The Minsk agreements – named about the capital of Belarus where they were signed in 2014 and 2015 – attempt to secure a ceasefire between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine.
They also set out a roadmap for elections in the occupied regions on Luhansk and Donestk and a plan to reintegrate the territory into the rest of Ukraine.
However, interpretation of the agreements by Kyiv and Moscow are fundamentally different.
The Ukrainian government views them as a means to reunite Ukraine and fully restore Ukrainian sovereignty, though with certain devolved powers given to the two regions.
By contrast, the Kremlin believes that the accords enshrine a process that would see a Russia-aligned administration in Luhansk and Donestk and a special status granted to them before they are reunited with the rest of Ukraine.
This would ensure – Trojan horse style – that Russia retains an influence over the country and Ukraine can never be truly sovereign.
Duncan Allan, a former British diplomat and associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, calls this irreconcilable divergence the “Minsk conundrum”.
What are the main points in the Minsk accords?
There are 13 points in the most recent of the two agreements, Minsk 2, which was signed in 2015.
Nine of the points cover management of the actual conflict in the occupied territory such as a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons, an amnesty for those involved in the fighting, an exchange of hostages and detainees and the pull out of “all foreign armed formations, military equipment and also mercenaries” from Ukraine.
This would cover what Ukrainian officials say are Russian private and regular military personnel.
A ceasefire is in place but it is violated most days, with shots fired from the separatist side towards Ukrainian forces based along what is known as the line of contact that divides the two sides.
The other four points address the politics, this includes a dialogue on local elections, a temporary law to give a special status to Luhansk and Donestk and the re-establishment of “full-control” over the Ukraine-Russia border by the Ukrainian government.
What is the main sticking point?
The core problem with the Minsk accords is the irreconcilable interpretation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, according to Mr Allan.
The Ukrainians believe their country is fully sovereign. But the Kremlin wants this sovereignty to the limited by using its influence over the two currently occupied regions to impact wider Ukrainian decision making through the “special status” they would be granted.
“This has always been the danger of the Minsk 2 agreement,” Mr Allan said in an interview.
“It comes down to the status of the special status. Russia demands the Ukrainian authorities grant very far reaching autonomy or social status to the occupied regions of Donbass which would then be formally re-incorporated into Ukraine constitutionally, but would in fact be a Trojan horse within the Ukrainian political system and controlled by Russia, which would therefore be able to control Ukraine from within,” he said.
Briton will not leave Ukraine
What part is the international community playing?
France and Germany played a key role in brokering the Minsk accords with Russia and Ukraine via a grouping called the Normandy Format. It provides a mechanism for all four countries to sit together and discuss – a tactic that helps to reduce misunderstandings and build relations.
Yet after almost eight years of trying there has yet to be any kind of breakthrough. With tensions escalating to the most dangerous level yet, French President Emmanuel Macron has tried to breathe life into the Minsk accords process as a tool to try and prevent a much bigger war between Russia and Ukraine.
However, his efforts have so far not produced results.
What do Ukrainians think?
A big concern in Ukraine is that Russia’s military build up around their country will panic western powers into trying to force a Russian interpretation of the Minsk accords onto the government in Kyiv as a way to defuse the crisis.
Ukrainian officials warn that such a move would trigger street protests, creating internal instability, possibly even toppling the president – a scenario that would leave Ukraine weak and exposed to Russian influence even without the need for military action.
Mr Allan said: “This idea of special status is opposed by a large majority of Ukrainians. Any Ukrainian leader who even appears to be open to negotiating over the question of special status would run into intense domestic opposition and may well be driven from office.”
Original Post: news.sky.com
WHO Estimates 15m People Have Died Directly or Indirectly From COVID – More Than Double Official Death Toll
The World Health Organisation estimates that 15 million people worldwide have now died of coronavirus – or as a result of its impact on health services.
WHO data shows the number of excess COVID mortalities to be somewhere between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2021. This is more than double the official death toll of around six million.
Excess mortality refers to the number of people who have died of the virus either directly or indirectly by being unable to access health services for other conditions.
The figures were compiled using country-reported data and statistical modelling, the WHO said.
There were 14.9 million excess deaths associated with COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the UN body said on Thursday.
Most excess COVID deaths (86%) happened in Asia, Europe and the Americas, according to the figures.
Middle-income countries accounted for 81% of deaths, with 28% occurring in upper-middle-income countries and 4% in low-income ones.
Some 68% of all excess deaths worldwide happened in just 10 countries.
There was a higher rate for men (57%) than there was for women (43%), with more excess deaths among the elderly than younger generations.
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WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented: “These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems.
“WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”
Original Source: news.sky.com
Pope Francis Seen Using Wheelchair for the First Time for Mobility Reasons
The Pope has been pictured using a wheelchair – the first time he’s used one in public due to the knee pain that’s made it hard for him to walk and stand.
Francis, 85, was wheeled on stage and helped into a seat during an audience with a group of nuns and religious superiors from around the world at the Vatican.
He appears to be having a flare-up of sciatica, a nerve condition he suffers with that he’s called his “troublesome guest”.
The Pope has had to cancel or cut short activities several times in the last month because of pain in his right knee.
He was pictured in a wheelchair last July after major intestinal surgery, but this is believed to be the first time he’s used one in public due to his mobility problems.
Before Thursday’s event, he was able to walk the roughly 10 metres or so from the side entrance of the stage to his seat with some help.
He recently received some injections to try to relieve the pain but has continued to struggle.
His impaired movement was apparent over Easter when he attended but did not take charge of masses at St Peter’s Basilica, instead delegating a cardinal or archbishop to preside.
During a trip to Malta in April he was also pictured using an elevator platform to get on and off the plane.
Original Article: news.sky.com
Woman Pulled Alive From Rubble Six Days After Building Collapsed
A woman has been found alive in the rubble of a building that partially collapsed almost six days earlier, Chinese state media has said.
The unidentified woman has become the 10th survivor and was rescued shortly after midnight today, about 132 hours after the rear of the six-storey building suddenly caved in, the official Xinhua News Agency has reported.
The woman was conscious and told rescuers how to pull her out without causing further injury, Xinhua added.
Teams had used dogs and hand tools as well as drones and electronic life detectors in the search.
All the survivors were reportedly in good condition after being treated in a hospital and it is thought intermittent rain showers over the last few days may have helped their chances of survival without food or water.
At least nine people have been arrested in relation to the collapse of what Xinhua has described as a “self-built building”.
This includes its owner, on suspicion of ignoring building codes or committing other violations.
Three people in charge of design and construction were also held, along with five others who allegedly gave a false safety assessment for a guest house on the building’s fourth to sixth floors.
The building also housed residences, a cafe and shops.
An aerial photo shows the site of the collapsed residential building in Changsha, central China’s Hunan Province
There has been increase in the number of collapses of self-built buildings in recent years.
Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for additional checks to uncover structural weaknesses.
Following the building collapse at the weekend, he urged for more victims to be found in the rubble “at all costs”.
Poor adherence to safety standards, including the illegal addition of extra floors and failure to use reinforcing iron bars, is often blamed for similar disasters.
China also suffers from decaying infrastructure such as gas pipes that has led to explosions and collapses.
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