The Foreign Ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany met in Minsk on Tuesday (29 November) to discuss ways to improve the situation in eastern Ukraine. It was in the Belarusian capital that the first agreement on a peaceful solution to the conflict was signed, two years ago.
Following four hours of intense negotiations in Minsk, Foreign Minister Steinmeier made it clear that Germany and France would continue to work tirelessly for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. “There is some progress, so we can see that there’s a sense to what we’re doing,” he said.
Progress on separation of forces
In recent weeks, the parties to the conflict have withdrawn forces and weapons from the front line in two disengagement zones, so that the OSCE can better monitor the area between the parties. Work has also begun on mine clearance in the two zones. Preparations are underway for the separation of forces in a further zone. Additional disengagement areas are to be defined in the wake of the Foreign Ministers’ discussions. Plus, there is to be an exchange of prisoners before Christmas, to be organised with the aid of the International Red Cross.
At the press conference following the negotiations, the Foreign Ministers of Germany and France made it clear that both sides in the conflict now need to prove that they really do want to resolve it. “If the parties to the conflict dig themselves firmly in to their political trenches, any dialogue will be difficult and ultimately compromise will be impossible,” Steinmeier said.
The joint negotiations of the Foreign Ministers and Heads of Government of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France are called the Normandy Format because that was where their first meeting took place. Tuesday’s negotiations in the Belarusian capital were attended not only by the four Foreign Ministers, but also by the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson‑in‑Office in Ukraine and representatives of the Trilateral Contact Group, which comprises Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE.
Implementing the agreements
Two agreements aimed at making a peaceful solution to the conflict possible have already been concluded in Minsk. Since then, Foreign Minister Steinmeier and his French counterpart have been committed to ensuring that these agreements are actually implemented in full by both sides. However, violations of the ceasefire agreements have become more and more frequent over the past few weeks, a development criticised by Steinmeier.
The separation of forces is a crucial step towards implementing the Minsk agreements. The parties to the conflict are to withdraw their forces and weapons from the front line initially in three zones in eastern Ukraine. At the last meeting of Heads of Government in the Normandy Format, in Berlin in November, the parties to the conflict also pledged to reach agreement on a road map. The road map for a peaceful settlement is to stipulate deadlines for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements accepted by both sides.