The German, French, Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers met again on Wednesday evening (21 January) to discuss ways of defusing the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Their meeting in the Federal Foreign Office guest house in northern Berlin took place at the request of Ukraine and Russia. After the talks, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that while there had been “no breakthrough”, “tangible progress” had been made.
The situation in eastern Ukraine has escalated further in recent days. Many people have been killed in heavy fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists, who are fighting for control of Donetsk Airport and other positions.
Agreement on the withdrawal of heavy weapons
After arriving at the Federal Foreign Office guest house, the four foreign ministers spent several hours discussing the crisis. Afterwards, Steinmeier told the assembled press he had gained the impression that the four foreign ministers were aware of their responsibility for improving the situation of the people in eastern Ukraine.
He underlined that “tangible progress” had been made during the meeting. For example, the foreign ministers had reached consensus on the demarcation line agreed in the Minsk Protocol and on the withdrawal of heavy weapons. Russia had undertaken to exert the necessary influence on the separatists to this end. Furthermore, the foreign ministers had agreed that the Ukraine Contact Group, comprising members of the Russian and Ukrainian governments and the OSCE, should hold a meeting as soon as possible with pro-Russian separatists in order to agree further steps.
Steinmeier said one could now only hope that what had been agreed would not merely remain a “piece of paper”.
If what we agreed here today is actually put into practice, then we will at least have come further on the road to the summit in Astana that many people are waiting for, particularly people in Ukraine.
Click here to read the joint declaration by the four foreign ministers.
Situation remains dangerous in eastern Ukraine
At the start of the conference, Steinmeier said that the situation in eastern Ukraine would remain volatile unless there was agreement on a contact line and the withdrawal of heavy weapons. Both sides needed to be aware of their responsibility for the conflict.
The people in the region, who are dying, being injured and suffering from shortages every day, are paying the price for the fact that the Minsk Protocol is not being implemented. But not only are the people suffering – the Ukrainian and Russian economies are also very adversely affected. This state of play cannot continue.
Implementation of the Minsk Protocol
Once again, the talks focused on the implementation of the Minsk Protocol. In addition to maintaining a ceasefire, this involves agreement on a disengagement line to separate the conflict parties from each other, thus establishing the prerequisites for the redeployment of an OSCE observer mission. This should also facilitate safe access for relief organisations and improve the humanitarian situation in the conflict region.