Monday

18th Jun 2018

Opinion

A Normandy summit of ulterior motives

  • Deja vu? Everybody at Wednesday's Normandy summit is there for a different reason (Photo: kremlin.ru)

At shortest-possible notice, the leaders of Ukraine and Russia, France and Germany meet in Berlin this Wednesday (19 October) to discuss the war in Eastern Ukraine.

This gathering in the so-called Normandy format, at summit level and announced only a day ago, suggests great urgency.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

However, there has been neither a major escalation in the protracted standoff between Moscow-sponsored separatists and the government in Kiev, nor have there been signs of a serious breakthrough for the better.

Moreover, participants themselves have dampened hopes for success. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said to “have no heightened expectations”.

This was echoed by German chancellor Angela Merkel’s warning that “one should not expect miracles” from this meeting.

The French government was somewhat more ambitious and stated, as meeting goals, a timetable for Donbass elections and military disengagement.

Meanwhile, for the Kremlin the summit was merely to “compare notes” about the implementation of the Minsk accords, the plan for settling the Ukraine conflict, which was devised by the Normandy quartet.

Two years after signature, these accords have clearly failed. None of their provisions has been fully implemented; fighting is an everyday occurrence; thousands have been killed since the Minsk protocols were inked.

This failure to achieve peace is the result of defects in the agreements and in the political constellation that produced them.

First, the conflict parties remain deeply divided over the priority given to military versus political provisions in the agreement. Ukraine insists that basic security needs to be returned to Donbass first.

This means a full ceasefire, the removal of heavy weaponry and of fighters, and the effective verification that these measures are being implemented by the OSCE.

Russia and its local puppets, in turn, put political measures centerstage and demand that the separatist entities in Donetsk and Luhansk be recognized and legitimated, through a special status and elections.

Dramatic asymmetry

Second, the Minsk setting blurs the role that Russia has played in this conflict. It is beyond doubt, with evidence mounting daily, that Moscow has instigated separatism in eastern Ukraine, equipped and led the armed formations fighting in the Donbass, and organized and bankrolled two illegitimate statelets there.

Yet under the Minsk accords, Russia figures not as foreign aggressor but as peace broker, insisting instead that only direct negotiations between Kiev and Donetsk-Luhansk can end what it portrays as a civil war in Ukraine.

Third, the two actual peace brokers - France and Germany (and with them the entire EU) - are confronted with a dramatic asymmetry of influence over the two sides in the conflict.

The Western powers have far-reaching political and financial leverage in Ukraine, ranging from association and trade agreements through loans to visa liberalization.

Ever since Minsk was signed, Berlin and Paris have brought this weight to bear on Kiev, hoping to exact the necessary concessions to make the peace deal work.

By contrast, political and economic leverage vis-a-vis Moscow is minimal, especially as the EU remains divided on Russia and unwilling to employ its full and considerable arsenal of political, economic and legal sanctions.

This effectively leaves Russia beyond pressure, in impunity and without reasons to compromise.

These fundamental flaws in the Minsk and Normandy formats have not been rectified yet and there is little chance they will be anytime soon. Consequently, peace in Eastern Ukraine remains elusive.

Why meet?

This, naturally, raises the question why the Normandy leaders are meeting at all, and in such a rash manner at that. Arguably, however, each of side has good reasons to attend that extend well beyond the immediate settlement of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

For the Ukrainian government, it is important to get the drama in the Donbas back on the international agenda, overshadowed as it has been for several months by the tragedy in Syria.

Kiev has certainly noticed how Moscow’s killing spree in Aleppo has fuelled Western disillusionment and criticism. It draws a straight line between the Russian wars in eastern Ukraine and in Syria, and hopes to turn Western outrage into greater political pressure and additional sanctions against Russia.

At the same time, Kiev may well be hoping that Western governments’ current preoccupation with Moscow’s wars will deflect attention from the reform process in Ukraine which, since the change in government earlier this year, has slowed to a trickle.

