Normandy format meeting on Ukraine in Paris: Toddling little steps aren’t enough any more
Foreign Ministers Lavrov, Klimkin, Ayrault and Steinmeier (left to right)
© Photothek / Imo
On Thursday evening (3 March) the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine met in the so‑called Normandy format in Paris to discuss the further implementation of the agreements reached in Minsk. There was some slight progress on security issues, but the political process remains difficult. Foreign Minister Steinmeier called on the parties to the conflict “to take courageous decisions at last and make the compromises necessary for Minsk to be a success”.
A test of patience
It is just under a year‑and‑a‑half since the first diplomatic breakthrough was made in the Belarusian capital Minsk to stem the further escalation of the violence in Ukraine. A few months later, in February 2015, a detailed package of measures was agreed to implement the ceasefire agreement and the principles for a political settlement. Today, a year on, the slow progress is a test of patience for all involved. Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s concerns became clear in his comments after the meeting in Paris:
Sometimes I have the impression that Moscow and Kyiv forget how serious the situation is and what pressure we are under to implement Minsk faster, because otherwise our efforts risk losing their legitimacy and their credibility.
A hard struggle over every detail
Every bit of progress in the Minsk process had to be fought for, as Russia and Ukraine were in a hard struggle over every detail of the Franco‑German mediation proposals, said Steinmeier following the meeting. It was clear, though, that “Toddling little steps definitely aren’t enough any more to calm the situation, never mind overcome the conflict.”
Steinmeier also warned that the domestic turmoil in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv must not be allowed to disrupt the process. It was crucial, he said, that Ukraine continue its reforms resolutely. During his recent trip to Ukraine with his French counterpart Ayrault, Steinmeier made it clear that Germany and France were ready as partners to help Ukraine to modernise its economy and society. But the Ukrainian Government needed to play its part as well.
The negotiations went on late into the evening
© Photothek / Imo
Progress on security
The negotiations in Paris went on for many hours into the late evening. The main topic of discussion was the violence which has recently flared up again along the line of contact. The four Foreign Ministers managed to agree on some pointers on this. The withdrawal of light and heavy weapons must be finalised and verified by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. Also, agreement was reached on a timetable and principles for mine clearance in twelve priority areas. This is to be implemented without delay. Finally, there was agreement on the separation of forces. In those hotspots where there have been particularly frequent violations of the ceasefire recently, the necessary distance between the two sides’ forces is to be restored. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission will observe this too.
Difficulties in the political process
The discussion on a law on local elections, by contrast, remained difficult. Even after 32 meetings of the relevant working group, the positions of the parties to the conflict still differ hugely. Foreign Minister Steinmeier therefore once again stressed the urgency of the issue:
These elections cannot keep being postponed ad calendas graecas. They are an indispensable precondition for progress in the political process.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier addresses the press after the meeting
© Photothek / Imo
So he expected the parties to the conflict to “work all‑out” towards a solution over the next few weeks.
Successful elections need not only a broadly accepted legal framework, but also an adequate security situation. The Foreign Ministers had therefore asked the OSCE to develop a concept for the deployment of an international mission to help ensure the necessary security for the elections. This concept is to be presented by the end of March.
“All this marks progress, but limited progress.” This was how Steinmeier summed things up on Thursday evening. The Minsk process urgently needed to be sped up so that it didn’t get bogged down.
Find out more
Last updated 04.03.2016