The tense situation in eastern Ukraine was the focus of the talks held with the Foreign Ministers of France, Russia and Ukraine in Villa Borsig in Berlin on Wednesday (11 May) at the invitation of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Following difficult discussions, Steinmeier was able to announce that progress had been made. With the help of Franco-German mediation, the parties to the conflict had agreed on measures to increase security in eastern Ukraine.
I am pleased that Moscow and Kyiv were prepared today to work together more closely in the security sphere. For in eastern Ukraine security is not everything – yet without security there is nothing.
That is what Germany’s Foreign Minister said following the Normandy format talks with his counterparts Jean-Marc Ayrault (France), Pavlo Klimkin (Ukraine) and Sergey Lavrov (Russia).
Difficult discussions in Villa Borsig
However, Steinmeier, the host, noted at a press conference to announce the outcome of Wednesday afternoon’s talks, which lasted over three hours, the results achieved were “a mixed bag”. Overall, the talks had proved difficult and there had been some tough exchanges between Klimkin and Lavrov, his colleagues from Kyiv and Moscow. Although significant progress on security issues had been achieved, such as agreement on the disengagement of forces and the establishment of demilitarised zones, the political process was still deadlocked. The aim of the political process is to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine on the basis of the Minsk agreements.
There are still many unresolved issues, in particular the local elections in eastern Ukraine, as planned under the Minsk process. However, Steinmeier said, the four ministers had been able to discuss a local election law on the basis of concrete proposals for the first time. They had also tasked the Trilateral Contact Group with continuing the discussions on the basis of a Ukrainian concept with Russian proposals.
In the run-up to the Foreign Ministers’ meeting, Steinmeier had called on the parties to the conflict to facilitate an extension of the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and progress in implementing the Minsk agreements.
He also expressed his dissatisfaction with the state of play in implementing the agreements. “To all intents and purposes, talks on the search for a political settlement have more or less come to a standstill,“ he criticised. This could not be allowed to continue, as every meeting without results undermined the legitimacy of the Minsk process. “But above all, it poses the threat that the conflict will escalate again,” Steinmeier warned the parties to the conflict.
Hopes for stabilisation of the ceasefire
Following the talks between the four Foreign Ministers, there is now hope that the progress achieved will foster stabilisation of the military situation in the region, thus helping the people on both sides of the conflict line in eastern Ukraine. The German Foreign Minister shares this view and hopes to see further progress.
If these measures were to ensure a truly lasting and robust ceasefire, that would be a genuinely big step forward and would provide a basis on which swift progress could be made in all other issues.