The heads of government of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France convened in Paris on Dec. 9 for a Normandy format summit to end the war in the Eastern Ukraine (Donbas region) between Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatist forces.
The Normandy group consisting of the four states was established on June 6, 2014, when “France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine leaders met on the margins of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day allied landings in Normandy” intending to resolve the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the summit. It lasted nine hours and included a bilateral meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, according to Reuters.
The leaders affirmed their commitment to the full implementation of both Minsk agreements signed in 2014 and 2015.
The Minsk agreements are two ceasefire accords. The first one negotiated in 2014 between Ukraine and Russia, and the two separatist regions, failed shortly after its implementation. The Normandy group reached a second ceasefire agreement in 2015.
The Trilateral Contact Group consisting of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will facilitate “three additional disengagement areas, to disengage forces and equipment by the end of March 2020.”
The Group will also facilitate the release and exchange of conflict-related detainees by the end of the year, based on the principle of “all for all” and provide full and unconditional access to all detainees to international organizations like Red Cross.
The four sides within the Normandy Format would like to agree on all legal provisions for pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, commonly known as Donbas, as it was specified in the Minsk Agreements from 2015.
The decision has been made that requires Ukraine to incorporate into its legislation the version of “the Steinmeier formula” agreed with the Normandy Format parties and the Trilateral Contact Group.
The Steinmeier formula was proposed in 2016 by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, at the time Germany’s foreign minister—now its president. It “calls for elections to be held in the separatist-held territories under Ukrainian legislation and the supervision of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE),” according to Radio Free Europe.
Reuters reported that “Zelensky told media on Dec. 10 that talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine ended in a draw.”
The next meeting in the Normandy Format will be held within four months to decide on the organizations of local elections and other political conditions.
There were no details provided on how the votes would be conducted, and Macron acknowledged there were still disagreements on the subject, according to Reuters.
Also, Zelensky said he and Putin had worked out the outline of an agreement that would allow the transit of Russian natural gas to continue across Ukrainian soil. He gave no details. A member of the Russian delegation said officials had been instructed to hammer out details.
Putin said after the summit that the peace talks “gives us the grounds to suppose that the process is developing in the right direction,” according to Reuters.
UN General Assembly Resolution Condemns Russia’s Occupation of Crimea
Today, while the four leaders held Normandy Format talks, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the city of Sebastopol and urging the withdrawal of its military forces “without delay.”
The vote in the 193-member assembly was 63–19 in favor of the measure, with 66 nations abstaining and 45 not voting.
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, though they do reflect world opinion.
Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Volodymyr Yelchenko, introduced the resolution, saying Russia’s actions have “far-reaching consequences for security not only in the Black Sea area but in the whole south Europe, as well as in North Africa and the Middle East.”
Russia’s deputy ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, said that by introducing the resolution, Ukraine was trying “to impair the constructive course of the Paris meeting.”
According to Euro News, during the preparations for the Normandy Format, Putin refused to discuss the annexation of Crimea during the summit. Despite that fact, Ukrainian President Zelensky still wanted to meet with Putin, “I want to see the person and bring from the Normandy meeting the understanding and the feeling that really everyone wants to gradually end this tragic war,” Zelensky said.
In 2014, Russian forces invaded the Crimea peninsula, and after that held a controversial local referendum in which “Crimeans voted to join the Russian Federation,” according to the Council of Foreign Relations. The poll was called illegal by the United Nations General Assembly. However, Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula despite criticism.
Two months later, pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, commonly known as Donbas, held a referendum to declare independence from Ukraine. The referendum was “neither in accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine nor with effect under international law,” according to the report (pdf) from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “Ukraine and NATO have reported the buildup of Russian troops and military equipment near Donetsk and Russian cross-border shelling,” but Russia denied it.
The conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed forces has already killed more than 13,000 people.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.