The freshly held Normandy Four summit in Paris was a success, which, however, stopped short of a breakthrough, and it is now up to the parties to make sure that the settlement of the conflict in Donbas proceeds as agreed, experts told SputnikMOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 10th December, 2019) The freshly held Normandy Four summit in Paris was a success, which, however, stopped short of a breakthrough, and it is now up to the parties to make sure that the settlement of the conflict in Donbas proceeds as agreed, experts told Sputnik.
The conflict in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, known together as Donbas, began in 2014. These regions proclaimed independence after what they considered to be a coup in Kiev, and the Ukrainian government launched an offensive in retaliation. The Normandy format talks among the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine was established in June 2014 to promote peace in Donbas. Despite bringing about several important agreements, the format was halted since October 2016.
The very fact that the summit in Paris was made possible after more than a three-year gap in talks gave an impetus to high expectations. Many counted on it to bring about a breakthrough in the Ukrainian conflict. Expectations were further spurred by the first ever face-to-face talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that took place on the sidelines.
SUMMIT NOT PIVOTAL, MUCH WORK AHEAD
There was a slight disappointment in the air after the quartet revealed the outcomes of the talks. The Normandy Four adopted a joint communique in which they pledged their commitment to the Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015 and agreed to convene again in four months.
The communique is broken down to three rubrics, namely "Immediate measures to stabilize the situation in the conflict area," "Measures to implement the political provisions of the Minsk agreements," and "Follow up" steps. In concrete terms, it comes down to immediate ceasefire and exchange of all conflict-related prisoners by year-end, amendments to the Ukrainian constitution that would ensure special status to Donbas, and equidistant pull-out of forces by the end of coming March.
"This was a good beginning. If some are disappointed that a final peace agreement was not reached, they were expecting far too much - maybe they have never studied how conflicts actually end. At least the two leaders are talking now, and taking small steps," Robert English, the director of school of International Relations at the University of Southern California, told Sputnik.
To end the war in Donbas was one of the election pledges of then-presidential candidate Zelenskyy earlier this year. Before debuting at the Normandy Four and meeting with Putin tete-a-tete, he held several phone conversations with the Russian president, marking a step back from the hiatus that befell after the refusal of the previous Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, to implement Kiev's commitments after the Minsk agreements.
"Now the really hard work begins, of negotiating the "how" and "when" of local elections in the Donbas," Professor English added.
EUROPE CAN LEVER MOSCOW-KIEV COMPROMISE
The Normandy format has been halted since October 2016. By now, half of the Quartet changed, with Emmanuel Macron replacing Francois Hollande as president of France, and Volodymyr Zelenskyy replacing Petro Poroshenko as president of Ukraine. In fact, Zelenskyy was the one to call for an urgent Normandy summit shortly after his election in May.
The summit in Paris was preceded by multiple rounds of discussion on Donbas by Macron and Merkel with Zelenskky and Putin separately, frequently on the phone. According to professor English, Germany and France can bring Russia and Ukraine to compromise by offering them the right incentives.
"To keep Zelensky and Putin working toward compromise, their European partners must speak with one voice on the 'carrots and sticks' at stake.For Russia it is real sanctions relief - or continuation - while Ukraine must understand that Europe's patience with Kiev is not endless either.This will be behind the scenes, of course, while open negotiations focus on further steps toward compromise in Donbas.This will take time, and I think Macron and Merkel understand that we are looking months if not a year into the future," Robert English said.
Aside from mediation support, Kiev has received the largest support package from the European Union in the latter's history over the past five years. According to former EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, it was for Kiev to "get out of this crisis today on new basis."
NORMANDY FOUR MIGHT BECOME MORE OR FEWER THAN FOUR
The Normandy format was established in June 2014. Unlike the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, the Normandy mechanism does not have representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk among its ranks, which, according to international relations and security analyst Mark Sleboda, makes it an unfit format for a conflict that is primarily intra-Ukrainian.
"The Normandy format is a strange one for resolving what is ultimately an inter-Ukrainian conflict. And substantive peace and political reconciliation will require that Zelenskyy and his regime's officials eventually sit down for direct negotiations with the authorities of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics. Indeed that is one of the first and key provisions of Minsk," Sleboda said.
Ensuring an inclusive nationwide dialogue is indeed among the provisions of the Minsk protocol, negotiated in 2014 by the Trilateral Contact Group. Earlier this year, Zelenskyy proposed to convene the Normandy talks with the added participation of the United States and the United Kingdom. Last week, he again voiced his views on that the US might be able to move the peace process in Ukraine forward due to the fact that it communicates with Russia directly.
According to Sleboda, if Zelenskyy attempts to bring the United States into talks while excluding Donbas, he might end up being excluded himself from what could be a direct dialogue between Moscow and Washington.
"Zelenskyy may seek to bring the United States into the 'Normandy' format as well, and whichever American leader is president in 2020, that is sure to complicate and perhaps spoil any potential peace and political reconciliation process. If that is the case, and Zelenskyy still refuses to meet with the Donbass authorities, then Russia might as well ignore his regime and enter negotiations with the US alone and directly, as it will be clear that he lacks the sovereignty, independence, and will to negotiate peace among fellow Ukrainians," Sleboda added.
The US Department of State has previously expressed support for the Normandy format but ruled out Washington's involvement.