Why is this man smiling? Vladimir Putin’s curious smirk at the Minsk talks

The body language said it all. Petro Poroshenko, grim and exhausted, leaned forward imploringly; Vladimir Putin, benevolent and relaxed, smiled a cryptic smile.

The photographs the marathon talks between the leaders of Ukraine and Russia demonstrated which of the two enemies has most cause for confidence about the deal that emerged in Minsk.

In fairness, Mr Poroshenko did not go like a defenceless lamb into the conference chamber. The last Minsk agreement was negotiated directly between Russia and Ukraine, causing Mr Poroshenko’s youthful and stridently nationalistic prime minister to observe: “They will outplay us: that’s what they expect.”

Under the agreement which diplomats now call “Minsk Two”, all of Ukraine’s obligations are detailed and timetabled. Mr Poroshenko has 30 days to begin granting legal autonomy to the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, most of which are now in the hands of pro-Russian insurgents. He must rewrite Ukraine’s constitution to formalise the “special status” of this area by the end of this year.

And Russia? What obligations has Mr Putin agreed to shoulder? By Ukraine’s estimate, no less than 9000 Russian troops have been deployed inside its territory: five infantry battalions along with tanks and heavy artillery. While not endorsing those numbers, NATO has confirmed the presence of a sizeable Russian force in Ukraine.

One clause of the deal states that “foreign armed formations” and “military equipment” must leave Ukraine – but there is no timetable, no deadline and no means of verification, save for a vague line that withdrawal should happen under the “supervision” of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

All that we have to go on is Mr Putin’s cryptic smile.

Full article: Why is this man smiling? Vladimir Putin’s curious smirk at the Minsk talks (Sydney Morning Herald)

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