Maxim Zmeyev / Courtesy Reuters A member of the Guard of Honor of the Presidential Regiment from Russia performs in Moscow, September 7, 2014.

Peace on Putin's Terms

How to Read the Recent Ceasefire Deal

Has Russia won the war in Ukraine? Late last week in Minsk, negotiators representing Ukraine, the separatist forces, and Russia agreed to a ceasefire that also calls for a release of prisoners and joint patrols of the border. The parties also made a vague agreement to work toward a political settlement. If this deal holds -- plenty of earlier ceasefires have fallen apart as soon as they were signed -- then the active phase of fighting in eastern Ukraine will have come to end on terms favorable to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ukrainian forces will stop their five-month-long effort to defeat rebel fighters in the Donbas, giving rise to a de facto pro-Russian breakaway statelet and a situation that will, by definition, be murky and unstable. 

Whether the rebel-held regions of the Donbas become another Republika Srpska (a state within a state that weighs on decision-making in the capital) or Abkhazia (a frozen conflict), the Kremlin will have gained a mechanism for weakening the Ukrainian state and influencing its politics for years to come. The political settlement is likely to drag on for some time, perhaps forever: No Ukrainian leader will make the concessions that the rebels’ proxy bosses in Moscow require. An unresolved civil war in a state of indefinite ceasefire -- which will likely see intermittent clashes, since many of the rebel formations and pro-Kiev battalions on the front-lines are skeptical of the deal -- will be a drag on the Poroshenko administration and the Ukrainian state for decades to come.

For one, Ukraine will be hampered in its efforts to reform and strengthen the workings of a government made hollow by years of neglect and corruption. And it will be that much harder for the country to present a real threat to Russia’s interests, as defined by President Putin, anytime soon. And even if it ever does, Moscow has a ready lever to pull to pressure and intimidate Kiev. No less important to Russia, the festering conflict

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