Tuesday

31st Mar 2020

EU-brokered talks on Ukraine: Towards a Minsk 3?

  • Paris talks to give Poroshenko 'arguments' to convince his MPs to adopt Morel's Minsk 3 idea, a French diplomat said (Photo: kremlin.ru)

France and Germany will, in Paris on Friday (2 October), try to broker lasting peace between Russia and Ukraine in what could amount to a new-model "Minsk" deal.

The leaders of the four states will sit down in the French capital at 2.15pm local time.

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The mini-summit comes after a lull in shooting in east Ukraine and a recent pull-back of heavy weapons by both sides.

It also comes amid speculation Russia aims to freeze the Ukraine conflict in order to focus on its military intervention in Syria.

The main Paris sticking points are likely to be the upcoming, rogue elections in the Russia-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk "republics", and exchange of prisoners.

The so-called Minsk 2 ceasefire accord, brokered by the EU in February, says Russia must pull out "foreign armed formations" and restore Ukrainian control of the Russia-Ukraine border.

In return, Ukraine is to grant legal "amnesty" for Russia's proxy fighters.

It must also grant "decentralisation", or, a "special status", to the Russia-occupied regions.

Ukraine is organising local elections on 25 October in line with the Minsk 2 "decentralisation" clause.

But the Donetsk and Luhansk "governments" have said they'll hold their own votes, on 18 October and 2 November, in violation of Minsk 2, and in a show of defiance leading to the creation of de facto, Russia-controlled, states on the model of Transniestria in Moldova or South Ossetia in Georgia.

Minsk 3?

For his part, Pierre Morel, a French and former EU diplomat, who's working with the OSCE, the international body monitoring the conflict, has drafted a new plan to settle the issue.

His idea, diplomatic sources say, is to let Donetsk and Luhansk organise their own votes under their own rules and to formalise closer ties with Russia, but to remain, de jure, part of Ukraine.

Kiev and Washington have criticised his proposal.

Ukraine leader Petro Poroshenko has said Morel's plan is no more than the French man's "personal opinion".

Robert G. Berschinski, a senior US diplomat, has said: "Russia should direct the separatists to support - without any conditions - local elections in separatist-controlled areas under Ukrainian law".

But Russia, France, and Germany, have voiced interest.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin told the Tass news agency: "Let's hope dialogue between the unrecognised republics and the Kiev authorities will be positive".

The German foreign ministry said Morel's plan is a "good basis" for the Paris talks.

A French diplomat told the AFP news agency the new Paris accord must give Poroshenko "arguments to persuade [the Ukrainian] parliament to move forward" on a settlement.

Syria factor

EU hopes that Putin is serious on ending Ukraine hostilities come after his airforce started bombing people in Syria.

Russian media has replaced blanket coverage of Ukrainian "fascists" with blanket coverage of Syrian "terrorists".

The operation is a new irritant in EU-Russia relations, with France accusing Moscow of targeting pro-Western, anti-government rebels in Syria instead of Islamic State.

But it’s also a new drain on Putin's military and financial resources.

Meanwhile, Russia’s hybrid force in Ukraine has gotten bogged down in fighting - a development more likely to hold as the US transfers anti-artillery radars to the Ukraine military.

But Pavlo Klimkin, the Ukrainian foreign minister, believes Putin aims to keep his options open.

He told the FT that Russia’s "tactic" is "all about turning up or turning down the temperature  [of the Ukraine conflict], creating instability, and using this in a bid for trade-offs, concessions".

EU sanctions

EU economic sanctions on Russia over Ukraine are to expire in January if member states deem Russia is in compliance with Minsk terms.

Francois Hollande, announcing the Paris event last month, said he’ll personally advocate an end to the EU measures if Russia falls in line.

The sanctions are packaged in separate legal acts, enabling the EU to maintain measures linked to Russia's annexation of Crimea, while lifting the rest.

Nato's chief, Jens Stoltenberg, in an interview with Le Figaro, a French daily, on Thursday, warned that "we will never accept that Ukraine becomes the object of a trade-off" with Russia on cooperation in Syria.

Philip Breedlove, Nato’s top general, this week, also echoed Klimkin's view.

"I think Russia [by its Syria intervention] very much wants to take the world's eyes off what they continue to do in Ukraine", he told a meeting of the German Marshall Fund, a US think tank.

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