For the second time in two months, Berlin hosted meeting of foreign ministers of Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia on August 17. Similarly to the first meeting which was held on July 2, participants of the four-party talks in the German capital discussed ways to resolve the Donbas crisis.
Despite spending five hours at it, they failed to reach any concrete agreements. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier was the one to tell it to the press, as he was the only one to make a statement for it. “It was a difficult discussion but I believe and I hope that we made progress on some points. We will, and that is what has been agreed now, first report to our heads of government and state in our capital cities and then possibly during the course of Tuesday, agree how to continue today’s discussion,” the head of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) was quoted as saying by the media.
Steinmeier said the ministers had spoken openly with each other and had focused on how to bring about a ceasefire in Ukraine, how to improve border controls along the Russian-Ukrainian border and had also talked about humanitarian aid as well as how to return to a political process to gradually overcome the crisis.
Meanwhile, the head of the Ukrainian MFA Pavlo Klimkin stated that no concrete compromise could be reached. “We had five hours of very hard talks. Still, it seems that we will need many times that amount of time to get things moving,” the Ukrainian minister tweeted. “There is no space for compromises if they require the state to cross a red line. Ukraine did not cross its red line,” he added.
The Russian minister confirmed the lack of progress. Sergey Lavrov called establishing a ceasefire “a vital task, because people are dying, and the civilian infrastructure is being destroyed.” One wonders why, then, Russia has done nothing for the de-escalation of the conflict and has not stopped the flow of heavy weapons and militants through the Ukrainian border, despite the promises it made to that effect after talks in Geneva on April 17 and in Berlin on July 2.
Once again, Lavrov essentially put forward an ultimatum to the Ukrainian side at his press conference on August 17, demanding what amounts to a unilateral cease-fire, in another example of the Russian side’s hypocrisy. “We have confirmed the Russian position, which is that a ceasefire, as it has been declared many times, should be unconditional. Our Ukrainian colleagues continue setting conditions, and they are very vague, including, like they say, the provision of impenetrability of the borders,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by the media.
He dared say it after the global media recorded Russian-crewed heavy military vehicles entering the territory of Ukraine. Even more insolently, Lavrov said that the concentration and movement of troops on the Russian soil near the Ukrainian border had been caused by fighting in the vicinity. Would not these troops do better to ensure impenetrability of the border for the flow of heavy weapons, and no one then would have talked about fighting in the Donbas?
The Day asked foreign experts to comment on the Berlin talks’ results and intentions of their participants. Foreign policy expert, Senior Associate of the Carnegie Europe Center (Brussels) Ulrich Speck believes that the whole event looked like another attempt on Steinmeier’s part to provide an off-ramp for Vladimir Putin, but it seems this has not happened.
Dietmar STUEDEMANN, former German Ambassador to Ukraine:
“The meeting between the four Foreign Ministers ended indeed with no specific results.
“Minister Steinmeier’s intention was and is to do everything to avoid, that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine could slip into an open war.
With respect to the main topics discussed in Berlin, humanitarian aid to the suffering people in southeast Ukraine and safeguarding of the border, talks should continue optimistically already these days. Minister Klimkin said after the meeting, that at this point there is no basis for compromise but that there are still lots of five-hour meetings needed. My interpretation of this statement is that Ukraine will return to the table of negotiations to end the bloodshed and to find a peaceful solution. Yesterday Minister Lavrov did not comment on the meeting. This morning however the Russian Foreign Ministry gave signals in the direction of a Berlin follow up.
“I can’t hide my suspicion that positive words from Moscow will not necessarily be followed by positive actions; an experience we made so many times in the past.
“Despite this experience teaches us also that communication remains vital.
“To control the border is in the first instance a task of Ukraine and Russia themselves. The EU’s Policy is to show Russia what the disastrous implications of Russia’s aggression means for Russia herself. The proposal to use the OSCE is on the table. Financial and logistic support as well as humanitarian aid is agreed and will be given.”
Susan STEWART, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Berlin:
“I think it is not surprising that not much was achieved by the meeting yesterday. It is clear that Russia is not interested in closing those sections of the border still controlled by the separatists and Ukraine is not going to be interested in some kind of ceasefire while the border is still open for Russian fighters and equipment to come through, since this would just allow the separatists more time to consolidate their forces and become stronger. So, only relatively small issues can be discussed productively, although this is also important. Perhaps this is also what Steinmeier meant by ‘progress.’ Also, the fact that the meeting took place can also be deemed progress, and Steinmeier is no doubt interested in keeping up the momentum for further meetings.
“What the EU can do to assist in closing the border is very limited. Of course they can offer technical assistance, but this is not going to work if neither Russia nor the separatists are interested in receiving it. Probably the best thing to do is to continue collecting as much reliable information as possible on the flow of weapons and fighters so as to be able to put credible pressure on the Russian side to take action, and to make it clear to all that Russia is supporting the separatists and the EU sees this as a fact and will take this into account in its further decisions.”