The conflict has been raging in eastern Ukraine for over five years now. It has since claimed over 13,000 lives and has become a sad fact of everyday life for the people in the region. Today, the heads of state or government of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany are meeting at the Elysée Palace in what is known as the Normandy format in order to discuss efforts to resolve the conflict as well as tangible steps. Foreign Minister Maas had the following to say about this:
Anything that leads to improvements in the region and which helps to implement the Minsk agreements is a positive step. However, a great deal of painstaking diplomatic efforts will be required until that point.
First meeting in three years
After the conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Russia and Ukraine agreed to a road map to achieve a political resolution to the conflict with the mediation of the OSCE as well as Germany and France, namely the Minsk agreements. Representatives from the four countries have met in the Normandy format on multiple occasions to this end since the outbreak of the conflict. The countries’ four Foreign Ministers met for talks in Berlin last year. A meeting at the level of the heads of state and government is now taking place for the first time in three years. Foreign Minister Maas had the following to say about this:
This war has already gone on much too long. The people in the region are now embarking upon the sixth winter of the war, and we hope that it will be the last.
Recent positive signals
There have recently been a number of positive signals with regard to the implementation of the agreements. The parties to the conflict agreed to what is known as the Steinmeier formula regarding the question of the chronological order between the entry into force of a special status law for the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk not under the control of the Government and the holding of local elections. At the same time, the parties to the conflict are disengaging – i.e. withdrawing troops and equipment – in three pilot zones.
Summit can support tangible improvements in the region
Many parts of the Minsk agreements have still not been implemented, however, and a considerable number of questions continue to remain open. Together with France, Germany has therefore made urgent calls for a summit to be held in the near future.
The fact that this summit is now taking place sends an important message and is intended to facilitate progress on essential issues. Urgent humanitarian concerns such as a permanent ceasefire, further disengagement zones and exchanges of prisoners need to be clarified, for example. The parties to the conflict also want to address other fundamental points, however, such as reaching an agreement on the withdrawal of all foreign and non-regular armed forces and re-establishing economic relations across the contact line. These questions have repeatedly led to protests in Ukrainian society. The summit has the potential to bring about improvements to the situation of the population in eastern Ukraine – especially now with the onset of winter. At the same time, progress in eastern Ukraine is also crucial to the development of the relationship between Russia and Europe. Foreign Minister Maas had the following to say about this:
The priority this evening will be to ensure that the progress made in recent weeks is consolidated and that explicit agreements are reached.