On Thursday, 12 February NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the Minsk agreement to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine but said an escalation of the fighting ran counter to the spirit of the accord. The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine had backed the truce as part of a peace plan, but fighting escalated in the hours before it came into effect and continued over the weekend.
"The agreement in Minsk is a welcome step towards what I hope will be a durable, and peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine and towards restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity," NATO quoted Stoltenberg as telling Norwegian news agency NTB.
"What really matters now is that this agreement be implemented on the ground fully and without any delay. The escalation of fighting in eastern Ukraine is not in the spirit of what has been agreed in Minsk. Russia must end its support for the separatists and withdraw its forces and military equipment from eastern Ukraine," he said.
Speaking in an interview broadcast by Kommersant-FM radio on Friday, the NATO Secretary General said that he does not see an imminent threat from Russia to the Baltic countries or other NATO members, but insisted that Russia must respect sovereignty of other states.
NATO is not seeking confrontation with Russia and is trying to establish constructive partnership with Moscow, but at the same time it cannot compromise the principles on which security is based, Stoltenberg said. He also reaffirmed NATO's plans to set up command and control centres in six member states in Eastern Europe.
The 'Minsk 2' agreement requires both sides to remove heavy weaponry from the front lines and was signed by lower-level representatives from the Ukrainian and Russian governments, along with two rebel leaders and a delegate from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is charged with monitoring the ceasefire. The International Monetary Fund also agreed a new $17.5 billion lifeline to Ukraine on Thursday in an attempt to stabilize the country.
The conflict has already taken the lives of more than 5,000 Ukrainians and the scale of the humanitarian crisis increases daily. The conflict has also generated the most serious crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War. In putting an end to partnership-building with Russia, it also threatens to undermine Western diplomatic efforts on issues ranging from terrorism to nuclear proliferation. It is largely now a 'dialogue of the deaf' between the West and Russia. Since the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis in April 2014, NATO has repeatedly blamed Russia for sending troops to Ukraine and supporting eastern Ukrainian militia. NATO also ended all practical cooperation with Russia, only maintaining contacts at ambassadorial and higher levels.
Pressure is also growing for the US and NATO to provide Ukraine with weapons. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum, while not a treaty or security guarantee, is a political commitment on the part of the US, UK and Russia 'to provide assistance to Ukraine... if Ukraine should become a victim of aggression'. It is argued by proponents of arming Kiev that US military assistance, alongside a NATO-led defence capacity-building initiative for the Ukrainian army, could help contain Russian-backed rebels and protect other areas of Ukraine from destruction.
One of the most prominent calls for arms transfers was a report jointly published in early February by the Brookings Institution, the Atlantic Council and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which is headed by Ivo Daalder, a former US envoy to NATO. Other more cautious voices, suggest that either way – arming or not arming Ukraine - will make little difference since, “nothing short of all-out war will dislodge Russia from occupying Crimea, and a massive offensive would be necessary to silence separatists in Eastern Ukraine”.
Instead of arming Kiev, ultimately, the only imaginable solution is a diplomatic settlement that turns down the heat in the region and allows for rapprochement between Russia and its western neighbours. However, the ‘Minsk 2’ deal looks, at best, like a step towards making eastern Ukraine a ‘frozen conflict’ zone like Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, and Transdniestria in Moldova – all of which are run by Moscow-backed separatists.