Normandy Group Calls to Implement Minsk Accords
A joint statement by the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine (the "Normandy format," initiated by French President Hollande last spring), after their talks yesterday evening in Berlin, called for urgent implementation of the conditions agreed upon for eastern Ukraine in the September 2014 talks of the Minsk Contact Group (Russia, Kiev, self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics, and the OSCE). In recent days, fighting has flared throughout the Donbass, with fierce clashes at the Donetsk airport and heavy shelling of Donetsk and the nearby town of Gorlovka.
The ministers called on all parties to the conflict
They called for a meeting of the Minsk group in the immediate days ahead, saying that there could be no heads-of- state meeting on Ukraine, as discussed for holding in Astana, Kazakhstan, until "tangible progress" on implementing the September accords occurs, in the form of a ceasefire, humanitarian relief, and prisoner exchanges. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, according to wire services, said after the talks that there had been no breakthrough, but some significant progress.
In his major press conference yesterday, before departing Moscow for the Berlin talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had emphasized that the settlement must occur between the regime holding power in Kiev, and those Ukrainians controlling parts of eastern Ukraine; he rejected the portrayal, by many foreign journalists, of Russia as a direct party to the fighting. Lavrov underscored that the demarcation line in the Minsk accords was agreed to by all sides, so even if more territory has come under DPR/LPR control since then, the pull-back of heavy weaponry must occur with that line as the reference point. He said that there had been no disagreement between Moscow and Kiev over where the Sept. 19 disengagement line runs, so when President Petro Poroshenko recently claimed that President Putin's Jan. 15 letter on implementing the disengagement had not indicated what line was involved, "that was untrue." He pointed out that a Joint Center for Monitoring and Coordination had been set up, as proposed by Poroshenko, and is staffed by Russian officers and the OSCE, but now it should function.
In discussing Crimea's separation from Ukraine last March, as well as ongoing social conflicts within Ukraine, Lavrov called on Poroshenko to disassociate himself from the racist statements of Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh, a current member of Parliament, during the past year. To a BBC correspondent who demanded if Russia would stop the flow of "troops and weapons" into Ukraine, Lavrov replied,
"As I say each time, if you assert this with such certainty, show us the facts."
While the Normandy format foreign ministers met in Berlin, a UN Security Council session on Ukraine heard U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power rave that Putin's latest peace proposals were merely "an occupation plan." Speaking after talks in Washington with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, Secretary of State John Kerry used similar language, accusing the Russian-backed separatists (DPR/LPR) of making "a blatant land-grab" since September.