BERLIN – In the last two weeks, the two crises confronting Europe – in Ukraine and Greece – both escalated. In each case, Germany and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, were at the heart of efforts to achieve a diplomatic resolution. This is a new role for Germany, and the country is not yet accustomed to it.
The latest attempt to halt the war in eastern Ukraine by diplomatic means had an even shorter shelf life than the first attempt last September. The new accord – concluded, like the previous one, in Minsk – de facto recognized that Ukraine has been split by military means. But just where the dividing line is remains unclear, because Russian President Vladimir Putin may yet attempt to capture the strategic port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, thereby enabling the Kremlin to create a land bridge between Russia and the Crimea peninsula. Moreover, capturing Mariupol would keep open the option of conquering southern Ukraine, including Odessa, and extending Russian control all the way to Transnistria, Russia's illegal enclave in Moldova.
Through the continued use of military force, Putin has achieved the main aim of Russia's policy: control over eastern Ukraine and ongoing destabilization of the country as a whole. Indeed, Minsk II is merely a reflection of facts on the ground.
The question remains, however, whether it would have been smarter to let the one power that Putin takes seriously – the United States – conduct the negotiations. Given Putin's low regard for Europe, this will most likely become unavoidable, sooner or later.