The key to peace

Tuesday, 2019-12-10 16:52:31
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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russia's President Vladimir Putin attend a joint news conference after a Normandy-format summit in Paris, France December 9, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO - France, Ukraine, Russia and Germany officially restarted a peace summit under the “Normandy format”, after three years this negotiation mechanism stalled. The summit in France is expected to find a “key to peace” in order to soon put an end to the five-year armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The “Normandy-format” summit, which opened on December 9 in Paris, was the first meeting among leaders of the four countries since their meeting in Berlin, Germany in October, 2016. On the side-lines of the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy. In the context that the Ukraine peace negotiation process has stalled for the past three years, the events in Paris this time have important significance, as reopening the dialogue channel is considered to be the most effective in the efforts to restore peace to eastern Ukraine.

Three major issues raised by the Ukraine President at this summit including the prisoner exchange, ceasefire and withdrawal of troops from conflict areas in eastern Ukraine. These are the conditions for elections to be held in these territories.

The “Normandy format” summit was first held in 2014, after much efforts, the four-party dialogue resulted in an agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus in February, 2015. The Minsk agreement called for a ceasefire, a withdrawal of heavy weapons from related parties, a restore of the control of Kiev, the increase of autonomy in territories controlled by separatists and the organisation of local elections in eastern Ukraine. However, after that, this important agreement has not been fully implemented while negotiations have also stalled.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy came to power in May, 2019 after a surprising victory in the presidential election, bringing new hope for efforts to resolve conflicts in the east of the country, as well as improve relations with Russia. With goodwill and effort, Ukraine and Russia have taken a series of actions to reduce tensions, including prisoner exchanges between the two sides, and the return of Ukrainian ships arrested under Russia arrest.

Kiev’s effort in this round of talks is to seek consensus for the new president’s plan, to enforce the terms of the Minsk agreement. The specific goals are another round of prisoner exchange with Russia; securing ceasefire execution in the east; and disperse all “illegal armed groups” in the territory of Ukraine. However, Kiev’s goals are not easily achieved only within the framework of the summit in Paris.

The steps taken to implement the Minsk agreement have partly helped curb armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. However, the parties have not been able to build trust, while always accusing each other of violating a ceasefire, as well as not seriously enforcing the terms of the agreement. The key to impasse in negotiations is the order of priority to enforce the terms: restoring the right of Kiev to control the territorial borders, or holding local elections first. Meanwhile, the law granting special self-rule status to certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions will be expired at the end of 2019, and the extension of this law is not an easy task for Kiev.

In fact, the “Normandy format” summit has so far been an effective negotiating framework to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine as well as address other issues. Though this summit, Russia can discuss the issue of transporting gas into Europe. Russia, Germany and France can also exchange to each other’s views, in an effort to improve relations between Moscow and the European Union (EU).