By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
On December 9th a strategically important summit took place in Paris between the four leaders of the Normandy Four Group, in order to discuss new options that will finally bring about a peaceful settlement of the Ukraine conflict. It is one of the bloodiest conflicts in the heart of Europe, as the host of the summit, French President Emanuel Macron stated during the press conference in Paris. He expressed optimism given that after a three year standstill, the dialogue of the Normandy format leaders resumed and saw this as a chance to build a new confidence and security architecture in Europe. According to the evaluation that was given by the four participating statesmen made during the press conference the summit was qualified as a “success”- a significant step forward to realize the full implementation of the Minsk II agreements; this includes a military- security as well as political settlement that should pave the way for a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine conflict.
Even if according to some Valdai Club experts significant progress was made by the four Normandy state leaders, some skepticism remains in respect to the modality of the provisions made under the category “Steinmeier Formula” which is the design of the implementation of a political solution for the regions Donbass and Luhansk (special autonomy status as well as local elections under OSCE surveillance).
Evidence that there was progress in the summit is not only the “final communique”, which the four state leaders presented in Paris, but also the fact that for the first time a direct dialogue took place between Russian President Putin and the newly elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. As well as the fact that for march 2020 a “follow up summit” that is to take place in Berlin was agreed upon by all four leaders. Hence despite the fact that “the devil lies in the detail” the summit marks a new phase in Russia-Ukraine relations and a stronger self- assertion of Europe.
Merkel: “Standstill has been overcome”
During the press conference in Paris Merkel emphasized that “the time of standstill has been overcome” and that “realistic things have been agreed upon”, while President Macron underlined that the summit offered the opportunity to confirm on the highest level “our desire to maintain a comprehensive and durable peace.” He added that the “stability of the European continent and the construction of an architecture of Confidence and Security is an important endeavor which will only be realized if we fully implement the Minsk II agreements.” He emphasized that the summit was made possible by progress made before in the summer such as the mutual exchange of 35 prisoners from each side and the release of a captured Ukrainian navy ship in the Kerch incident from Russia.
Likewise Russian President Putin as well as President Zelensky underlined that the final document that was signed by all. According to Putin this showed that there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements (12. February 2015). He added that they agreed on “direct dialogue” to take place between the conflicting parties; that they further negotiated to agree on the “disengagement” in three other locations as measure of de-escalation, which includes comprehensive ceasefire, clearance of mines and withdrawal of military equipment. He added that the “Special status” given to the region of Donbass should be defined on a permanent basis and that an exchange of prisoners should take place on the basis of “all against all”.
The final communique: Steinmeier-Formula accepted by Ukraine
It states in the beginning that “The Minsk agreements” (Minsk protocol of September 2014, Minsk Memorandum of 19 September 2014 and package of measures of Minsk 12 February 2015) remain the basis of activities in the framework of the Normandy format whose members want to implement these agreements envisaging a durable and comprehensive confidence and security architecture in Europe on the basis of the OSCE principles.
On that basis the following was decided:
*All sides are committed for implementing a full and comprehensive ceasefire by the end of 2019. This includes the withdrawal of heavy weapons as well as withdrawal of troops and equipment from the region till the 3rd of March 2020. They support the implementation for clearing all mines – going back to decision 3rd March 2016.
*The Normandy leaders also pledge support that within 30 days new crossing points along the line of contact will be opened, that are primarily based on humanitarian criteria. The Normandy four leaders encourage the trilateral contact group to facilitate the exchange of prisoners till the end of the year, that are based on the principle “all for all.”
*The document adds that the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international organizations will receive full and unconditional access to all detained persons. They emphasize that a special commission of OSCE observers in the Ukraine – under the mandate of the 21 of March 2014, should have “safe and protected access” everywhere in Ukraine.
*All sides are interested within the framework of Normandy format, to implement the legal aspects concerning the “special status” of the self- administered regions like Donbass and Luhansk. The leaders agree that the Steinmeier- Formula should become part of the Ukrainian law.
*They also called on the foreign ministers and political consultants to guarantee the concluded agreements and they agreed that within four months a new meeting will take place in Berlin where the main topic will be “political and security” conditions, among others for organizing of the local elections in Donbass
Arrogant response by US government
Even if the Paris summit didn’t solve all remaining questions in detail, the answer given by the US government and President Trump is sufficient evidence that the summit is regarded as a strategic “obstacle” by the US Senate and President Trump. They instead want to “dictate” and “blackmail” Europe what energy policy it should follow:
For the second time after the Iran sanctions were imposed, the US Senate (on December 19), following a vote previously taken by the House of Representatives, voted in favor of the “National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA) 2020. The vote was taken on the military budget for 2020 worth $738 billion, part of which are economic sanctions that are “imposed” on all those European companies that are directly involved in the construction of the Russian German Natural Gas Pipeline Nord Stream II. This concerns among others the Swiss company “All Seas” that installs the tubes for the almost 1300 km long pipeline under water in the Baltic Sea. “All Seas” company has temporarily stopped its activity until all aspects are legally cleared. The Nord Stream II pipeline, the second one besides Nord Stream I, was to be completed end of the year 2019 and it will double the amount of natural gas being delivered from Russia to Europe.
The German Government, Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as Vice Chancellor Scholz and German Foreign Minister Maas have, aside various representatives from German Industry – voiced strong protest against the US government blackmail. They consider it a “blatant” move to “interfere into European affairs”, an “arrogant” step that in violation of International Law means waging economic war against the European allies in favor of pushing through their own economic interests by forcing Europe to buy US liquefied gas. Other representatives from the foreign policy establishment of the German Federal parliament qualified the new US Sanctions against Nord Stream as a “countermove” to the Paris summit, which would threaten Europe’s security and energy independence.
The US arguments to impose extraterritorial sanctions were along the line that European allies are becoming energy dependent on Putin’s gas and that the agreement was to the detriment of Ukraine and the gas transit from Russia that crosses Ukraine territory and from which Ukraine earns transit income. All these US arguments prove to be false. Ironically on December 20, right after the Paris summit, an agreement was concluded between the Russian and Ukraine government and its respective energy ministers and companies – an agreement that was mediated by the EU Energy commission chairman Sefarovic, which in principle has guaranteed safe transit for Russian gas through Ukraine territory for Europe- before the transit agreement runs out at the end of the year.