Big Question: does Ukraine have a chance to rebuild?

A ceasefire agreement and a new bailout package could help the struggling state

February 13, 2015
Newly mobilized Ukrainian soldiers go to position during military drills in base Desna 100km north from Kiev. © Efrem Lukatsky/AP/Press Association Images
Newly mobilized Ukrainian soldiers go to position during military drills in base Desna 100km north from Kiev. © Efrem Lukatsky/AP/Press Association Images
This week, following marathon talks peppered with disagreements, walkouts, and at least one furious pencil-snapping, a tentative ceasefire has been agreed in Ukraine. In what some observers are calling the "Minsk II" agreements, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France announced that a ceasefire would begin on February 15th. Other aspects of the deal included the withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides and the release of all prisoners. On the same day, the IMF announced Ukraine would get a $40bn bailout package over four years.

It's tempting to take any break in the conflict as a sign of hope, but with intense fighting continuing before the peace begins, and questions raised over how sincere Russia is in its intention to help enforce the ceasefire, this may just be a temporary blip. 

Money's no good without peace

The fog of war in eastern Ukraine is still very thick, and it hasn't lifted since the meeting in Minsk. Russia has made a lot of noises saying that it can't enforce the Minsk II agreements and that it is merely a guarantor of them. This is a diplomatic tactic we've seen the Kremlin use before, to allow Russian forces to push forward while forestalling Western sanctions. So we don't know if the ceasefire will hold.

The IMF loan does offer a chance to rebuild in some way—the collapse of the Ukrainian currency is a far more serious existential threat to Ukraine than Russia moving around in a fairly small territory in the East. But Ukraine is not going to be able to seize that chance unless Russia stops going into negotiations and then breaking off those negotiations, entering in to talks and then pulling back and claiming it doesn't control the rebels once it feels it has established diplomatic cover.

The whole point of this war for Putin is to slowly turn Ukraine into a failed state. If Russia just keeps turning it off and on again, in a way Ukraine is powerless to stop that. Ben Judah

Putin won't settle

This won't be a chance to rebuild because I don't think the ceasefire can hold. Bear in mind what we saw in Minsk is almost a repeat of what we saw in September last year. There was a ceasefire then which didn't even last a week. Since the ceasefire was announced, Luhansk has come under very heavy shelling, so it looks like in the next 48 hours both sides are going to do their best to get as much fighting in as possible.

This is not a traditional war. Back in the day, two or more combatants would fight, there'd be a clear enemy and then the winner would impose a political settlement on the loser. That's not what Putin wants. Remember that it is Putin controlling everything here. There was no history of ethnic conflict in Ukraine before suddenly the separatists appeared last year following the annexation of Crimea.

What Putin wants is a simmering conflict that goes on and on, that he can raise or lower as he sees fit. There is no political settlement to be had. He just plans to destabilise Ukraine, to stop it from introducing reforms, to stop it from moving within the EU orbit and to keep it in the Russian sphere. David Patrikarikos