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First meeting of Contact Group in 2016 to take place in Minsk

January 13, 2016, 4:45 UTC+3 MINSK

There will be no drastic changes in the work of the Contact Group, and it will return to pressing issues that were left from the last year

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© Alexander Shcherbak/TASS, archive

MINSK, January 13. /TASS/. The first meeting of the Contact Group this year will take place on Wednesday in Minsk. The four working sub-groups will also resume consultations. The sub-group on political issues has already held a meeting on Tuesday. Among issues on the agenda are the law on amnesty and election in Donbass.

Kiev’s envoy to the political sub-group Roman Bessmertny said that there will be no drastic changes in the work of the Contact Group, and it will return to pressing issues that were left from the last year.

Tasks for 2016

The tasks for the Contact Group were formulated by the leaders of the "Normandy Quartet" (Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko) during the telephone conversation on December, 30.

The Kremlin said that the "Normandy Quartet" agreed to extend the deadline for implementing the Minsk Agreements for 2016 and noted "the importance of further work of the Contact Group with the aim of full and comprehensive implementation of the Package of measures of the Minsk Agreements."

The leaders stressed that is its "especially important to strictly observe the ceasefire regime on the contact line in Donbass" and promote political settlement. "It was agreed in particular to step up discussions in the Contact Group aimed at soonest coordination and adoption of the law on local elections in separate regions of the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions," the Kremlin noted.

The "Normandy Quartet" leaders also established the deadlines for fulfilling this task. "All participants expressed their support to the working sub-group on political issues and its coordinator Pierre Morel and asked to complete the draft law on election by the end of January with support of OSCE ODIHR (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights," Germany’s Deputy Government Spokesperson Christiane Wirtz said after the telephone conversation.

Local elections in Donbass are planned to be held in the first six months of 2016.

"In poor condition"

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the implementation of the Minsk Agreements was "in rather poor condition" at the end of 2015. Moscow’s concern over the situation was expressed in raising the level of Russia’s representation at the negotiations. At the end of December, Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Boris Gryzlov as Moscow’s envoy to the Contact Group on Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the main threat the peace process are attempts to revise the Minsk Agreements, first of all their political component.

"We are told that Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko faced internal political difficulties, that is why he cannot implement everything in full. They propose not to interpret the ‘Minsk language’ too literally," Lavrov said in an interview with the Zvezda TV channel devoted to the results of 2015.

At the same time, Lavrov said, the Minsk Agreements clearly state "that the constitution should include decentralization on a permanent basis" and outline what it stands for. "This means the right to speak the Russian language on the territory of Donbass, the right for special economic ties with Russia, the right to take part in appointing prosecutors, judges, have their own law enforcement agencies, including people’s militia, and many more things that were personally signed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel together with French President Francois Hollande," the Russian foreign minister explained. "Instead of this, the (Ukrainian) constitution states that these territories may have some special rules in the sphere of self-governing," he added.

Minsk-3 attempt to disrupt Minsk-2

Recent statements of Ukraine’s envoy to political sub-group Roman Bessmertny may serve as evidence that Kiev is trying to dodge implementing the agreements reached in 2015. On January 9 Bessmertny told 112.Ukraina TV channel that the new process dubbed Minsk-3 was launched on January 1 though it was not documented anywhere. He added that Minsk-2 does not address the problems Ukraine is currently facing, "even by 50%"

The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) described these statements as a "demarche aimed at disrupting the Minsk Agreements" and called on the special envoy of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to the Contact Group Martin Sajdik to react to "such unacceptable actions of Kiev."

Director of the Center of Political Situation Alexey Chesnakov said that by making such statements, Bessmertny "openly stated Kiev’s plans - to sabotage Minsk-2, ‘jump out’ of the trap of the commitments it made, pull apart the peace talks to ‘new formats’ and in the end to talk round real problems."

The Russian Foreign Ministry described Bessmertny’s statements as "incompetent, even ignorant." "There is the package of documents adopted at the summit meeting of the ‘Normandy Quartet’ (Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine) in Minsk a year ago," Russian Foreign Ministry official spokesperson Maria Zakharova said. "Their impeccable observance is the main task facing all parties involved in the settlement process," she added. "The invention of new formats the Ukrainian official mentioned is an entertaining process, no denying that, but it is devoid of any sense when it comes to the implementation of the already assumed commitments," the diplomat said. "Such loose and subjective interpretation of the agreements signed by the leaders of the four countries (and this is precisely the way for describing what Kiev’s representative stated), merely hinder the settlement process," she concluded.

No need for peacekeepers

Moscow described Kiev’s initiative to station peacekeepers in Donbass as "another attempt to divert attention from non-implementation of several key points of the Minsk Agreements from 12 February 2015." At the beginning of January Ukraine’s newly-appointed envoy to the United Nations Vladimir Elchenko proposed at the meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to send a mission to Ukraine to assess the necessity of deploying a peacekeeping force in Donbass.

Commenting on this proposal, Russia’s envoy to UN Vitaly Churkin stressed that OSCE Special Monitoring Mission operating in Donbass to monitor the implementation of the Minsk Agreements "already has all necessary instruments."

DPR envoy to Contact Group Denis Pushilin said that "this is another attempt of the Ukrainian side to revise the Minsk Agreements."

Ball’s in Ukraine’s court

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with the German daily Bild that "the main thing that must be done to execute the Minsk Agreements is the responsibility of Kiev’s current authorities."

The Russian president showing the journalist the text of the Minsk Agreements explained in what sequence the points agreed upon in them should be implemented. "It’s clearly written there that the constitutional reform should be carried out, and it’s not Moscow that should take these decisions!" he said. "First, the constitutional reform, the political processes, and then on the basis of these processes an atmosphere of trust should be created and all the processes, including the closure of the border should be completed," Putin said.

Putin cited as an example of Ukraine’s reluctance to fulfil its commitments the fact that permanent amendments to the Constitution, in particular, regarding the special status of the south-east Ukrainian region of Donbass, have not been adopted to this day. "When we met in Paris (in November 2015), both the German chancellor and the French president agreed that a different nature should be given to this law, and it should be included there on a permanent basis," the Russian president said.

Hopes for constructive developments

A meeting that can define Kiev’s future stance in the Ukrainian conflict has taken place in the first days of 2016. The fund of Leonid Kuchma, former Ukrainian president and Kiev’s current envoy to the Contact Group, said that Kuchma held a meeting with US Assistant State Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland on the eve of Orthodox Christmas (January 7) focusing on "the process of implementing the Minsk Agreements." The meeting was also attended by US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt.

Russia’s new envoy to the Contact Group on Ukraine Boris Gryzlov also paid an unexpected visit to Kiev where he met with his Ukrainian colleague Leonid Kuchma outside of the Contact Group format.

The self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics (DPR and LPR) supported the recent statement of Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko who called for "linking concrete steps of the Minsk Agreements to certain dates." "We should try to focus on this reasonable thought in the flow of Poroshenko’s manipulations and force Ukraine to act," LPR envoy to the Contact group Vladislav Deinego said noting that the Package of measures from 12 February 2015 already outlined all dates and deadlines that were disrupted by Kiev. "We will make all possible efforts. We want to see something constructive from Ukraine, at least to agree on the terms of completing these of those points," Deinego concluded.

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