Normandy format without Russia: Agenda of Poroshenko's talks with Merkel and Macron
Almost two years have passed since the last meeting of the Normandy Four leaders. Now, on May 10, the German chancellor, the president of France and the Ukrainian president sat down to hold negotiations without the Russian leader.
The Normandy Four at the level of heads of state - Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia - last met in October 2016, in Berlin. After that, a series of elections started in Europe, including in the said countries, so it was not easy for all presidents and a chancellor to come together again. In the summer of 2017, the Normandy Quartet discussed the situation in Donbas by phone. In particular, the talks concerned prisoner exchange, cessation of supplies to Donbas of Russian arms, and implementation of Minsk agreements in general. But, as it followed from the developments, they yielded no real results. Finally, on May 10, on the margins of the international Charlemagne Prize awarding ceremony in Germany's Aachen (this time the prize went to French President Emmanuel Macron), Angela Merkel and Macron met with Petro Poroshenko.
It is difficult to claim that the summit was held in a full-fledged Normandy format, since the fourth party, Russia, did not attend. On the eve of the negotiations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel even specified that it would not be a meeting in the Normandy format precisely because of the absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, both the president of Ukraine and European leaders had plenty of things to discuss without that fourth party.
So, according to Western experts, whose opinions a number of German publications have gathered, such a format of negotiations - "an informal meeting of allies" - is necessary to agree on a common position before arguing about something with Putin. In addition, an important topic should be the discussion of the internal situation in Ukraine, in particular, regarding the speed of implementation of necessary reforms. Like, the meeting without Russia will allow Germany and France to criticize Poroshenko, without weakening publicly his negotiating positions with Putin. Another goal of the summit is an attempt to restore communication between the Normandy Four leaders after a long break.
Ukraine, on its part, is interested in supporting its European partners in the idea of a UN peacekeeping mission in Donbas. The thing is that Ukraine and Russia have different approaches as for the deployment of "blue helmets" in eastern Ukraine. And each of the countries has prepared its own draft UN resolution on the matter. In particular, the Ukrainian draft says peacekeepers should be deployed throughout the conflict zone, in particular, on the Russian-Ukrainian border, while Russia shall not participate in the mission. At the same time, the Russian draft proposes to place peacekeepers only on the line of contact, that is, to leave the border, as it was, without external control, which will allow different "humanitarian convoys" to continue crossing into Ukraine unchecked to supply weapons to pro-Russian militants...
However, the main problem of different visions on peacekeepers is not about European leaders not being able to decide which resolution to support. For example, Angela Merkel has repeatedly stated that Germany supports precisely Ukraine's draft. The main problem is that Russia, as a member of the UN Security Council, has the opportunity to apply a veto to the Ukrainian peacekeepers project, as it has the right to do so. "We clearly emphasize that Russians should support the draft resolution, where the road map would be clearly implemented, taking into account Minsk agreements and taking into account peacekeepers, and this should be included in the decision of the UN Security Council. This is a key position for us," Poroshenko said following the summit in Aachen.
They should, of course, but they are not yet seen very much striving to do so. And it is in this context that it is important to resume full-fledged negotiations in the Normandy format at the level of the heads of state - it is much easier to bargain with the Kremlin together than one by one.
Actually, according to Poroshenko, at a meeting with Merkel and Macron, it was possible to coordinate steps for holding a full meeting in the Norman format in the near future, most likely in Paris. "We know that on [May] 18 and 23, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron will meet with Putin.We have clearly agreed on and coordinated those steps and the agenda we need to pursue to hold a Normandy Four meeting in the near future," Poroshenko said.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin admits that the pause in the Normandy Four's work has been too long. However, according to press secretary for the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, the issue of resuming meetings at the level of heads of state has not yet been discussed.
"So far, there have been no discussions with the Russian side. Indeed, the pause in the Normandy process has already been quite long, for various reasons. Therefore, we will wait for some concrete initiatives," Peskov said.
As for what the parties will have to bargain with Putin, Poroshenko says that with the leaders of Germany and France in Aachen he discusses the issue of de-occupation of the Crimean peninsula and new sanctions for setting up and holding the illegal elections in the occupied Crimea on March 18, on the anniversary of the illegal annexation of the peninsula by Russia.
"Obviously, we talked about de-occupation [of the Crimean peninsula]... Sanctions have been thoroughly discussed. Sanctions should be prolonged while new, additional sanctions should be introduced, especially for those who took part in the organization and holding of elections in Crimea, the election of the president of the Russian Federation - illegal Crimea elections, as evidenced by a number of statements by authoritative international organizations and Ukraine," Poroshenko said.
"We are coordinating our actions and a package of sanctions regarding the implementation of Minsk agreements and the cessation of Russia's aggression in Donbas, which are inseparably linked with the package of sanctions over the illegal annexation of Crimea," the Ukrainian president added.
On the other hand, Russia also has something to offer European partners, in exchange for them turning a blind eye to the continued Russian aggression in Ukraine and simply express concern, yet again. It is about the construction of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline with the support of Germany. While Poroshenko met with Merkel and Macron in Aachen, telling that "Ukraine now has more support among the countries of the European Union in resisting the construction of the Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream-2 in the Baltic Sea," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Moscow met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov and said that the German Federal Government supports the implementation of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine.
At the same time, Lavrov said that "the leadership of the Russian Federation and Gazprom" said that they do not mind that a certain amount of transit through Ukraine be preserved. The main thing is that it should be economically justified, rather than politically imposed." "We are ready for such consultations with the Ukrainian side, and today we told our German colleagues about this," he added.
In addition, while the full-fledged summit in the Normandy format remains hypothetical, Heiko Maas said in Moscow today that the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sergei Lavrov, had already agreed to a meeting of the Normandy Four foreign ministers.
The German minister added that the meeting is an important point in order to resume and give new momentum to the Minsk process.
In other words, although Ukraine at the level of heads of state enlisted the support of Germany and France in its confrontation with Russia, in fact it may turn out that the Europeans' own interests will be higher than the Ukrainian ones.