At their meeting in Paris on Tuesday (24 February), the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine called for an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and the prompt withdrawal of heavy weapons from the conflict zone. In order to secure the ceasefire they want to expand the OSCE monitoring mission and extend its mandate for a further year.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier travelled to Paris first thing on Tuesday morning in order to meet his counterparts from France, Russia and Ukraine to discuss the ongoing difficult situation in eastern Ukraine.
Following his arrival in Paris, Steinmeier went straight to France’s Foreign Ministry, the Quai d’Orsay, where his French counterpart Laurent Fabius was waiting for him at the entrance. After a warm greeting, Steinmeier and Fabius retreated for a preliminary discussion.
Both Ministers knew that the starting point for the Foreign Ministers’ consultations was not an easy one. Close Franco‑German coordination would be a pre-requisite for any kind of progress in the negotiations.
Close Franco-German coordination
Steinmeier and Fabius were thus prepared for difficult discussions – in eastern Ukraine there has still been fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro‑Russian separatists over a week after the ceasefire came into force.
The situation around Mariupol is particularly tense. The Ukrainian port city has already been the target of a separatist attack once before.
At the same time, however, there are initial signs of a slight de‑escalation of the situation – at the weekend both sides exchanged prisoners. Moreover both sides have reported that the intensity of the fighting has waned in recent days. It was hoped that the four‑way talks could build on this.
Directly after their preliminary discussion, Steinmeier and Fabius went on to meet Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for four‑way talks. The consultations focused on stabilising the, in Steinmeier’s view, still highly fragile situation in eastern Ukraine, which could “very rapidly” spiral back into violence.
Following hours‑long consultations the Ministers appeared individually before the press. As host, the French Foreign Minister summarised the outcome for the waiting journalists. Fabius said that they had agreed to call for the strict implementation of the Minsk agreements. The agreed ceasefire had to be respected and the withdrawal of heavy weapons started. Moreover, the four Foreign Ministers wanted to strengthen the monitoring mission of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe).
Expanding the OSCE monitoring mission
Following his French counterpart’s statement, Foreign Minister Steinmeier added that the four Foreign Ministers wanted to apply for the OSCE mission’s mandate to be extended by a year. In addition to this, the OSCE participating States were called upon to make available the necessary personnel, equipment and additional funds.
Warning against attack on Mariupol
After the difficult discussions, Steinmeier once again warned the pro‑Russian separatists against attacking the city of Mariupol. Such an attack, said Steinmeier, would completely alter the basis that had been used for the negotiations so far.
Steinmeier regretted the complete lack of trust between the parties to the conflict, saying that the withdrawal of heavy weapons would be an initial, small contribution to de‑escalating the situation in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, the German Foreign Minister praised the fact that in recent days the violence had waned. Nevertheless, he continued, the ceasefire was still being violated on numerous occasions and thus the situation could still rapidly spiral back into violence.
Shortly afterwards Steinmeier made his way back to Berlin. Following the talks it was clear that the path to a lasting ceasefire would continue to be “difficult” and “rocky”. Still, it had been possible to make all parties commit to the basis of the Minsk agreements and agree to expand the OSCE monitoring mission. This is a small glimmer of hope in a difficult situation.
Declaration of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius about the Normandy format ministerial meeting on Ukraine in Paris, 24 February 2015
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