Before Putin launched his bloody war in Ukraine more than five weeks ago, he was accused of tearing up the Minsk Agreements.mAs part of the Russian President’s precursor to the conflict, Moscow recognised the independence of the occupied regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in Donbas, eastern Ukraine. The territories are controlled by Russia-backed separatists, who went to war with the Ukrainian military in 2014.
The Minsk Agreements, reached in 2014 and 2015, were intended to end the fighting between Ukraine and the rebels.
However, the accords, which are named after the capital of Belarus where they were signed, were interpreted differently by Moscow and Kyiv.
For Ukraine, the agreements were about restoring Ukrainian sovereignty and reincorporating the eastern breakaway regions into Ukraine, while giving them some devolved powers.
But Putin saw the arrangement as a way to maintain Russian influence in Ukraine by keeping Luhansk and Donetsk as semi-autonomous regions controlled by a puppet regime allied with Moscow.
He also claims the accords contain a promise that Ukraine will not join NATO, something that is rejected by Kyiv and Washington, but which is a central concern for Moscow.
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The Kremlin strongman now feels “cheated” by the West and Ukraine over the Minsk Agreements, according to Professor Nikolai Petrov.
The senior research fellow on the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House is an expert on Kremlin decision-making.
Speaking about Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, he told Express.co.uk: “That is the problem.
“He got these Minsk Agreements, and, in his view, it could play this role.
“But it never played this role. It has never been implemented. And now, this cannot be repeated.
“So, in his view, he has been cheated. He has been cheated by the Ukrainian leadership, which did sign these agreements but did not implement them.
“He was cheated by the West, which did participate in reaching these agreements, but did not put enough pressure, from his view, at least, on the Ukrainian leadership in order to implement these agreements.”
He added: “So now, he would like to get any direct leverage instead of agreements.”
In response to Putin’s recognition of Luhansk and Donetsk in February, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss vowed tough reprisals against Russia.
She said: “President Putin’s recognition of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ as independent states shows flagrant disregard for Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements.
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“It demonstrates Russia’s decision to choose a path of confrontation over dialogue.
“We will coordinate our response with allies. We will not allow Russia’s violation of its international commitments to go unpunished.”
Putin’s bid to maintain influence in eastern Ukraine is part of his efforts to control the country from within.
The Russian leader has extensively spoken of his concern that neighbouring Ukraine would join NATO, bringing the transatlantic military pact to Russia’s border.
Prof Petrov claimed that with the current invasion, Putin is trying to find a way to stop Ukraine joining the bloc rather than aiming to occupy the whole country.
He said: “This is exactly what he was looking for when planning for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
“The idea was not to get as much territory as he could, but to have the leverage, which could prevent Ukraine from moving to the West.”