Rostislav Ishchenko: The Normandy Format – Covering Old Ground

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


On June 11th in Berlin at the Borsig Villa the four Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the country-participants of the Normandy format met…

The meeting would be noteworthy just for the fact that it took place after an almost one-and-a-half-year break, but for these one and a half years, especially over the past few weeks, many took place that radically changed the positions of the sides in these negotiations.

I will remind that Ukraine initially tried to use the Normandy format to organise the West collectively putting pressure on Russia, the introduction of new sanctions packages, and to force Moscow to capitulate in Donbass in order to immediately switch to the Crimean question. Russia successfully fended it off, having forced its euro-Ukrainian “partners” – under the threat of the military collapse of the Kiev regime, which twice suffered crushing defeats as a result of attempts to launch an offensive in Donbass – to sign the Minsk Agreements, which defined the DPR/LPR as the partners of Kiev in the negotiations, and not Moscow.

After this, the negotiations were reduced to the tactical manoeuvres of the sides in conditions of invariable positions. At the same time neither Russia, nor France with Germany, nor Ukraine possessed sufficient opportunities to force the opponent to take a more constructive position. In essence, it is for this reason that the meetings stopped.

The topic of June 11th’s meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs was again declared as the question of deploying peacekeepers in Donbass, concerning which the positions of Russia and Ukraine are diametrically opposite, and also committing “Steinmeier’s formula” to paper, assuming Donbass receiving special status at the time of carrying out elections there “in accordance with Ukrainian legislation”. Ukraine considers “Steinmeier’s formula” to be unacceptable, which prevented it being committed to paper until now.

So, after a one-and-a-half-year break, the Normandy Format gathered at the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in order to once again return to questions that couldn’t be resolved because Kiev and Moscow’s diametrically opposite positions. At the same time, the positions of the sides remained unchanged, which was confirmed by the statements that Klimkin and Poroshenko, Lavrov and Putin made on the eve of the meeting.

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It is also necessary to bear in mind that in the Normandy format Ministers of Foreign Affairs can reach only preliminary agreements. Then they must be committed to paper by direct negotiations between Ukraine and the DPR/LPR in the Minsk format, and after this the final status of an international-legally binding document can be received by them after the heads of States that are a party to the Normandy format (or, in the case with Germany, by the head of the government) sign it.

Other options for the legalisation of agreements are impossible as the package of measures for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements (Minsk II), besides the participants of the Normandy format, is signed by representatives of DPR/LPR and the OSCE, and is also supported by the resolution of the UN Security Council from February 17th, 2015. Respectively, any changes, additions, and specifications to the agreement are possible only in the initial structure of participants. By the way, it is characteristic that in the pure (four parties) Normandy format no agreements on settling the Ukrainian crisis were signed in general, only with the participation of the DPR/LPR and OSCE.

Over the last one and a half years the desire to meet in the Normandy format was absent both in Russia and in France with Germany. This is explained by the destructive position of Ukraine, rejecting any options – including such a compromise as “Steinmeier’s formula”. It was clear to all participants that during the meeting it won’t be possible to move off from dead center, and that Poroshenko uses the fact itself of negotiations for his internal political PR.

So what changed?

First of all, the international landscape changed. If earlier, with all their aspiration to achievement compromise agreements, Paris and Berlin were nevertheless guided by the need to preserve the unity of the West – i.e. to follow in the waterway of US foreign policy, then in recent weeks it became clear that Europeans won’t succeed to reach an agreement with the Americans. The last meeting of the G7 once again convincingly confirmed this.

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The US in principle refused to discuss something with partners, having suggested to them to accept the American will as a given. Europeans got used to ordering about the rest of the world, “imparting” to it the “basic principles of democracy”, but in the past Washington never afforded itself such boorish behavior towards them. For the leaders of the EU this isn’t simply insulting.

If they will allow themselves to swallow an insult, then nobody in the world will speak with them — after all, it is simpler to ignore the EU and to reach an agreement with Washington directly.

On the other hand Ukraine is an American project. Europe was forced out from it long ago. The EU incurs continuous costs because of Ukraine, and even if profits will one day arrive, it will be the US that receives them. But there is also one more nuance — Ukraine isn’t the project of the Trump administration. The White House rather absolutely behaves towards Kiev’s interests with a devil-may-care attitude, and Poroshenko isn’t in favour at all.

I.e., Ukraine is a weak link, on whose territory the EU can allow itself to try to play with Russia, not really upsetting the current American administration (Trump has a mass of other matters to attend to). If it works out, then Europe will receive the settlement of its relationship with Moscow that is so needed by it, which will allow Brussels to feel more free vis-a-vis the US. If it doesn’t work out (and it won’t work out only if the Ukrainian leadership strops), then it will be possible to hound with impunity the not needed by anyone Poroshenko. All the same he has no chance of winning the elections. Then the EU will try to place a stake on the next President.

Ukraine is told about the developed circumstances all but in plain text, but it receives hints with full force. Putin during the “direct line” regretted that there is the possibility of catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian statehood happening because of the unreasonable behavior of the Kiev authorities. Germany distinctly and clearly stated that “Nord Stream-2” will be completed. And concerning solving the problem of preserving transit through Ukraine, Germany was quite satisfied by the position of Putin, who declared that if Ukraine will make a commercially favorable proposal, then of course – why not leave some transit for Ukraine. But we, after all, understand that the German, French, and Austrian companies – partners of “Gazprom” on “Nord Stream-2” – will insist first of all on filling this pipeline with gas. They invested money in it and they want it to quickly pay off and start bringing profits.

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At finally, on top of all these troubles, Rebecca Harms – the European Parliament deputy from German green, who is familiar with Ukraine and its political elite since the era of active support for the last Maidan – exactly on the eve of the Normandy meeting in Berlin initiated an address of euro-deputies to Poroshenko with the proposal/demand to head the gay parade in Kiev. Rebecca knows Ukraine very well, actively cooperates with local politicians, and is well informed about the sense of her proposal of Poroshenko. But she does it anyway.

The EU shows Poroshenko in the best way it can that the American support came to an end, and Europe isn’t going to be a substitute for the US. That’s why either he will start working for the interests of Europe – which desires a compromise settlement with Russia at the expense of Ukraine – or Europeans will help the intra-Ukrainian opposition to hound him. And the Americans won’t come to his rescue.

And it is precisely this current situation that created the conditions in order to try to talk to Kiev in the Normandy format again. It should be explained to Klimkin what is expected from his chief. And further, everything depends on how quick-witted Klimkin will be and how effectively he will manage to explain in simple terms to Poroshenko that “the plaster was removed, so the client should now leave” [a Russian expression that in this context basically means that Poroshenko’s protection was revoked and he is not needed anymore].

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