Foreign Minister Steinmeier said after the four-way ministerial meeting on Ukraine held in Berlin on 6 November:
The talks were much better than the cold and damp weather here at Lake Tegel would have led have us to hope. For our discussion was very focused, very business-like and very cooperative, just like the one we had at the previous meeting in Paris. No-one denies the difficulties and obstacles which still have to be mastered on the way to a political settlement. However, my impression here was that everyone involved is working to ensure that these obstacles really are overcome.
First of all, we took a close look at the security situation. We did not spend much time talking about the current ceasefire, although for the first time we have a situation where a ceasefire has held for about ten weeks. Rather, the talks focused mainly on how we can further consolidate it.
We know that quite some headway has been made on the withdrawal of light weapons. We concurred that we will now deal with heavy weapons in line with the modalities agreed on for the withdrawal of light weapons.
We also discussed possible time frames. Our experience with the withdrawal of light weapons would indicate that it should be possible to conclude the withdrawal of heavy weapons by the end of November/beginning of December.
No less important, even if it is not the focus of public attention, is the question of landmines. Even now when there are no hostilities, many, including civilians, have been injured by mines as a result of the heavy mining along the confrontation line.
However, the landmine victims are only part of the story. For we will be unable, for example, to re-establish the access points if we do not make any progress on demining. We therefore focused more on this issue today and said that an agreement should be reached by the end of this month on priorities, systems, who should carry out this work and who will supply the demining equipment. The negotiations on these guidelines should be concluded by the end of the month so that the demining work can begin before the onset of winter if at all possible. It will no longer be possible during the winter months once snow has fallen.
The second major issue we discussed today was, of course, the political process, including the elections. We agreed on principles in Paris on 2 October, as well as the order in which elections and the adoption of the special status law are to follow.
Today we looked in detail at the issues which still stand in the way of a draft electoral law and we identified five areas to which the Contact Group will devote its attention in the coming days and weeks. For example, at the local elections, due to take place next year, how are displaced persons who actually have their place of residence in the Donbas region but currently live either in Dnipropetrovsk or Kharkiv to be dealt with?
Secondly, which parties should be allowed to put up candidates? What is the role of the media? What should an electoral commission oversee? In what relation would it stand to Ukraine’s central electoral commission which, of course, must continue to shoulder responsibility? And should these elections be monitored, and who should carry out this monitoring if not the OSCE? These five questions should be clarified in the coming weeks with the help of the chairperson of the working group on political affairs, Pierre Morel.
I hope that agreement on these principles will make it easier to reach an understanding on the rest of the electoral law which – due to the complexity of the situation – firstly has to be the subject of political talks between Kyiv and the other side and take into account the interests in the Donbas, but subsequently has to be adopted in the Rada as the electoral law.
This is clearly a political task with special challenges which, however, can be mastered if the spirit of cooperation we experienced here in Berlin today and during our last meeting in Paris is maintained.
The final two issues we discussed were, firstly, the humanitarian situation. We expressed our dissatisfaction that humanitarian organisations still have little access to the Donbas, with few exceptions: the International Red Cross is being allowed to operate. Many other organisations have been excluded to date. Another aspect of the humanitarian issue is the exchange of prisoners, where we made some headway over a week ago with the exchange of around 20 prisoners. Since then, this process has stalled and has to be kick-started again.
Another matter related to this is what we discussed under the misleading heading “economic issues”. In reality, this is about restoring destroyed infrastructure. Rail transport has been partially restored. This is important to both sides because coal has to be transported from western to eastern Ukraine.
Repairing the destroyed water supply is equally urgent, which brings us back to the topic I mentioned before. German experts have been in the region and assessed what has to be done. They say that the situation could be rectified within a relatively short space of time but that currently such work is being made difficult, indeed impossible, by the large number of landmines. We therefore have to make sure that demining gets underway, for it is absolutely essential if the damaged or destroyed infrastructure is be repaired.
All in all, it was a good meeting and I hope that we can convene once more in the course of the next month to see what progress the working groups have made in the issues we discussed today.