How much more of Ukraine does Vladimir Putin want?
Crimea, of course, has already been effectively annexed. Now, the second Minsk agreement, signed on Thursday, implicitly recognizes Russia's hold on "particular districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts" in eastern Ukraine. The Russian grip in those areas will be consolidated. And as for the future? The best hope is that Mr. Putin will not push further – that he will be content to be the cat who swallowed the canary.
The Minsk agreement is no victory for Ukraine, or the West.
The German and the French efforts at Minsk were little more than an attempt to restore some stability, while the American absence may have struck an ominous note – hinting at military aid to Kiev if Mr. Putin didn't stop the war, or at least call a pause.
One clause in the agreement carries a danger of a decentralization that could virtually dismantle Ukraine – but the emphasis on "taking into account peculiarities of particular districts," namely those Russia and the rebels control, suggests something like asymmetrical federalism, to use a Canadian phrase. Oddly, in Kiev, "decentralization" is considered less disruptive than "federalization."
As part of the agreement, Kiev has promised to resume sending pension cheques, welfare payments, and government salaries to the districts under the militants' control. In return, Ukraine will resume management of the nation's borders – but only if the rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk areas have special status, with, for example, their own local police forces.
So the national government in Kiev at least has the leverage of being able to stop sending transfer payments if Russia's quislings start acting openly as Russian enclaves. But at the same time, the agreement recognizes the enclaves as something other than regular parts of Ukraine. That is a win for Mr. Putin.
The agreement only comes into effect – if ever – in the middle of the weekend. The heavy weapons on both sides haven't yet moved back from the front. It could all start over again, soon.