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Regional powers gather to discuss ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Minsk agreements
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left), French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (second left), German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (right) and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin (second right) failed to make a breakthrough during talks in Paris about the situation in eastern Ukraine. Source: AFP
This week’s snapshot focuses on the latest meeting of the ‘Normandy Format’, which consists of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia. 11FEB16 marked one year since the Minsk II accord was signed, a package of measures which is intended to revive the collapsed Minsk Protocol. However, the timeline of the last year underlines the frustrated progress. The deadline for the implementation of Minsk II passed at the end of DEC15. Key sticking points include the recent uptick in ceasefire violations, Kiev’s control of the security landscape within its borders, and a consensus on terms for holding elections in the Donbass region. After a reported four hour meeting in Paris, the four foreign ministers failed to reach a breakthrough, but observers say the so-called Minsk agreements are not “dead” yet.
News summary of events during the week of 29FEB16 – 06MAR16
- 29FEB: The European security organization expressed deep concern at continuing cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine and urged the Russian and Ukrainian governments to live up to their commitments in the peace agreement they signed a year ago. (AP)
- 29FEB: Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier conceded that the readiness of the government in Kiev and pro-Russian separatists to move forward with Minsk was “very limited”. (Reuters)
- 29FEB: Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs Elmar Brok said anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the European Union will remain in force until a complete implementation of the Minsk Agreements. (Interfax)
- 02MAR: A senior U.S. State Department official blamed Russia and the separatists for not following through on commitments under the Minsk agreement. (VoA)
- 03MAR: The Russian Foreign Ministry warned that the recently extended sanctions against Russia by the US might undermine the possibility of bilateral cooperation on major international issues. (Xinhua)
- 03MAR: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said France and Germany expect “real progress” from Ukraine and Russia on resolving the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. (AFP)
- 03MAR: Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said there had been no breakthrough in Paris talks aimed at getting a fragile peace deal back on track, repeating that until security was restored there could be no election in the rebel-held Donbass region. (Reuters)
- 04MAR: The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France agreed that crucial elections should be held in eastern Ukraine by the end of July. Ukraine’s Pavlo Klimkin, however, repeated Kiev’s insistence that there can be no polls in the country’s east until a total cessation of hostilities. (AFP)
- 04MAR: After France and Germany pushed for elections to be held by the end of July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “no consensus” was reached over the timing of polls in rebel-held east Ukraine. (AFP)
- 04MAR: US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia needs to use its influence on separatists in eastern Ukraine to halt attacks by pro-Russian rebels. (Reuters)
- 05MAR: Security documents were handed over to the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine after being signed by leaders of the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk (DPR and LPR). (TASS)
- 06MAR: More than 2,000 people including well-known artists, politicians and intellectuals from different countries signed an open letter to European leaders for the release of pilot Savchenko, arguing that Russian authorities have made a mockery of international law and the Minsk agreements. (Interfax)
Sample of Twitter handles tweeting about Ukraine Peace Talks
- @BalazJarabik: Balaz Jarabik, visiting scholar at Carnegie Endowment
- @GwendolynSasse: Gwendolyn Sasse, political scientist with Oxford University
- @RyskeldiSatke: Ryskeldi Satke, Contributing writer for Al Jazeera
- @steven_pifer: Steven Pifer, Brookings scholar focusing on arms control, Russia and Ukraine
- @gullivercragg: Gulliver Cragg, Correspondent for France 24
Sample of Third Party Validators regarding the Ukraine Peace Talks
Andreas Umland, Senior Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations
“The primary example of reflexive control…would be…the Minsk Agreement. That was basically an extortion that you had an advancing Russian force and then Putin comes with this text…I think the main problem of this text was the order of the measures given there, so that the closure of the borders is actually the last point of the agreement while it should be actually the first point.”
- ‘Podcast: The Russian Fronts’ [Time – 00:55:38/1:05:56], The Interpreter Magazine, 04MAR16
Brian Whitmore, Senior Editor and Russia analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and author of The Power Vertical blog and The Power Vertical Podcast
“Minsk in many ways was a legal fiction. It was signed under duress amid fears that Russia would mount a full-scale invasion of Donbass. It pretended Moscow was a mediator in a conflict in which Moscow was the aggressor. And it made unreasonable demands on Ukraine to overhaul its domestic political arrangements with a Kalashnikov pointed at its head. This wasn’t a ceasefire. It was blackmail.”
