Normandy Summit on Ukraine: one year on

During the recent visit of Ukrainian President Zelensky to London the UK Government did not spare words to reiterate its full support for Ukrainian reforms and territorial integrity. New calls were made for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, the premise being that it is Russia and “Russia-backed separatists” who hamper the political process. Yet the reality is quite the opposite. We believe it is important to set the record straight: the Minsk Agreements and political engagements based on them are being persistently and deliberately ignored by Ukraine itself (with the connivance and, often, encouragement of its Western backers).

Consider the meeting on 9 December 2019 in Paris between presidents Macron, Putin, Zelensky and Chancellor Merkel in what is known as the “Normandy” format. The summit conclusions identified 7 steps to be taken, including immediate measures to stabilise the situation as well as those related to the general political process. They were supposed to be negotiated and implemented by April 2020. Today, almost a year since, only two decisions have been implemented, and then only partially. Taking stock of nearly a year of work in the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk, it is fair to say Ukraine carries full responsibility for this lamentable lack of progress.

Let’s take the measures envisaged, one by one:

1. full and comprehensive ceasefire – partially implemented: agreed by TCG on 22 July 2020 and started on 27 July 2020. Yet OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has reported around 1600 ceasefire violations from August to October;

2. updated demining plan – not implemented: 19 demining areas are under consideration, but none of them has been approved by the Ukrainian side;

3. agreement on 3 additional disengagement areas – not implemented: even 4 such areas are currently being discussed within the TCG, but Kiev remains reluctant to agree;

4. release and exchange of conflict-related detainees by the end of the year 2019 on the basis of the principle of “all for all” – partially implemented: 200 persons were released on 29 December 2019 and 34 on 16 April 2020. Yet a large number of people continue to be detained. Kiev has not fully implemented its commitment to clear the released detainees of all charges;

5. agreement on new crossing points along the line of contact – not implemented: this year two checkpoints (Schastye and Zolotoye) have been discussed, with Kiev initially reluctant to give the relevant security guarantees and now delaying the construction itself;

6. settlement of legal aspects related to the special status for certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as outlined in the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements – far from being implemented: Kiev has been continuously evading and neglecting this crucial political provision; 

7. legislative incorporation of the so-called ”Steinmeier formula“, which links granting the special status to Donbass with holding free and fair elections there, – agreed by President Zelensky on October 2019, but still not implemented.

Above all, authorities in Kiev continue to question the Minsk Agreements as such, distort their provisions and the sequence of steps to be taken. Ukraine is flouting dialogue with its own regions through the TCG, continuing to pretend that talks are to be held with Russia. This policy can only be explained as being aimed at derailing the political process. One can only guess what alternatives Kiev is contemplating.

It is important that Western partners and sponsors continue to work with Ukraine, mobilizing the political will of the ruling class to implement all the Minsk and Paris commitments. A new Normandy summit is not a panacea – conclusions agreed in Paris must be implemented first. Instead, we are witnessing unconditional statements of support coupled with military assistance of various kinds. This is not the kind of signals that should be sent to hot heads in Kiev if we are to see a negotiated solution to the protracted crisis.