Ukraine ceasefire respected, but peace process unlikely to conclude by end of year – Hollande
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Presidents Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko had moved closer to one another during the talks. Footage released prior to the meeting showed the Russian and Ukrainian leaders shaking hands.
Hollande and Merkel agreed that the talks, which lasted almost five hours, concluded with a positive outlook.
Thus, the four leaders managed to reconcile issues concerning the withdrawal of heavy weapons in Eastern Ukraine, Merkel said. At the same time, according to a later statement by Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, pullout of light weaponry from the region is set to begin on Saturday.
“There is hope for progress. We are narrowing the gap between us,” Merkel said after the Normandy Four meeting, adding the talks helped to prioritize outstanding issues.
Friday talks in Paris were aimed at assessing the progress of the Minsk peace agreements reached by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France during the previous summit in February.
Merkel said that while progress is visible at every point, no individual stage is close to completion. Hollande also remarked that the final implementation of the peace accords is unlikely to have taken place by the end of the year as was originally planned.
As for the elections in eastern Ukraine, Hollande noted they should take place no later than 80 days after Kiev passes an electoral law. However, he added that the election in the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic scheduled for October 18 cannot go ahead.
"It's therefore likely, even certain now, that - since we need three months to organise elections - we would go beyond the date that was set for the end of Minsk, that is to say Dec.31, 2015," he told a news conference.
Russian President Vladimir Putin promised that the issue of local elections in eastern Ukraine would be discussed with the representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR).
“President Putin could not undertake any commitments, let alone agree to any options [concerning the local elections in eastern Ukraine]. The only thing the president could promise was to give an order to discuss these issues with DNR and LNR representatives,” Peskov said after the summit.
Francois Hollande also stressed that humanitarian organizations should be provided with better access to the war-torn regions and the number of crossing points for them should be extended. He added that the prisoner swap procedures should also be sped up.
Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, said that despite a ceasefire between Kiev forces and the rebels it’s too early to speak about the end of the military conflict in Donbass.
“We’ve achieved a truce now. The war will be over when the last piece of Ukrainian land is returned,” Poroshenko said as cited by UNN news agency.
Speaking at a briefing at the Ukrainian embassy after the Normandy Four talks in Paris, the president stressed that Russia has “a lot of work to do” in term of fulfilling the Minsk agreements.
The next Normandy Four meeting of foreign ministers will take place in November.
The previous Normandy Four meeting was held at ministerial level in mid-September, where the sides agreed to step up talks between Kiev and the rebels in Ukraine’s east before winter sets in.
“We expressed satisfaction that the ceasefire is being observed more or less. Separate cases of violation are taking place, but in general we have a positive assessment of what is happening,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Berlin on September 13 after the meeting.
“It has not become easier, but I would like to inform you that the talks were far less confrontational than they were last time,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at that time.
Minsk peace accords: Successes and controversies
The previous Normandy Four summit was held in Minsk on February 11, and was then taken to the ministerial level. The marathon talks were difficult and lasted for more than 16 hours, ending well after midnight.
The sides, however, managed to seal a peace deal, which was later called a roadmap towards a solution that would stabilize the situation in the region.
The peace deal called the Minsk Agreements envisaged a ceasefire from February 15, withdrawal of heavy weapons, prisoner swaps and constitutional changes that should have been implemented in direct dialogue between Kiev and the self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukrainian. Special status for the regions and decentralization of powers were also part of the document.
However, a lasting truce was only reached in late August, with both Kiev and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics maintaining the armistice has been holding since September 1. However, both sides still occasionally accuse each other of violations.
The withdrawal of heavy weapons was also implemented by September. Additionally, the contact group in Minsk reached an agreement about withdrawal of arms with calibers of less than 100mm on September 29.
Several prisoner swaps have taken place. Nevertheless, a political solution still remains elusive. Both sides say they are implementing the Minsk accords, but the peace process still lacks direct dialogue between Kiev and the eastern regions of the country.
Ukrainian constitutional reform conducted by Kiev rules out special status for eastern Ukraine and suggests instead only “special local governance procedures for the Lugansk and Donetsk regions,” as President Poroshenko told Ukrainian TV Channel 5 in an interview on September 7.
Speaking about the reform of the constitution in the same interview, Petro Poroshenko once again emphasized the amendments he proposed would remove Article 92 of the Constitution, which gives ‘special status’ to individual cities, so that “there would be no ‘special statuses, no parades of sovereignties.’”
Moscow continues to insist on the importance of direct dialogue between Kiev and the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.