest of the country, were not implemented by Ukraine because doing so would lead to political and economic strengthening of the self-proclaimed republics9. Isolation of Donbas contributed to its progressive decline. On the other hand, the Ukrainian authorities did not decide to completely abandon the two areas. Undermining the territorial integrity of the state would have compromised it10

In the end, despite the commitments made, the government in Kyiv did not shoulder the maintenance of the ruined areas of the self-proclaimed republics, as agreed upon. Perhaps because of this, Ukraine remained strong enough to lift itself out of the economic recession into which it fell after 2014. Since then, it has implemented numerous reforms that have brought it closer to the European Union. Focusing on economic and diplomatic pressure, which are classic strategies to counter military power in international relations, has worked to Ukraine’s advantage during the current invasion up to a point, as Western allies are imposing sanctions on Russia and providing the Ukrainian army with weapons. Yet, it has not been enough to defeat the Russian incursion.

Isolated from the rest of Ukraine, the self-proclaimed republics became a burden to Russia because they were a financial strain, and the elites were hard to control. Authorities in Moscow began to push for their integration with Russia. Local political elites in Donetsk and Luhansk were tamed by the unexplained assassination of the ambitious DPR leader, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, in 2018. Local political elites of LPR and DPR were replaced with bureaucrats loyal to Russia and members of the security agencies. Heads of the breakaway republics—Leonid Pasechnik in LPR and Denis Pushilin in DPR—who were elected in unauthorized elections in 2018, became members of the Russian ruling party United Russia in 2021. Joining Putin’s party was a striking signal of the possible integration of the “republics” with the Russian territory. In light of Moscow’s dwindling subsidies for the maintenance of the self-proclaimed republics, rumors of its possible plans to merge them into a single entity or include Donbas in the Russian territory became increasingly common11.

International Responsibility

Ukraine signed the Minsk agreements under pressure from the West, which saw them as a means to end the open military conflict, but did nothing to resolve the overarching disagreement between Russia and Ukraine. It must be acknowledged that at the time of the negotiations, European mediators compromised themselves by failing to remedy inconsistencies in the provisions of the agreements, especially over the conditions surrounding local elections. This confusion contributed to the demise of the agreement. The Western countries pushing through the Minsk agreements made the normalization of relations with Russia dependent on the “full implementation of the Minsk agreements”12. In 2015, the European Union made the agreements a reference point for the lifting of sanctions against Russia, which were imposed in response to actions against Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence, including the illegal annexation of Crimea. 

Ukraine and Western countries sought the earliest possible ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the battlefield. For Russia and the self-proclaimed republics, the priority was decentralizing Ukraine and burdening it with the reconstruction and reintegration of Donbas—which, with a weakened central government due to the conditions of the ongoing conflict, would likely result in Ukraine’s further destabilization. Moreover, Russia’s demand that Ukraine stay neutral has been steadfast. Closer cooperation between the European Union and NATO with the authorities in Kyiv over the past several years clearly eschewed the prospect of neutrality. In view of the stalemate over the implementation of the Minsk agreements and NATO’s refusal to shut the “open door” policy, Putin decided to exhort his demand with force.

Quotation from Lidia Powirska

Geopolitical Implications

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014 occurred because of the pro-European aspirations of the Ukrainian people. The result at that time was the seizure of Crimea and the creation of the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Their creation was connected with the concept of creating a “Novorossiya” (literally “new Russia”) in these areas. It is very likely that Moscow will seek to enlarge its control at least with areas that will allow it to connect Crimea to Russia by land. It is also possible that it will seek to take control of Ukraine’s capital in order to install a pro-Russian government that will turn away from its pro-European trajectory. The realization of this scenario is not favorable to Europeans. Ukraine could otherwise become a threat to European security following the example of Belarus, which, in the fall of 2021, became a source of hybrid threat to the EU’s eastern border by trying to push thousands of “migrants” into its territory.

Russia is opposed to Ukraine joining NATO and the European Union. Similar reasons accompanied its aggression against Georgia in August 2008. At that time, an excuse for the invasion was “protection” of South Ossetia, which was attacked by Georgian forces following a series of Moscow-inspired provocations. Russians broke up the Georgian army in five days and became a security guarantor of separatist republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have existed on Georgian territory since the 1990s. Russia maintains its military presence in them, in violation of the 2008 Six-Point Peace Plan, which was agreed between Georgia and Russia to end their military conflict13. The republics are gradually expanding their territory into areas formally controlled by the government in Tbilisi. There are sporadic exchanges of fire and arrests of mostly innocent people along the administrative boundary lines. Russia defends the former republics of the USSR against the spread of Western values. Undoubtedly in the long term, Russian authorities worry about a democratic upheaval in their own country. Fearing a loss of regional power, Russia seeks to reduce the US military presence in Europe. Already gathering its troops around Ukraine, in December 2021, Russia attempted to negotiate with the United States to reduce its military presence in Central and Eastern Europe, and with NATO to stop expanding its ranks to include Ukraine14. This only confirmed the fact that Ukraine is a hostage to the rivalry between world powers. 

