On Saturday evening (12 September), Foreign Minister Steinmeier hosted a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Ukraine, Russia and France to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine in the so‑called Normandy Format. Steinmeier described the progress made in the meeting with his colleagues as “hard work” which would now have to be implemented by the parties to the conflict in the Contact Group.
The four Foreign Ministers – Steinmeier, Pavlo Klimkin from Kyiv, Sergey Lavrov from Moscow and Laurent Fabius from Paris – have already met seven times in the last fourteen months in this format. Despite the ceasefire, which has largely held since 1 September, the situation in eastern Ukraine remains tense. So the agenda for this meeting included pressing issues such as how to stabilise the ceasefire, advance the political process and, as winter approaches, ensure supplies reach the population.
Speaking before the meeting in Berlin, Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed: “The fact that the ceasefire has held for a fortnight doesn’t mean the danger is over.” It was, however, a hopeful sign. The Minister added that there had recently been some progress, for instance on repairing railway lines and restoring the water supply in eastern Ukraine. The priority now, Steinmeier went on, was to remove the blocks in the political process, particularly with regard to the local elections.
The meeting in the Villa Borsig on the banks of the lake in Tegel went on into the night. Afterwards, Steinmeier said: “I can say with some relief that today’s meeting was one of the less confrontational and more successful.” What the Foreign Ministers had achieved was hard work, the Minister added, and this would now have to be implemented by the parties to the conflict in the Contact Group.
With regard to the security situation, the Ministers agreed that “the agreement on the withdrawal of lighter weapons and armoured vehicles must be finalised and implemented as quickly as possible” and that no more mines must be laid. The assurance that OSCE observers would have free and unhindered access to the entire conflict zone would help consolidate the ceasefire, Steinmeier went on.
The Minister said that he and his colleagues had also moved forwards on particularly controversial issues in the political process: “We also made considerable progress today. Finally, I would say, for this is key to the implementation of the Minsk agreements.” Proposals for discussion in the working group on political affairs were on the table.
There was also agreement that progress on humanitarian and economic issues was urgently necessary given the forthcoming onset of winter. Foreign Minister Steinmeier gave this assurance: “We will ensure that humanitarian relief organisations are granted full access to people in the conflict areas.” The remaining time should be used to launch economic reconstruction projects, especially relating to water supplies, as soon as possible.
The meeting in Berlin, Steinmeier said, had shown that the political will of the parties to the conflict to honour the agreements reached in Minsk in February was still there. The aim must be to build on this at the meeting of Heads of State and Government in early October.