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Contact Group in a chance for Ukraine

Keeping communication channels open with parties to the conflict

The Chancellor has spoken by telephone with the Presidents of France and Ukraine. She expressed her condolences for the eleven people killed in at attack on a bus in Ukraine. It is extremely important that the Contact Group meet soon, she said. This could pave the way for another meeting in Astana.

All three agreed that this latest shocking incident once again underlined the urgent need for a full ceasefire and a precisely defined line of contact between the areas under the control of the separatists and those controlled by Ukraine. They all saw a rapid meeting of the Contact Group, which brings together all signatories of the Minsk Protocol signed in September 2014, as the vital next step.

Efforts to bring about a meeting in Astana

A meeting of this sort could seek to achieve agreement on the precise course of the still disputed line of contact. An agreement within the Contact Group could pave the way for a meeting in the ‘Normandy format’ at the level of heads of state and government in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, where the further points relating to the implementation of the Minsk Protocol could then be discussed. These points would include in particular local elections, securing the Russian-Ukrainian border, the withdrawal of heavy weaponry and combatants and the exchange of prisoners.

Normandy format

Earlier in the day, following her meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Chancellor Angela Merkel had already spoken. Even after the meeting of the four ministers of foreign affairs last Monday (12 January), which ended without results, she had not distanced herself from the option of holding a Normandy format summit meeting if appropriate, she said.

Before a meeting of this sort can be convened though, there must be "a realistic hope that genuine results can be achieved". "We have not yet got to this point but we are working as hard as we can to get there," said Angela Merkel. She could not say, at this stage, how long the efforts will take, however. "That depends on all parties involved," stressed the Chancellor.

Meeting of foreign ministers

The ministers of foreign affairs of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine are still working intensively on bringing about a meeting of the heads of state and government in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana. Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met last Monday evening in Berlin with his counterparts Laurent Fabius, Sergei Lavrov and Pavlo Klimkin.

The ministers discussed in detail how the conflict could be peacefully resolved at a political level. They agreed that their goal was the full implementation of the provisions of the Minsk Protocol. In a joint statement they called on the Contact Group, under the aegis of the OSCE, to meet as soon as possible. The conditions must be met for progress on the way to achieving an effective ceasefire, humanitarian relief supplies and a further exchange of prisoners.

All this would help pave the way for a successful summit meeting in Astana, says the statement. The four ministers agreed that further efforts will be needed.

On Monday at the Federal Press Conference, Federal Foreign Office spokesperson Martin Schäfer stressed that once results are achieved that make a meeting in Astana or in any other venue a realistic proposition, "it will not be a question of the date".

The Minsk Protocol is the yardstick

In telephone conversations last Friday between the Chancellor and the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as well as the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the situation in Ukraine and the Minsk Protocol were also the main focus. Angela Merkel expressed her concern over continuing tensions and over the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine.

In her conversation with Petro Poroshenko the Chancellor expressed her basic willingness to attend a meeting of the ‘Normandy group’ of heads of state and government (Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany). She stated clearly, however, that concrete progress would have to be made before a meeting of this sort made sense. The two sides must, for instance, move substantially closer on the questions of a ceasefire and the demarcation of the line of contact before there is any point in convening a meeting of this sort.

Stepping up efforts

In her conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin too, the Chancellor welcomed the intensive efforts to achieve an agreement. All sides are called on to do their bit to achieve swift progress on the basis of the Minsk Protocol. This involves Russia exerting the influence it has over the separatists in order to bring about a consensual solution.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015