Until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the West’s policy toward Russia was not coherent. Western states awkwardly maneuvered “from crisis to crisis” taking care of the uninterrupted continuation of trade cooperation. European Union countries are the recipients of one-third of Russia’s exports and the largest consumer of its gas and oil. In 2021, 45 percent of the gas and 27 percent of the oil imported into the EU came from Russia15. Therefore, Brussels could not afford to ban imports of these raw materials from Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, as the United States did. Russia’s recent refusal to increase the supply of gas to Europe above its contracted volume resulted in price increases in Europe. They have risen once again after Russia’s strike on Ukraine, making it, as the New York Times rightly noted, “a watershed moment for Europe on energy issues”16. Undoubtedly, Europe will seek to diversify its sources of gas and oil.

The Russian acquisition of control over Chinese trade routes to Europe will constitute its bargaining chip between China and the United States. So far, rail routes connecting China to mainland Europe have passed through Russia and Belarus. In 2021, Ukraine’s share as a transit country for the westbound direction of rail freight volumes was 2 percent17. China had been strengthening its relations with Ukraine with plans to significantly increase these volumes, but the country’s destabilization as a result of Russia’s invasion interrupted these plans. Nevertheless, the authorities in Beijing are likely to distance themselves from the Ukrainian–Russian conflict, not wanting to burn bridges of cooperation with the parties to it—Russia, Ukraine, or the West more broadly.

Toward the Next Peace Agreement

Observers of the bloody conflict in Ukraine are watching for its end. Initially, Russia rejected the possibility of dialogue on a peace agreement within the existing frameworks, accusing the OSCE of bias. Both sides took up the offer of mediation of peace talks by Israel and Turkey, a process that appears to be ongoing. Among the most important points discussed during the talks are Ukraine’s neutrality, which would deprive Kyiv of the ability to join military alliances; demilitarization limiting its forces in terms of number of troops and quality of their weaponry in the future; and the status of Crimea and the self-proclaimed republics. 

Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, in March and April 2022, the first exchanges of prisoners of war between fighting parties took place18. It is highly possible that this practice will be reflected in the eventual deal between Moscow and Kyiv and the release of POWs will become part of it. Following the example of previous agreements, it could also happen that Russia will seek to include guarantees of impunity for its fighters and decision-makers responsible for committing war crimes in Ukraine, including eventual crimes against humanity. It must be noted that in light of the information coming from the battlefield about suspicion of genocides in Bucha and other parts of the country, inclusion of such provisions in a possible agreement will be detrimental to Ukraine.

Regardless of how the ongoing talks end, based on the lessons learned from the implementation of the Minsk agreements, it is already clear how influential the prevailing circumstances will be to the process. As of this writing, Russia concentrated troops in the eastern part of Ukraine where it is launching air and artillery attacks from Kherson and Mariupol in the south to Kharkiv in the north. Although it seems inevitable, the success of the peace agreement will certainly be jeopardized if one of the parties, having the upper hand on the battlefield, dictates the terms of the truce. A peace agreement must take place as soon as possible, before Russia establishes an irreversible territorial advantage. 

Ukraine–Russia Timeline

1991Ukraine declares independence from Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union.
2008NATO assures Ukraine that it will be allowed to join someday.In response to Georgia’s close associations with the West, Russia invades and takes control of 20 percent of the country.
February 2014After months of protests, Ukrainians drive their pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich out of office. Soon after, armed groups seize Parliament in Crimea and then Russia annexes it.
May 2014After seizing government buildings, separatists in Donbas region declare independence for Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. 
August 2014By this time, Russia has control of the entire Ukrainian–Russian border.
September 2014Minsk Protocol is signed, and Russia and Ukraine agree to a ceasefire. Fighting eases but doesn’t completely stop. Two weeks later a memorandum is signed that further details the terms of the ceasefire.
September 28, 2014The second battle of Donetsk Airport begins, culminating with a complete takeover by the DPR in January 2015.
November 2014National rather than local elections take place in the self-proclaimed republics, violating a provision of the Minsk Protocol.
January 2015The ceasefire agreement collapses, and battles take place around Donetsk International Airport.
February 12–15, 2015Minsk II, an updated ceasefire agreement for the Donbas is signed. Ukrainian soldiers are surrounded by separatists in the town of Debaltseve.
2015–presentRussia launches cyberattacks against Ukraine, disrupting the electric grid and financial institutions.
April 2019Volodymyr Zelensky is elected president of Ukraine. Russia begins moving troops closer to Ukrainian borders.
July 2019US President Donald Trump pressures Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter over possible business dealings in Ukraine. The incident leads to Trump’s first impeachment.
December 2021Putin demands that NATO pull back troops from eastern Europe and bar Ukraine from joining NATO.
January 2022NATO reinforces eastern European members with military support. 
February 2022The US warns of Russia’s impending attack on Ukraine and sends thousands of US troops to NATO countries in eastern Europe. It threatens sanctions if Russia invades, but will not send troops to Ukraine.
February 21, 2022On television, Putin calls Ukraine an integral part of Russia, recognizes the breakaway provinces as independent states and sends forces into Donbas.
February 24, 2022Russia begins strikes inside of Ukraine targeting major cities.
February 26, 2022Western allies begin to impose a series of major sanctions against Russia, crippling its financial system.
February 28, 2022Ceasefire talks begin at the Ukraine–Belarus border and later move to Istanbul as the military strikes continue.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Polish government and organizations in which she was working.

