How to get the Minsk process going?

A new ministerial meeting in the Normandy format took place after nearly a half-year break

Negotiations between foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine – Heiko Maas, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Sergey Lavrov, and Pavlo Klimkin – in the so-called Normandy format, which had been expected for 16 months, should have already taken place at the time of this issue reaching our readers. The Kremlin, which blocked meetings in the Normandy format for all that time, has now confirmed its participation in the event, UNIAN reports.

Official spokesperson of the German foreign office Maria Adebahr said that one of the main topics for discussion between the parties was to be the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission to eastern Ukraine, the DW writes. She said that Germany, like Ukraine, considered deployment of peacekeepers to the Ukrainian-Russian border a sensible measure. Another important issue for the ministers to discuss, she said, was the state of implementation of the Minsk Agreements aimed at resolving the situation in the Donbas. Earlier, foreign minister of Ukraine Klimkin said that the talks would also deal with the release of Ukrainians who are held in Russia and the areas of the Donbas which are outside the control of the government in Kyiv.

Foreign minister of Germany Maas acknowledged in an interview with Bild on the eve of the meeting that he was expecting negotiations between the parties to be difficult, but added that everything should be tried in order to reach a lasting truce, withdrawal of heavy weapons and improvement in the humanitarian situation in the Donbas. “The fact that we meet today, 16 months since the last meeting of foreign ministers, marks a success,” Maas said and added: “We have to deal with major obstacles; interests and positions of Ukraine and Russia are far from each other in many fields,” he was quoted as saying by Ukrinform.

The Day turned to experts asking them to tell about their expectations from the meeting in the Normandy format and the possibility of progress on the main issues of the negotiations.


Volodymyr OHRYZKO, Foreign Minister of Ukraine (2007-09):

“Progress depends on the position of Ukraine and Western partners. Provided that a common offensive position was formed before the meeting, it can be productive. In the absence of such preparatory work, there is no chance to move forward, I think. At least it seems so on the basis of the latest statement by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, who for some reason has suddenly remembered the long-forgotten Steinmeier formula, which is completely unviable, and begun to promote that plan which says ‘first politics, then security,’ which, in my opinion, has become unacceptable for the Germans themselves. In that case, it will just be another meeting with nothing to show for it. However, provided that our and Western consolidated position has been prepared and Lavrov will be clearly and transparently told of the negative consequences of his continuing on his current course, then the chances for success will appear.

“Now to why the Kremlin, having first frozen the Normandy format, has agreed to hold this meeting after a 16-month break. The civilized part of the world should not do the Kremlin’s bidding, but dictate its position to Russia instead. So far, this is not possible due to the excessive liberalism of our western partners as well as Ukraine. And the Kremlin is using this very well, because it needs an endless continuation of this situation since it creates enormous problems for Ukraine, but not that big problems for Russia. Although they have to spend money on Crimea and the occupied part of the Donbas, the oil situation has slightly improved: oil revenues are beginning to increase, and they compensate for these expenses. Therefore, it is in the Kremlin’s interests to continue the situation when Ukraine is tied into this conflict and it can be prolonged infinitely.

“Their agreement to hold the meeting is only a deceptive move: the soccer world cup is coming soon, and they need to demonstrate their peacefulness, to show that they are ready for compromises. But as you can see, the compromises offered by Lavrov actually mean a dead end.

“As for the issue of deploying a UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine, I think that judging by Vladimir Putin’s latest direct line appearance with his ‘loyal subjects,’ one should not expect anything serious to come out of it. As long as Ukraine and the West do not force Russia to do something, it will not do anything. Therefore, I do not see any special hope here. Let us recall Russia’s position that the mission should protect the OSCE monitors on the line of contact: everyone laughs at it, except for Russia, which believes that it is alone in the right. But since no real painful measures have been taken against it except for ridiculing it, this will continue in the future.”


Serhii SOLODKYI, first deputy director of the New Europe Center:

“The main issues for discussion are the release of Ukrainian hostages and the mandate of a peacekeeping mission. On both issues, Russia has demonstrated unwillingness to move forward. As you know, Ukraine initiated discussion of the issue of peacekeepers back in February 2015, that is, this idea is already three years old, but nothing has happened, and Russia has only promoted fake compromises, trying to deceive foreign partners, although, fortunately, they do not believe in these fake concessions and are disappointed with the Kremlin’s maneuvers no less than Ukraine. We have seen US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker stopping any dialog with the Kremlin advisor Vladislav Surkov on this topic in recent months, because it simply does not make sense.

“As for the release of Ukrainian hostages, we saw things get going at the end of last year. I assume that this happened under the influence of Western pressure and the Kremlin’s fears of increasing sanctions, in particular, they feared the so-called Kremlin report that was to be published in January this year. Then this process was again slowed down due to invented artificial pretexts from the Russian side.

“Germany is trying to get the negotiation process going. They are partly aware of some responsibility for hampering the negotiation process, as Germany was more focused on its parliamentary election and coalition talks. Today, senior German officials have intensified their efforts to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, we saw visits by the German president and foreign minister to Ukraine, talks between President Petro Poroshenko and Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Merkel’s visit to Russia.

“Ukraine does have a vision of what we want to achieve. The efforts of our partners, in particular Germany, are also noticeable. At the same time, Russia’s readiness for compromises is still lacking. In addition, Ukraine’s and our partners’ position is weakened by the constant vacillation or negative signals for Russia, which takes such steps as reflecting some sort of weakness on the part of the West. I mean the statement by US President Donald Trump about Russia’s return to the G7, the US’ refusal to support the final communique of the G7 meeting, and Germany’s readiness to go forward with the construction of Nord Stream 2. All this does not contribute to a more rapid settlement of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

“As for the issue of peacekeepers, Russia could have already formulated a package reflecting healthy compromises after three years, but it does not want it. What the Russian Federation offers is not supported by any democratic country in the world. Instead, all leading Western countries support Ukraine. Our position is fairly clear: peacekeepers must have a full mandate and access to the entire occupied territory, including that stretch of the international border which is now under the control of the Russian Federation, and the mission should not be limited to the protection of OSCE monitors. Ukraine’s position is clear, it is based on international law and the experience of past peacekeeping missions. Russia’s position is manipulative, cunning and insidious, while its goal is to keep the conflict under full control and to direct it as the Kremlin needs, namely to escalate when Ukraine is gaining ground on the international scene or when Western partners stop dialog with Russia on this issue.”

Under what conditions can we see progress on the release of the Kremlin’s prisoners reached at the negotiations?

“So far, Russia has not been ready for it. It is trying to bargain for more concessions from Ukraine. It understands the importance of this issue for the Ukrainian authorities. It is this understanding that provokes Putin to derail the prisoner exchange and release of Ukrainian hostages. It is difficult to say what demands Russia will make. But the position of Ukraine is quite strong and its intelligence services are working quite effectively in uncovering spy networks and special operations of the Russian Federation. Perhaps this, too, offers some leverage that should have an impact on Russia’s willingness to negotiate. As I understand it, yesterday’s [June 10. – Ed.] phone call between Poroshenko and Putin was connected precisely with this issue. Possibly, some progress on the issue will be made at the negotiations. But Russia has done everything possible to ensure that we are not very optimistic about these matters. This is despite Ukraine doing everything in its power to release hostages, and our position of getting international partners involved and our behavior being quite reasonable both on the legal and on the political side, while Russia has ignored all this and done its utmost to ensure that the hostages do not get released.”