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Is Normandy format still alive?

Since the now historic summit of four Normandy format leaders – Germany, Russia, France and Ukraine in Paris back in December 2019 little progress has been achieved in the process of establishing peace and stability in the East of Ukraine (the Donbass region). The reasons for this situation are many but Moscow insists that Kyiv first has to implement all those agreements and understandings regarding the Minsk accords which were formalised in Paris in 2019 and then all parties will move forward. What’s going on in reality, asks Moscow Correspondent Alexi Ivanov.  

During the past two years Ukrainian President Zelensky more than once tried to broker a new meeting of the Normandy Four seeking political and media effect to show Kyiv’s formal readiness to sustain the whole process. That’s how the situation is perceived in Moscow. Kremlin is consistently eluding a new summit because Moscow sees no use in “a summit for the sake of holding a summit”, considering that certain practical steps from the Ukrainian side have to be taken prior new negotiations.

In turn, Kyiv claims that it’s the Russian side that obstructs further progress in the Minsk process. In particular Ukrainian officials and Zelensky himself voiced dissatisfaction with the fact that Moscow showed no interest in some new initiatives dealing with exchange of POWs in Donbass, establishing new checkpoints on the frontline, etc.

In Moscow say that Kyiv refuses to take seriously its commitments made publicly in Paris that provide for a real progress in the Minsk-2 Agreements implementation. Such as granting a special status to Donbass, implementing a so called Steinmeier formula, holding direct talks with Donbass representatives and many other things. Even a constant ceasefire on the frontline with Donbass cannot be achieved until now.

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Nevertheless Moscow does not abstain from senior representatives of the Normandy Four meetings viewing these consultations as helpful and giving all sides a narrow opportunity to save the process.

The last meeting took place on Wednesday in Paris which ended with elaborating a formal communique.

At a meeting of advisers to the leaders of the Normandy format, the parties conducted an inventory of the Minsk agreements, said Dmitry Kozak, Deputy head of the Presidential Administration of Russia.

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“We agreed that, regardless of the discrepancies in the Minsk agreements that exist between Ukraine, representatives of certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the truce must be respected unconditionally and the agreement that was signed on July 22, 2020, must be fulfilled both in letter and spirit,” he said following the talks of the advisers to the leaders of the Normandy Four.

Kozak expressed hope that the results of this agreement will be materialized in concrete decisions in two weeks during their next meeting.

“We will bring our positions closer in order to come out with a unified position, with some recommendations to the Minsk negotiation process, so that Ukraine, Donbass, and the OSCE have specific recommendations for resolving the conflict,” the Russian representative said.

The head of the Ukrainian president’s office, Andrei Ermak gave a positive in general evaluation to the negotiations in Paris. According to him, in Paris they “agreed on the final communique” on the ceasefire regime.

As for direct negotiations with the Donbass representatives Yermak said that “Ukraine’s position, which has been expressed many times at different levels, is unchanged: there have been no direct negotiations with the separatists and will not be.”

The head of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk Republic” Denis Pushilin believes that Kiev is already prepared to attack the Donbass and Donetsk should be ready for the worst scenario.

At the same time, sources in Donetsk report that Kiev has concentrated significant forces in the Donbass, there is a presence of about 120,000 Ukrainian military near the contact line, while military equipment is constantly arriving there.

Meanwhile, experts in Moscow cautiously predict that France, Germany, and possibly the United States will try to convince Ukraine to implement the Minsk agreements, which have been without movement for seven years.

The next meeting of political advisers will take place in two weeks in Berlin.

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