For the leaders of France and Germany, the Normandy meeting is obviously preparation for the EU summit a day later. At that meeting, European policy towards Russia will be a central agenda item, and a controversial one at that.

Increasingly over the last months, EU unity on Russia has corroded, threatening to undermine the principled condemnation and sanctions package that Europe issued to Russia in response to its aggression in Ukraine.

In their effort to revive this consensus, to retain the hitherto EU position towards Moscow, and to extend (if not even expand) sanctions, Paris and Berlin will be all the more credible after another round of talks in the Normandy format.

Just as importantly for forging a strong EU stance, German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Francois Hollande and Russian president Vladimir Putin are also to separately discuss Syria, another major topic for the EU summit.

Russian motive

For his part, the Russian strongman’s attendance at the Normandy summit is just another manoeuvre to undercut European unity.

The increasingly critical and unified position of the EU regarding the Russia’s actions in Syria has certainly not gone unnoticed in the Kremlin.

Consequently, Putin has temporarily halted his bombing campaign in Aleppo and has agreed to another discussion of Donbas.

The purpose of these “concessions” is clear: to strengthen the position of the opponents of sanctions against Russia inside the EU, and to weaken advocates for more robust action to stop the Kremlin’s aggressive conduct.

No sooner the lights switch off in the summit hall, however, the Kremlin can be expected to resume its overt and covert wars.

Today’s Normandy summit will not settle the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. It will, however, forge or fail the EU response to the Russia challenge.

Joerg Forbrig is a senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think tank

Feature

British bank spotlights Russian propaganda

A British bank’s decision to stop working with suppliers of a Kremlin media firm has put the spotlight on Russian propaganda in Europe.

EU shames Russia on Aleppo 'massacre'

The EU has named Russia as being partly responsible for a “massacre” of “historic” proportions in Syria, but ruled out extra sanctions or military force.

Focus

Denmark leads Ukraine anti-corruption drive

The EU has unveiled an anti-corruption scheme for Ukraine, amid concerns that its officials and lawmakers are undermining a key reform in the fight against villainy.

EU summit: migrants get a 'vote' too

Non-citizens from Nigeria to Afghanistan get a binding 'vote' on whatever the EU's internal debates submit to them. They will vote with their feet on whether to keep trying their luck when faced with a new system.

Column / Brussels Bytes

The EU cannot shape the future of AI with regulation

If the EU continues to over-regulate AI, its AI systems will fail to compete on a global scale and the technology's long-term future, for better or worse, will be shaped by the United States and China.

Long-distance animal transport: unthinkable still happening

A complete overhaul of animal products' supply chains is needed, privileging local food chains including local slaughtering which is proven to benefit the environment, the resilience of our economy, food safety and animal welfare.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Audi CEO arrested over Dieselgate
  2. EU-Australia trade talks kick off in Brussels next month
  3. France and Germany moving closer to eurozone reform
  4. Merkel to meet Conte to find migration compromise
  5. Seehofer gives Merkel time to strike EU migration deal
  6. Schroeder and Sarkozy appear with Putin at World Cup
  7. Tennis champ and 'EU diplomat' claims immunity
  8. Italy threatens to ditch EU-Canada free trade deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  7. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  8. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  11. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model

Latest News

  1. Tear gas bodes ill for Macedonia name deal
  2. EU asylum claims drop, Germany registers most
  3. EU summit: migrants get a 'vote' too
  4. Basque threat of 'second front' for independence
  5. Progressive regulation needed now for 21st century finance
  6. Greece and Merkel's fate top This WEEK
  7. How Italy's government might hijack EU migration policy
  8. The EU cannot shape the future of AI with regulation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  3. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  4. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  6. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  7. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  9. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  11. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  2. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  3. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  5. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  6. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  7. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  9. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  10. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  11. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  12. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us