The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine met on Monday 9 December in Paris in a renewed effort to end the armed conflict that has been raging in Ukraine for the past five years.
This was the first meeting of the so-called Normandy Format since October 2016. Its previous iterations in 2014 and 2015 resulted in the Minsk peace agreements, which contributed to a considerable de-escalation of hostilities in Eastern Ukraine that has claimed the lives of 13,000 people and has caused the displacement of millions of others.
A major factor in the Normandy Format’s re-emergence was the election of the incumbent Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last May, for whom the achievement of peace in the Donbass region constitutes a top priority.
After several hours of deliberations, sides agreed on “a full and comprehensive implementation of the ceasefire, strengthened by the implementation of all necessary ceasefire support measures, before the end of the year 2019”. The sides also announced their agreement on working towards holding local elections in Donbass over the next four months, a considerable step forward despite pending disagreements on the voting procedure.
Apart from progress made on prisoner exchanges, ceasefire and a political evolution, Zelensky said he and Vladimir Putin had prepared the outline of an agreement that would allow the transit of Russian natural gas to continue through the territory of Ukraine. The current natural gas transit contract expires on 31 December this year.
Despite positive developments, the meeting did not produce the breakthrough everyone was hoping for. At the closing press conference that started just before Monday midnight, the Ukrainian President and his Russian counterpart disagreed publicly over the political issues that remain in the way of resolving the conflict, namely the restoration of Kyiv’s control over its borders and the granting of wider autonomy to the separatist regions. Nevertheless, leaders insisted that talks were fruitful and would lead to swift and more substantial progress in the coming weeks and months. The next meeting in the Normandy format is scheduled to take place within four months
For the host Emmanuel Macron, this summit subscribes to his recent efforts to further promote France’s role on the global diplomatic scene and in particular to reanimate a wider rapprochement with Moscow. It is the latest episode of a series of initiatives that started with the last G7 Summit again held on French soil when he also attempted to spearhead an easing of tensions between the United States and Iran and continued with strong statements about NATO’s purpose and integrity.
Unfortunately for him and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the progress recorded on Monday in Paris is not enough to recommend withdrawing economic sanctions against Russia in their debriefing to their fellow EU leaders during the upcoming European Council meeting on Thursday in Brussels. Monday’s discussions and their relatively unsatisfying outcome demonstrated once again the limits of any alliance, let alone an individual country, in addressing some of the world’s most complicated geopolitical issues.