On Monday evening (12 January) the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine met in Berlin to discuss further ways to defuse the situation in eastern Ukraine. The talks were long, frank and at times controversial – and are to be continued.
Speaking after the four‑way foreign ministers meeting, Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described it as “a very long and open exchange with clashes of opinion”. The aim was once again to explore possibilities to defuse the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine.
At Steinmeier’s invitation the foreign ministers of France, Russia and Ukraine, Laurent Fabius, Sergey Lavrov and Pavlo Klimkin, held intensive discussions on the next steps towards achieving the full implementation of the Minsk Protocol.
Steinmeier spoke of “difficult paths towards a solution to the conflict”, but at the same time emphasised that the talks would be continued in the coming days. Speaking late on Monday evening (12 January), Steinmeier said that if high‑ranking officials from the four countries made progress in the near future, the foreign ministers would also meet again in the coming week.
“A long and difficult road”
Steinmeier explained that the foreign ministers now had the task of preventing further escalation of the conflict over the coming days.
The foreign ministers spent several hours discussing this goal at Villa Borsig, the Guest House of the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs in Berlin’s Tegel district. Earlier in the afternoon a preparatory meeting had taken place with high‑level officials and deputy ministers from the four participating states.
The German Foreign Minister stressed that the Minsk Protocol must remain “the compass for all further steps”.
Implementation of the Minsk Protocol
At the end of December 2014 an exchange of prisoners involving a total of 370 Ukrainian soldiers and separatist fighters took place under the observation of the OSCE. Steinmeier said that now the goal was “to decisively tackle the other key issues of the Minsk Protocol”.
These include the demarcation of a line of control and the disengagement of the fighters as well as upholding the still‑fragile ceasefire. Another crucial aspect in view of the wintry conditions is improving the humanitarian situation in the conflict region by ensuring access for deliveries of humanitarian aid.
Contact group is soon to meet again
Other channels are also to be used to discuss ways out of the crisis and hopefully make progress. In this context Foreign Minister Steinmeier said:
We have called upon the international contact group to convene again in the near future – and over the next few days we will ensure that this does happen.
Federal Foreign Office Spokesman Martin Schäfer, in a statement issued at midday on Monday, stressed that interaction with the separatists – with whom communication channels remain open via the international contact group led by the OSCE – was “extremely difficult” for all participants.
Tangible results a prerequisite for summit meeting
Foreign Minister Steinmeier explained that the further talks at foreign minister level, with preparatory work by high‑ranking officials, were paving the way for a meeting at an even higher level.
He said that the heads of state and government from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine would only come together for a summit meeting, provisionally in Astana, when tangible results had been achieved. A date for this has not yet been set.