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The Price of Peace in the Donbas

Ukraine Can’t Keep Both Territory and Sovereignty

A policeman for one of the separatist governments in the Donbas at a WWII memorial near Donetsk, Ukraine, September 2017 Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has staked his presidency on ending the war against Moscow-backed insurgents in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in a manner that will not break his country apart or invite further Russian interference. This will be a tall order. Under the terms of the Minsk agreement, the internationally accepted framework for resolving the conflict, a settlement that both preserves Ukraine’s sovereignty and restores its territorial integrity is near impossible. 

In the last six years, the conflict in the Donbas has taken more than 13,000 lives and displaced some 1.5 million people. The Ukrainian government agreed to the Minsk framework during the peak of hostilities in late 2014 and early 2015, while under tremendous pressure to stem the fighting. The agreement grants the two self-declared separatist republics in the Donbas a constitutionally guaranteed “special status”—one that entails local autonomy inside Ukraine—cementing these areas’ position as separate from the

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