- ‘The Daily Vertical: RIP Minsk’ [Time – 00:00:28/00:02:05], The Interpreter Magazine, 03MAR16
Gwendolyn Sasse, Nonresident Associate at Carnegie Europe
“However, narrowing the agenda to a concrete political issue like the elections is a necessary step. The willingness of the Ukrainian government, the Russian government, and local political actors to discuss the elections rests on their respective hopes to assert and legitimize their political control.”
- ‘To Be or Not to be? Ukraine’s Minsk Process,’ Carnegie Endowment, 02MAR16
Ian Brzezinski, Ukraine foreign policy analyst for Atlantic Council
“I think the mistake has been the [Obama] administration feels that it’s been prudent in following a course of incrementalism, incremental economic sanctions, incremental political isolation, incremental military actions.”
- ‘Minsk Deal Legitimizes Ugly Facts on the Ground, Critics Say,’ Voice of America, 02MAR
Steven Pifer, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and Former US Ambassador to Ukraine
“The most likely state in which Donbass will remain into the foreseeable future is thus a frozen (or not-so-frozen) conflict, where there is no major fighting yet no complete ceasefire, and where negotiations on implementing Minsk II continue yet show scant real progress. That would allow the Kremlin to ratchet up the conflict at a later point if it desired to further pressure Kiev.”
- ‘Letting Go,’ The Security Times, FEB16
Sample of open source research conducted by TRG analysts related to the Ukraine Peace Talks
- Germany says credibility of Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine at stake
Byline: OLEKSANDR KLYMENKO
Date: 29 February 2016
The credibility of the Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine will come under threat unless both sides in the conflict make faster progress in implementing the agreement, Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday.
Speaking at a news conference in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Frank-Walter Steinmeier conceded that the readiness of the government in Kiev and pro-Russian separatists to move forward with Minsk was “very limited”.
“Implementation must continue. The credibility of the whole process rests on this,” Steinmeier said.
Kerry said “both sides need to perform”, and that Russia must ensure that the separatists do their part.
- Pentagon: Despite Minsk II, More Than 400 Ukraine Troops Killed
Media: Voice of America
Byline: Carla Babb
Date: 02 March 2016
PENTAGON— More than 400 Ukrainian troops have died in fighting since the Minsk II cease-fire agreement was adopted one year ago, with Russia playing a major role in the violence.
In an interview with VOA, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Carpenter, whose responsibilities include Ukraine, Russia and Eurasia, said the U.S. has seen a “considerable” uptick in fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Despite last year’s cease-fire agreement, he said, Ukraine’s armed forces have suffered at least 430 fatalities during fighting with separatists there.
“Russia maintains command-and-control links over the separatists that it backs over in eastern Ukraine,” Carpenter told VOA.
- Gloom deepens over Ukraine peace deal before Paris meeting
Byline: NOAH BARKIN AND JOHN IRISH
Date: 02 March 2016
For months, as progress in implementing the Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine stalled, its architects, Germany and France, held out hope that with time and carefully calibrated pressure on Kiev and Moscow, the agreement could be pushed back on track.
But since a joint visit by the German and French foreign ministers to Ukraine’s capital last week, a gloomier view has taken hold: that political dysfunction in Kiev has all but doomed the chances of it delivering on its own commitments under the peace agreement.
Against that backdrop and a rise in ceasefire violations in the east, where Ukrainian government forces are faced off against pro-Russian rebels, ministers from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine meet in Paris on Thursday to discuss Minsk.
- Ukrainian foreign minister Klimkin says no breakthrough in Ukraine talks
Media: Deutsche Welle (Germany)
Date: 03 March 2016
Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin said Thursday that little progress had been made after hours of talks in Paris designed to get a fragile peace deal in eastern Ukraine back on track.
After several hours of negotiations among Ukrainian, Russian, French and German leaders Thursday evening, Klimkin told news agency Reuters the talks had been largely unsuccessful.
“No, I don’t have that impression,” Klimkin said when asked if there had been a breakthrough.
His Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov made no comment on the evening’s talks.
- Ukraine crisis: Growing sense of despair
Byline: Radina Gigova
Date: 04 March 2016
(CNN)Ukraine’s prolonged crisis and political stalemate are causing a growing sense of despair and isolation among millions living in the conflict zone, the United Nations warned in a report released Thursday.
The fragile ceasefire is pierced daily by violations, while the number of conflict-related civilian casualties keeps climbing.
“There is a terrible sensation of physical, political, social and economic isolation and abandonment among the huge number of people — more than 3 million in all — who are struggling to eke out a living in the conflict zone,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “They are in urgent need of greater protection and support.”