In an attempt to avert a major war in Europe, France and Germany, backed by the U.S., pressed for implementation of the controversial Minsk peace accords as the best chance for a solution to Russian demands on Ukraine. The package of agreements, which they helped negotiate with Russia after Ukrainian military defeats in 2014 and 2015, were complex, hotly disputed and went to the heart of what is at root a struggle over Ukrainian identity and sovereignty. On Feb. 24, Russian forces attacked targets across Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin pronounced the agreements dead.
The accords sought to halt the armed conflict that broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014. The country’s pro-Russia leader Viktor Yanukovych had just been ousted by mass protests in the capital Kyiv, triggered by his decision -- under pressure from Putin -- to renege on a trade pact with the European Union. Smaller protests against the new government in Kyiv followed throughout eastern and southern Ukraine, with armed Russia-backed separatists seizing territory in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, together known as the Donbas. Although the Kremlin denies involvement, Ukraine has claimed, and open source investigations in the West and Russia have put forward evidence, that Russian forces intervened directly to turn the tide of the fighting and inflict two crushing defeats on Ukrainian forces. Each loss was followed by a peace deal reached in Minsk, the capital of neighboring Belarus.