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Ukraine’s Mediation Wars: The West vs. the Global South

Ukraine’s Mediation Wars: The West vs. the Global South

Mediation efforts by both the West and countries from the global South to bring an end to the war have yet to make meaningful progress.

As the war between Russia and Ukraine shows no signs of abating, the conflict is taking on new dimensions in scope and intensity. The war has spread far beyond the frontlines in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian drones attack Russian energy infrastructure as far away as Tatarstan, while the Czech Republic’s transport minister warns of Russian efforts to hack into the European railway system. Another emerging element of the conflict is its potential mediation, which could be an important harbinger of not only the evolution and outcome of the war but also the international system as a whole.

Mediation efforts to end the war in Ukraine have been underway for as long as the conflict itself. Well before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a low-intensity conflict had been rumbling along since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and supported a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine following the Euromaidan revolution in Kyiv.

The early conflict period also prompted mediation efforts by external players in various formats. One was the Trilateral Contact Group, which involved Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as a mediator. Another was the Normandy Format, which involved France and Germany as mediators between Russia and Ukraine. These efforts occurred simultaneously—with the Trilateral Contact Group focusing on tactical issues while the Normandy Format focused on broader strategic issues—and led to the first agreement to end the war in Sep 2014. This agreement, known as the Minsk Protocol, focused on ending fighting in eastern Ukraine en route to a durable ceasefire.

However, the Minsk Protocol quickly fell apart, and the ceasefire it produced was short-lived. This was due to fundamental disagreements between the parties, including interpretations over the legality of the Euromaidan events. At that time, Moscow was participating in the conflict in eastern Ukraine in an informal capacity and positioning the separatist governments in Donetsk and Luhansk as legitimate actors with whom Ukraine should negotiate directly. Kyiv and the West, on the other hand, did not want to legitimize such actors, as all of these factors led to a breakdown in the Minsk Protocols. Subsequent efforts at re-establishing a ceasefire agreement—known as Minsk II the following year in 2015—similarly broke down.

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