German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock will visit Ukraine and Russia on Monday to defuse rising tensions at the Ukrainian border and revitalise the Normandy format in an attempt to ensure that the EU is not sidelined in the negotiations.
The German government is “cautiously optimistic” that the talks between Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia could be “made permanent and continued,” German vice-government spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann said on Friday.
German and French diplomats already flew to Russia earlier this month to discuss potentially reviving the format.
Russian and Ukrainian officials have since signalled willingness to resume the Normandy talks.
“It is time to agree on an end to the conflict, and we are ready for the necessary decisions during a new summit of the leaders of the four countries,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a statement on Tuesday.
Russia also signalled its willingness to cooperate and stated that the “very fact of talks is positive,” Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said last Monday (10 January). However, he also stressed that “breakthrough or any serious progress,” is unlikely.
Back on negotiation table
The Normandy talks have been stalled since November, and the last formal summit between Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine was held in 2019.
The revival of the four-country-format hopes to ensure that the EU is not sidelined in the negotiations over the Ukraine conflict, as Russia has so far been “going over the EU’s head as if we did not exist,” EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell said on Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has so far focused on bilateral negotiations with his US counterpart Joe Biden, whom he met in Geneva on Wednesday, to discuss the situation.
While the EU was missing from the talks in Geneva, Normandy’s revival aims to bring the EU back to the negotiation table.
“France and Germany are working closely together to resume new negotiations in the Normandy format. Because one thing is clear: there can be no decision on security in Europe without Europe,“ Baerbock said in the Bundestag on Wednesday.
After she visits Ukraine and Russia, Baerbock will “prepare a joint Franco-German visit to the demarcation line” in Ukraine, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
Over the weekend, the Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin Andriy Melnyk urged Baerbock to reconsider the delivery of defensive weapons to Kyiv.
According to him, the reluctance or even refusal of arms deliveries by Baerbock and the new German federal government is “very frustrating and bitter,” Melnyk said.
For years said, Ukraine has been demanding arms deliveries from Germany in order to be able to defend itself against a possible Russian attack, so far without success.
Failed multilateral channels
The multilateral negotiations that followed the Geneva talks in NATO and the OSCE have largely failed and “produced no tangible results,” Andras Racz, a senior research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) told EURACTIV Germany.
“This adds additional importance – and possibly also complications – to the visit: now that channels of multilateral diplomacy seem to fail in defusing the crisis, keeping bilateral channels of communication open is paramount,” he added.
The order of Baerbock’s visits to Kyiv and Moscow also emphasise Germany’s clear commitment to Ukraine. By choosing to visit Ukraine first, Baerbock underlines Germany’s solidarity and that long-standing, multi-faceted cooperation with Russia does not come at any price, “and particularly not at the expense of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Racz added.
Tensions at the Ukrainian border, meanwhile, continue to simmer.
On Friday, the US alleged that Russia is planning a “false flag” operation in Ukraine as a pretext for a Russian attack.
“We have information that indicates Russia has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said at a press conference.
(Oliver Noyan | EURACTIV.de)