Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hopes that the prospects for defusing the Ukraine crisis will improve in the new year. Above all, steps must be taken to continue to implement the Minsk Protocol on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, he said. A meeting of senior diplomats from Germany, France, Ukraine and from Russia to discuss the crisis was held at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin on Monday, 5 January.
Following a series of telephone calls with his Ukrainian, Russian and French counterparts at the end of the year and a joint telephone conference of the four Foreign Ministers on 2 January, Steinmeier hopes that there will be new opportunities to make progress on achieving a solution to the conflict in Ukraine.
During the telephone conference, the Foreign Ministers agreed, among other things, to the meeting of their Political Directors in Berlin on Monday, 5 January. On Monday evening it was announced that the talks among the senior diplomats had been constructive and would be continued – although there were still unresolved issues.
The German Foreign Minister was more optimistic than on previous occasions when he spoke to the “Welt am Sonntag” newspaper the day before, saying:
The humanitarian obligation to help the people in eastern Ukraine to get through the winter and fresh concerns about a further deterioration of the economic and financial situation in Russia and Ukraine as a result of the crisis could improve the prospects for détente. We intend to use this momentum.
It is important, Steinmeier continued, that the Minsk Protocol remains the basis of everyone’s actions. He added:
What we need now are the next implementation steps – with a ceasefire that really holds, with the line of disengagement, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and humanitarian access. This is what we are working to achieve.
Prior to the meeting, the Foreign Minister had urged the Ukraine Contact Group to meet as soon as possible. Under the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Contact Group brings together representatives of the Ukrainian and Russian governments as well as the eastern Ukrainian separatists, who work together to implement the Minsk Protocol.
Exchange of prisoners is an encouraging signal
At Christmas, the Contact Group had agreed to an exchange of several hundred prisoners at a meeting in Minsk. The exchange of a total of 370 imprisoned Ukrainian soldiers and separatist fighters took place on 27 and 28 December in the presence of OSCE observers.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier considered the exchange to be “an important and encouraging signal”. The Foreign Minister said that it was important to build on this and “to work as hard as we can to resolve the other key issues of the Minsk Protocol, such as finalising the disengagement lines”. Steinmeier added that, in view of the wintry conditions in Ukraine, it was even more urgent to reach “viable agreements”, also for humanitarian support. Federal Chancellor Merkel also welcomed the exchange of prisoners.
Continuing Minsk talks as soon as possible
Steinmeier reiterated Germany’s support for “the OSCE’s untiring efforts to bring all sides back to the negotiating table as soon as possible for a further meeting of the Contact Group”. He continued:
All sides, including Moscow, remain called upon to make constructive use of their influence on those involved to this end and thus to make an important contribution towards stabilising the situation. Given the precarious situation in the region, time is of the essence. We owe it to the people of Ukraine to do everything we can to improve the situation and work on implementing the Minsk Protocol.
The German Foreign Minister travelled to Kyiv for the latest round of political talks on 19 December. In addition to Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and his political leadership, he also met the OSCE Special Representative for Ukraine Heidi Tagliavini. The talks focused on the situation in eastern Ukraine and the implementation of the Minsk Protocol, as well as the country’s extremely difficult economic and financial situation.
Merkel: Russia must exert its influence on the separatists
Federal Chancellor Merkel also telephoned the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on 27 December. Deputy Government Spokesperson Christiane Wirtz said that the Chancellor had expressed her regret that the Contact Group had not yet met again as scheduled. Merkel also called on the Russian Government to bring its influence to bear on the separatists to this end.