Renewed meetings on the Ukrainian conflict hope to produce a plan for implementing the previously agreed to peace deal. Leaders from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France — collectively known as the Normandy format — met in Berlin Oct. 19 and called for the creation of a draft plan to implement the Minsk agreement. The plan, scheduled to be drafted by the end of November, will clarify the implementation of security and political protocols that have put Moscow, Kiev and the West at odds. Though tactical progress could be made under such a roadmap, it is unlikely to lead to a broader strategic resolution.
The four-hour talk, which included an additional hour on Russia's involvement in Syria, led to consensus on several issues. First that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) would send an armed mission to eastern Ukraine — which Ukraine has said is a precondition for allowing local elections in Donbas. However, though Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly supported the idea during the meeting, representatives from the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics quickly rejected it. That makes an armed OSCE mission problematic, since Russia will likely call for direct talks between Ukraine and the separatists on the issue and Kiev has thus far refused to engage in such talks.
Leaders also discussed extending the area of withdrawal along the line of contact in Ukraine. In September, the separatists and Ukrainian security forces designated three areas from which to withdraw troops and weaponry: Zolote, Petrovskoe and Luganskaya. But the withdrawal from Luganskaya has been disrupted by continual crossfire. Until full implementation has been achieved in these first three areas, the withdrawal cannot be expanded. Yet, even if some withdrawals were completed, replicating the effort in trouble spots such as Debaltseve will prove problematic.
Ultimately, any progress toward implementing the Minsk agreement will depend on how security and political concessions are sequenced under the plan to be released in November. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko reiterated Ukraine's stance that all security components — including the implementation of a ceasefire, the withdrawal of foreign troops from eastern Ukraine, complete OSCE access and the release of all prisoners of war — must be implemented before elections can be held in Donbas. Russia, for its part, will push for more political concessions before it agrees to any of Ukraine's demands. Germany and France will try to find a way to balance the two positions. That talks have begun again is thus encouraging, as it will allow for opportunities to move past the stalemate on implementation.