The second round of negotiations on Donbass in the Normandy format took place in Berlin this year. And if the first – Paris – ended with the signing of a symbolic, but a document, the Berlin meeting ended in nothing, although it lasted nine hours. Kiev can consider the absence of a result as a victory.
Political advisers to the leaders of the Normandy Four countries (Germany, Russia, Ukraine, France) met in Berlin on February 10, and dispersed when it was already the 11th Moscow time. This was the second round of negotiations this year. The first took place on January 26 in Paris.
Deputy head of the Kremlin administration Dmitry Kozak, head of the office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak, advisers to the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France Jens Plötner and Emmanuel Bonn spoke behind closed doors for eight hours during a Paris meeting and came out to reporters, albeit with a modest, but result. For the first time in a long time, the negotiators then managed to agree on at least some final document. The five-sentence communiqué confirmed that the Minsk agreements are the basis for the work of the Normandy Format. In addition, the parties stated that they intend to reduce existing differences in order to move forward in the process of resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
After that, and also after visits to Moscow and Kiev by French President Emmanuel Macron, who engaged in shuttle diplomacy and exuded optimism in both capitals and promised good news soon, it seemed that changes were really planned in the negotiation process.
The Berlin Round killed those hopes. The meeting lasted almost as long as the Paris talks: it began at 16:30 Moscow time and ended at 2:00 am. However, it was not yet midnight in the German capital.
Heads of the Russian and Ukrainian delegations Dmitry Kozak and Andrey Yermak spoke about the results of the talks synchronously according to the Paris scheme – at night press conferences at the embassies of their countries in Berlin. Both reported no result. But if Mr. Yermak was definitely not upset by this, then Mr. Kozak did not hide his annoyance at the waste of time and the fact that the final document could not be agreed upon.
“Unfortunately, almost nine hours of negotiations ended without any visible, tangible results expressed in documents,” said Dmitry Kozak.
A firm position, the Russian negotiator said, was taken by Kiev. The Ukrainian side still refuses to make contact with the de facto authorities of certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions (CADLO) and discuss with them the political bloc of the Minsk agreements (including issues of special status, holding local elections in CADLO).
Representatives of Ukraine, according to Dmitry Kozak, were against the fact that the draft statement indicated that the issues of the future post-conflict status of ORDLO should be resolved in consultations and discussions with representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“This is a key disagreement that Ukraine refused to agree on,” Mr. Kozak said. He added that compromise formulations were sought to the last. That is why the negotiations turned out to be so long.
Got it from the deputy head of the presidential administration of Russia and representatives of Germany and France. The first at some point surprised his colleagues with a statement that it was time for him to walk the dog, a source close to the Russian delegation told Kommersant. However, Dmitry Kozak was more outraged that Jens Plötner and Emmanuel Bonn “did not show the necessary firmness.”
The head of the Russian delegation did not see the readiness of Paris and Berlin to put pressure on Kiev on the implementation of the Minsk agreements: “I saw attempts to find some convenient niche for Ukraine to continue the line that it has been pursuing for the previous eight years.”
Andriy Yermak, like Dmitry Kozak, said that the parties did not put anything on paper. But he didn’t look upset about it. “Today we have not been able to reach a single document,” said Mr. Yermak. “But there is such a desire.”
The head of the Ukrainian president’s office promised that the process would continue and a new meeting would take place “very soon again.” According to him, “everyone confirmed that they are determined to continue negotiations and that everyone is interested in the negotiations in the Normandy format taking place.” He added that although there are disagreements between the negotiators, “the main thing is that there is a will to continue and negotiate, and we will continue to do so.”
The main Ukrainian negotiator also said that all participants in the meeting confirmed their interest in holding the Normandy Four summit.
Dmitry Kozak, however, has a different version of this. No one even dared to raise the issue of negotiations at the level of the leaders of Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France, because there is no subject for such a meeting, the Russian official cut off.
Despite the lack of results in Berlin, and this round of negotiations can be said at the same time nullified the previous Paris one, the meeting in the German capital is important for understanding the alignment of forces and the atmosphere within the Normandy format.
Recently, the media have repeatedly written that the West is putting pressure on Kiev on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. This was partly confirmed by the statements of individual Ukrainian officials. Thus, Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the Security Council of Ukraine, warned Western countries in an interview with The Associated Press that his country should not be forced into Minsk.
Judging by the statements of Messrs. Kozak and Yermak, either the Ukrainian authorities are able to resist the pressure of their partners, or this pressure is not so strong, or it does not exist at all. By and large, the situation in the negotiations is returning to the pre-escalation period, when political advisers to the leaders of the Normandy Format countries met regularly or called each other by video link, discussed the Minsk agreements for hours and parted, agreeing only on the date of the next contact, and even then not always.
I must say that this suits the Ukrainian side, since for the country’s leadership, the implementation of the Minsk agreements is fraught with serious domestic political problems, up to the next Maidan. But negotiations without results are desirable for Kiev, because they are safe: you can report that work is underway to resolve the conflict and not risk anything. In this sense, Andriy Yermak got his due in Berlin. The case when the absence of a result is the result.