The Ukraine Summit Failed And Succeeded
Russia and Ukraine agreed to a full ceasefire by the end of 2019 in eastern Ukraine. In the recently-held so-called Normandy Format, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky endorsed Franco-German mediation of the Ukraine-Russia conflict and agreed to further steps toward a full troop retreat on both sides of the demarcation line of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
More Results Of The Normandy Format
In the meeting with the Presidents of Russia, Ukraine, France, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, it was further agreed that by March 2020 further political progress will be made to de-escalate the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict. The central dispute remains the question of local elections in Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.
“There is goodwill to solve difficult questions,” Merkel said after the quartet’s several-hour meeting in Paris, adding that she was “highly satisfied” with the meeting. Macron admitted, however, that there were still tricky questions to be resolved regarding the local elections. “We saw the problems today. We have not found a miracle solution, but we are getting there on the way,” he said.
Meanwhile, Zelensky dampened the separatists’ hopes for extensive autonomy. Ukraine cannot become a federal state, he emphasized. Nationalists accuse the new Ukrainian President of actually driving separation of the territories from Ukraine with a special status law for the contested Donbas area.
Putin, in turn, promised during the joint press conference that Ukraine would regain control of its borders. However, he has also previously called for a Ukrainian constitutional change that would establish a special status for the contested areas. Russia supports the pro-Russian separatists who control areas in eastern Ukraine.
It was also agreed in Paris that Ukrainian and Russian-backed troops would be withdrawn in three other areas along the demarcation line. Macron said there should be another prisoner exchange by the end of 2019, which by now has already started. Furthermore, transition points are to be created via the line of demarcation, and the Organization For Security And Cooperation In Europe (OSCE) is to be given comprehensive control of the conflict area.
The next summit in the Normandy format is to take place this coming March in Berlin. The summit’s recent sit-down was the first time they have met for the first time in more than three years at the executive level. In the Normandy format, Merkel spoke of a new “momentum” for the Minsk peace plan for eastern Ukraine, which was adopted in 2015.
The question remains, was the summit a success or not? It was both. After all, the heads of state and government have resumed talks after a long break of three years, which was by no means a certainty under the current circumstances. Also, the summit will likely have a significant impact on people in eastern Ukraine, if the ceasefire comes into force at the end of this year.
However, the summit was also a failure. As already mentioned, the main problem, the question of who will have the final say in the east of Ukraine between Moscow and Kyiv, has not been resolved. Moreover, it remains unclear how Putin and Zelensky’s diametrically opposed stances will allow either man to concede—which will be a necessity in the end.
Whether Chancellor Merkel’s claim that the “time of standstill” has been overcome is valid will be seen by how Moscow conducts itself moving forward. Nonetheless, one notion is difficult to argue away: despite the meeting, Putin has certainly not lost sight of his goal of retying at least some parts of the former Soviet Republic (i.e., Ukraine) to Moscow.
The meeting in Paris was the first time that Zelensky and Putin have met. Macron indicated that resolving the Ukraine conflict would be a prerequisite for the new security architecture in Europe, including considerations regarding Russia. Macron had presented this idea a few weeks ago and had met with harsh criticism from the Eastern European EU countries, who have been accusing Russia of attempting a targeted destabilization of the region. Around 13,000 people have been killed in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict since 2014.