If you’ve been listening to statements coming out of the Kremlin, you’ve probably noticed that Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, repeatedly talk about something called the Minsk Protocols or the Minsk agreements. You might also know that those agreements have to do with the status of two allegedly pro-Russian regions of the Donbass, a coal-mining region of Ukraine that borders Russia and that Russia has occupied since 2014. What Putin knows is that any move by Ukraine to formally recognize some kind of independence for Donbass will set off mass protests across Ukraine. That would set off a string of events that would likely end in a partition of Ukraine. Immediately after the invasion of Crimea in 2014, Russia sent its own special operations forces and mercenaries into the Donbass to organize an anti-Ukrainian armed uprising. Russia failed to seize new territories, and much of the liberated cities remained under Ukrainian control. In September 2014, Russia launched the Minsk peace process in order to save face and use diplomatic means to deter Ukraine from further attempts to liberate Donbass. In Kyiv and the West, these talks were seen as negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, as parties to the conflict. The main achievement of these negotiations was an agreement that Russia would withdraw all foreign troops, mercenaries and heavy weapons from Ukraine.
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