No end in sight to Ukraine fighting as Normandy format stumbles

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) speaking with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (L) on the sidelines of the Normandy format summit in Berlin Germany, 19 October 2016. [Michael Kappler/ EPA]

The phone call lasted two hours. Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin on Monday (24 July) tackled the question of how to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine, with little success. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

It was Emmanuel Macron’s first contribution to the Normandy format, a diplomatic group made up of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia.

But even the new French president’s intervention could not wring any tangible results out of the call. The four were only able to agree on a meeting of their foreign policy advisers in August.

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There had actually been little fighting in eastern Ukraine since the end of June because of the harvest season. The number of ceasefire violations initially fell according to Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) records. But a lasting truce remains far off.

At least 15 Ukrainian soldiers have died in the past week. The number of dead and injured on the side of the separatists and their Russian backers is unknown.

Ukrainian President Poroshenko called the past few days some of the “bloodiest” this year. OSCE observers, who also joined the Monday phone call, recently warned that the number of civilian dead and injured over the past six months has been significantly higher than in the previous year.

The political situation has been worsened by the separatist leader of Donetsk’s proclamation of a new state called Malorossiya (Little Russia). The name dates from the tsarist period and once described most of the area covering modern-day Ukraine.

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Berlin has long been concerned about the “divisive tendencies” of areas not under the control of the Ukrainian government. Russia has to date recognised passports issued by the separatists and the ruble has become the official currency of the occupied areas. Ukrainian businesses have also been seized.

According to Western diplomats, the odds of progress at a political level have got shorter and shorter since the beginning of 2017. 2015’s Minsk agreements are still to be implemented and Germany’s foreign ministry recently warned neither of the parties involved in the conflict seem committed to a long-term ceasefire.

Macron puts faith in Minsk accords

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday (26 June) he saw no better way of negotiating an end to the Ukraine conflict than through the Minsk agreements, sharply differing with comments made by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

At the Ukraine summit in Berlin last October, it was agreed that a roadmap towards Minsk implementation would be developed. But no such deal has been brokered. In the second half of August, the Normandy group’s foreign policy advisers will have to tackle this issue.

Poroshenko on Monday reiterated his call for an international peacekeeping force for the Donbass region. He also expressed his hope that the United States will provide more weapons supplies. Russia once again categorically denied that it is involved in the conflict.

But separatist forces receive weapons, money and soldiers from Russia. Recently, a Russian soldier was arrested in eastern Ukraine. Moscow denied that the man still belonged to the army but his mother confirmed that he does.

The Kremlin announced after Monday’s phone call that President Putin and the other three leaders had “exchanged detailed opinions on the situation in the east of Ukraine” and serious shortcomings in the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

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