By Lidia Powirska

Contributor Bio

Lidia Powirska is a lecturer at Jagiellonian University and an employee of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (on leave). She is a member of the Security Sector Reform Advisory Network to the UN and a former member of the UN and OSCE missions in Ukraine, East Timor, and Kosovo. She was part of a team that actively monitored ceasefire violations at the line of contact in Ukraine/Donbas. She has published articles on subjects such as United Nations Peacekeeping, EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, and the Balkans. She was a 2019–2020 Weatherhead Scholars Program Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.


  1. Map of Ukraine and its territory controlled by the Russian Federation as of 2014. (Read this New York Times interactive feature for current maps of Russian occupation and advances on Ukraine.) Credit: Shutterstock 
  2. Normandy format talks in Minsk (February 2015): Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, and Petro Poroshenko take part in the (Minsk II) talks on a settlement to the situation in Ukraine. Credit: The Russian Presidential Press and Information OfficeWikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0)


  1. Leonid Kuchma did not have an authority to sign documents, while in Russia the right to sign a treaty on behalf of the state belongs solely to the president. Tim B. Peters, Anastasiia Shapkina, The Grand Stalemate of the Minsk Agreements. Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e. V., February 2019.
  2. Szymon Kardas, Wojciech Kononczuk, Minsk 2 – A Fragile Truce. Centre for Eastern Studies, February 12, 2015.
  3. Alya Shandra, Leaked Kremlin Emails Show Minsk Protocol Designed As Path to Ukraine’s Capitulation. Euromaidan Press report, October 25, 2019.
  4. The next elections took place on November 11, 2018. 
  5. Szymon Kardas, Wojciech Kononczuk, op. cit.
  6. During three POWs exchanges that took place: in December 2017, December 2019, and in April 2020, Ukrainian authorities handed over to the “republics” a total of 390 people in exchange for 160 Ukrainian POWs.
  7.  The mandate of the OSCE Border Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk expired on September 30, 2021 and the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine expired at the end of March 2022, as the Russian Federation blocked consensus to extend them.
  8. In 2018, the OSCE SMM mission recorded an average of around 860 ceasefire violations per day. Most of them involve gunfire. This number was almost 25 percent lower than it had been in 2017 and was similar to the amount of ceasefire violations recorded during 2016. André Härtel, Anton Pisarenko, Andreas Umland, The OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, Security and Human Rights, Volume 31: Issue 1-4, Pages: 121–154, June 2021.
  9.  Andrzej Wilk, Tadeusz A. Olszanski, Wojciech Gorecki, The Minsk agreement: One Year of Shadow Boxing. Centre for Eastern Studies, February 10, 2016.
  10. Ibidem.
  11. Konstantin Skorkin, Merge and Rule: What’s In Store for the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics. Carnegie Moscow Centre, March 16, 2021.
  12. Hugo Klijn, Mulling over Minsk: What Do the Agreements (Not) Say? Clingendael, The Netherlands Institute of International Relations, February 21, 2022.
  13. Six-point Peace Plan for the Georgia-Russia Conflict, August 12, 2008.
  14. Steven Pifer, Russia’s Draft Agreements with NATO and the United States: Intended for Rejection? The Brookings Institution, December 21, 2021.
  15. Stanley Reed, The European Union Seeks Independence from Russian Oil and GasThe New York Times, March 8, 2022.
  16. Ibidem.
  17. Majorie van Leijen, How important is Ukraine on the New Silk Road?, February 25, 2022.
  18. By the beginning of May 2022, around seven exchanges of POWs had taken place, the last on May 6, during which forty-one people returned to Ukraine. 

For a more general analysis and introduction:

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