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Contact Group to hold talks ahead of "Normandy Quartet" ministerial meeting

March 02, 2016, 2:41 UTC+3 MINSK

Тhe negotiations will focus on three main issues - security, prisoner exchanged and political components, including election in Donbass

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MINSK, March 2. /TASS/. The Contact Group on settling the crisis in Ukraine will gather in the Belarusian capital on Wednesday. The session will be held ahead of the meeting of the "Normandy Quartet" foreign ministers in Paris where key decisions on resolving the problems in of the Ukrainian crisis are expected to be made.

Thus, the Contact Group will have the last chance to prepare the ground for Paris talks and coordinate the issues that will be discussed by the foreign ministers of the "Normandy Quartet."

Taking into account the latest Contact Group meeting in Minsk, the negotiations will focus on three main issues - security, prisoner exchanged and political components, including election in Donbass.

Political settlement in dead-end

Moscow repeatedly stressed that the implementation of political components of the Minsk Agreements is a top-priority task in the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis.

However, no progress has been made on these issues in the Contact Group until recently. Even the proposals made by Russia’s envoy Boris Gryzlov on holding election in accordance with "the Steinmeier formula" did not facilitate any progress in the work of the political sub-group. There has also been no news on working on the law on Donbass election though the leaders of the "Normandy Quartet" agreed to coordinate the document by the end of January.

Kiev’s envoy to the Contact Group Leonid Kuchma’s press secretary Daria Olifer repeatedly stated after meetings in Minsk that Ukraine’s position on political issues remains unchanged. "Election in separate parts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions is possible only after the establishment of full ceasefire and Ukraine’s regained control over the Ukrainian-Russian border," Olifer wrote on February 24.

Kiev’s position bring the talks to the dead-end. Representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republic (DPR and LPR) in turn demand to follow the sequence of steps outlined in the Package of measures and propose adopting the law on special status first and then holding elections and returning control over the border to Kiev.

DPR’s envoy to the political sub-group Natalia Nikonorova recently said at the Russian Federation Council session that returning control over the border to the Ukrainian side ahead of resolving other issues may not only stop the whole political process of settlement but also threaten the population with starvation in the conditions of blockade from all sides.

Nikonorova said that despite the fact that the Package of measures envisages coordination of all political issues with Donbass representatives, "no attempts" at such dialogue were even made in the framework of the political sub-group. "(Ukrainian President) Pyotr Poroshenko openly states that he will not discuss anything with ‘militants’, and Ukraine’s representative in the political sub-group Bessmertny is following his directions," she noted. Donetsk submitted draft amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution back in Mat "but the document has not even been reviewed, it was not even put on the agenda," Nikonorova added.

The political crisis in Ukraine complicates the situation even more. Russian Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev said that as a result of the break-up, the Ukrainian parliament becomes even less capable than before. Consequently, "the prospects of implementation of the Minsk Agreements enter the zone of increased risks," he added.

Now Poroshenko can cite the lack of parliamentary support as the reason for failing to fulfill the commitments in the framework of the Minsk Agreements, Kosachev went on. The Russian lawmaker said that the scandal with government resignation and coalition break-up may have been organized on purpose, "to legalize the ‘impossibility’ of implementing the Minsk Agreements."

In this case, all hopes for un-blocking the political process are pinned for the upcoming meeting of the "Normandy Quartet" ministers on March 3 as they have more than once manages to give an impetus to the peace talks to overcome the dead-end.

Security issues and prisoner exchange

Considering the difficulties that the sides face in the process of political settlement, security issues and prisoner exchange dominate the agenda at Contact Group talks as the sides demonstrate much more willingness to compromise on these matters.

The sub-group on security is coordinating two new documents that will be signed this week. Russia’s envoy to the Contact Group Boris Gryzlov said that "the first agreements deals with establishing and fencing zones where demining has not yet been carried out." "The second agreement bans shooting practice in the 15-kilometer zone from the contact line. It is known that such practice often provokes shots from the other side, especially at night," he noted.

LPR’s envoy to the Contact Group Vladislav Deinego said that coordinating these documents is practically the main precondition for holding Wednesday’s session of the Contact Group. DPR’s envoy Denis Pushilin said in turn that a new document on demining along the contact line may also be coordinated at Minsk talks today.

The process of prisoner exchange was un-blocked two weeks ago after a four-month pause. On February 20 nine people were released (on "three for six" basis), on February 26 - nine more people. The prisoner exchange on the :one for two" basis is planned for March 3.

Kiev’s envoy to the Contact Group Leonid Kuchma expressed hope that the meeting of the "Normandy Quartet" foreign ministers in Paris "will allow to further facilitate the process of releasing people."

Gryzlov noted that prisoner exchange on the "all for all" basis should remain a priority for the Contact Group. "People need to return to their loved ones. This is one of the key humanitarian tasks of the Minsk process," he said adding that the issue can be completely resolved only on the basis of broad amnesty.

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