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Normandy Four foreign ministers to discuss Ukrainian settlement in Paris

March 03, 4:44 UTC+3 PARIS
The previous meeting of the Normandy Four foreign ministers took place on February 13 in Germany’s Munich which hosted an international security conference
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The foreign ministers of France Laurent Fabius (left), of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (foreground) of Russia Sergey Lavrov (center back) and Pavel Klimkin (right) at a meeting of Normandy Four in Berlin on November 6, 2015

The foreign ministers of France Laurent Fabius (left), of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (foreground) of Russia Sergey Lavrov (center back) and Pavel Klimkin (right) at a meeting of Normandy Four in Berlin on November 6, 2015

© Britta Pedersen/Pool Photo via AP

PARIS, March 3. /TASS/. Foreign Ministers of the Normandy Four countries, namely Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine, will have another round of talks in Paris on Thursday amidst a profound political crisis in UKraine.

The collapse of Ukraine’s ruling coalition after the parliament failed to send Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and his government to resignation has entailed a situation of uncertainty in the Ukrainian political life, which makes analysts doubt Kiev’s ability to fulfil the Minsk accords.

Germany and France, as parties to the Normandy format, have been recently sending clear signals that Europe has grown tired of Ukrainian problems and wants Kiev to implement its liabilities of the peace plan, first of all to finally pass a law on elections and hold such election in Donbass.

After Wednesday’s meeting of the Contact Group, which ended on an upbeat note for the first time in a long periods, Martin Sajdik, an envoy of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), expressed confidence that elections in Donbass will be held by the end of 2016.

Meaningful consultations

The previous meeting of the Normandy Four foreign ministers took place on February 13 in Germany’s Munich which hosted an international security conference. Back then, the sides, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, only exchanges views on the situation. He said that it was necessary to focus on "the political track of settlement" before the next round of talks.

He reminded that OSCE’s negotiators in the political subgroup and France’s envoys had initiated a number of concrete proposals Donbass was ready to use as a basis but which were turned down by Kiev. That is why in Munich, the Normandy Four foreign ministers called to seriously work on these proposals by their next meeting.

Law on elections not yet ready

The Contact Group however is failing to establish productive dialogue on political provisions of the peace deal. As was agreed by the Normandy Four leaders - Vladimir Putin of Russia, Angela Merkel of Germany, Francois Hollande of France and Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine - in December, the Contact Group was to finalize the law on elections in Donbass by late January so that these elections could be held in the first six months of the current year.

It has not been done as of yet despite the fact that the law on elections has been on top of the agenda of the political subgroup for two months. Initiatives voiced by Russia’s new chief negotiator, Boris Gryzlov, on January 27 to link elections in Donbass with a constitutional reform and a law on Donbass’ special status have to get the process off the ground either.

On March 2, Ukraine’s representative at the political subgroup Roman Bessmertny said the talks in Minsk had been centering round the modality of elections and the law on Donbass’ special status had not been addressed.

Hopes for Paris meeting

In such environment, the Normandy Four position is assigned a decisive role. European leaders recognize the necessity of elections in Donbass and repeatedly stress it in their statements concerning the Ukrainian crisis.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has recently visited Kiev along with his French counterpart, called on the Kiev authorities not to justify the lack of progress with the law on elections in Donbass by the security situation.

Speaking at a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Monday, Steinmeier put it absolutely baldly that the lack of a law on elections is a key obstacle on the path of peace process. He said the Paris meeting will focus on that problem.

He said he hoped for certain progress at the Paris talks, however, in his words, the parties to the conflict seem to be not ready for breakthrough solutions.

Kiev: elections with no special status

Notably, Kiev is seeking to take the issue of elections in Donbass off the context of the Minsk documents where elections are part and parcel of the package of political settlement.

Speaking about the agenda of the Paris talks, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin singled out three problems, namely security, prisoner exchange and elections in the region. "Either we reach tangible progress as regards shelling in Donbass and the OSCE monitors’ access to the border or else we’ll never have any security," he said in an interview with the 1+1 television channel last week.

"Item number two is the humanitarian one and it concerns the access for humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders and exchanges of hostages (prisoners of war - TASS)," Klimkin said. "Item number three incorporates the conditions on which we could see elections in Donbass take place."

He stressed the importance of tangible progress on all these issues and described the conference in Paris as a very important one.

However dwelling on conditions for Donbass elections, the Ukrainian side avoids any mentions of either the constitutional reform or a law on Donbass’ special status or amnesty plans. At a meeting with the visiting German and French foreign ministers, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko once again tried to raise the issue of possible deployment of an international mission in Donbass as a condition for local elections.

Contact Groups expects a plan of action

The Normandy Four can be praised for giving a fresh impetus to the peace process in Ukraine more than once, especially as far as political issues were concerned. Big hopes on the Normandy Four ministerial meeting are pinned this time too.

"It will be a very important meeting," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin said last week. "Real progress is needed" on issues of security, prisoner exchange and election conditions, he noted.

"Key solutions on political issues, on issues of security and humanitarian aspects are to be considered in Paris," Darya Olifer, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s chief negotiator Leonid Kuchma, wrote on her account in a social network after the latest meeting of the Contact Group.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he felt hopeful the March 3 ministerial meeting would be marked by serious progress in what concerned the implementation of the Minsk accords. Specifically, he said the parties to the Paris talks would be searching for compromise options and they would be able to bridge the ditches separating them at the moment.

OSCE’s envoy Martin Sajdik looks even more optimistic. After the Wednesday meeting of the Contact Group, he said he hopes the ministers will be able to outline "a very clear picture of how the Contact Group should continue its work in Minsk." "I think we have done much, in particular at the political subgroup, and the ministers will discuss the modality of local elections," he said.

The OSCE envoy stressed he is confident political provisions of the Minsk accords will be implemented by the end of the year. "I am confident elections in Donbass will be held in 2016," Sajdik said.

Minsk Accords

The Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine comprising senior representatives from Russia, Ukraine and the European security watchdog OSCE on February 12, 2015, signed a 13-point Package of Measures to fulfil the September 2014 Minsk agreements. The package was agreed with the leaders of the Normandy Four, namely Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine.

The Package of Measures, known as Minsk-2, envisaged a ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and people’s militias in the self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Lugansk starting from February 15 and subsequent withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of engagement. The deal also laid out a roadmap for a lasting settlement in Ukraine, including local elections and constitutional reform to give more autonomy to the war-torn eastern regions.To spur up the work of the Contact Group, four working subgroups were set up within it on four key aspects of the Minsk agreements, namely on issues of security; on political issues; on issues of prisoner exchange and refuges; and on social, humanitarian and economic aspects.

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