"Following the latest telephone conference of the Normandy group heads of state and government on 22 August, France and Germany regret to note that there has been no significant improvement in the security situation in eastern Ukraine," reads the joint statement issued by Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
In their statement they urge Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko "to fully deliver on their pledge to publicly and resolutely support the ceasefire, and to ensure that pertinent instructions are issued to the military and the forces on the ground".
Normandy format conference agrees on support
On 22 August Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron held yet another telephone conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Poroshenko, in what is termed the "Normandy format".
Participants expressed their explicit support for the decision finally taken on 23 August by the Trilateral Contact Group to announce a ceasefire to mark the start of the new school year in Ukraine on 1 September. The ceasefire came into force at midnight on Thursday.
The key mediation instrument used by the OSCE in the Ukraine conflict is the Trilateral Contact Group, which was founded in June 2014. It brings together representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE and provides a forum for discussion and negotiating concrete steps to implement the Minsk agreements.
Common efforts to achieve peace
The heads of state and government expressed their expectation that this ceasefire would result in a lasting improvement in the security situation for schoolchildren and for the entire civilian population of the Donbas region.
In spite of many setbacks and ceasefire violations in the past, the German government was more optimistic this time. All four participants in the telephone conference announced their support in a joint statement. This took place in close consultation with the USA. The situation could be significantly improved in the view of the German government, if the political will to achieve this improvement existed on all sides.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the other heads of state pledged their personal support for efforts to implement the Minsk agreements on the basis of a lasting ceasefire. The USA’s new Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, Ambassador Kurt Volker, had also held talks with representatives of the Russian and Ukrainian sides over the last few days. He too, announced his support for a "back to school" ceasefire.
The "Normandy format" takes its name from the first meeting of this sort, held in Normandy on 6 June 2014. Since then negotiations have been ongoing at different levels in an effort to achieve the practical implementation of the package of measures agreed in 2015 in Minsk, primarily a ceasefire, the withdrawal of troops and political reforms. At the last top-level meeting on 19 October 2016 in Berlin a roadmap was adopted to this end.
Annexation of Crimean was and is unlawful
On the 26th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence on 24 August, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel gave his assurances that Germany remains "firmly at Ukraine’s side". Their shared dream of wide-scale peace at the end of the Cold War has unfortunately not materialised. But the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine are non-negotiable. "We will not recognise the unlawful annexation of Crimea by Russia," said the minister.
The Federal Foreign Office welcomed the fact that the Trilateral Contact Group in eastern Ukraine has agreed on a ceasefire at the start of the new school year. Russian and Ukrainian leaders expressly support this agreement. The return to school should be a reminder to all sides to respect the agreement and at last silence the weapons.
It is essential that the parties to the conflict allow OSCE monitors safe access to the entire region. The ceasefire must be monitored transparently. And further political steps are needed so that progress is at last made on implementing the Minsk agreements, said the Federal Foreign Office.
American position noted
"The German government has noted yesterday’s comments of the US Defense Secretary. They reflect a clear position of the US administration, which corresponds largely with US policy to date and with the resolutions of the European Union," said federal government spokesperson Steffen Seibert at the government press conference on Friday (25 August) in Berlin.
On Thursday (24 August), the 26th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said, "The United States of America stand by Ukraine." The USA, he continued, will never accept the annexation of Crimea by Russia. He added, "Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor."
Steffen Seibert continued, "It is also our view that the annexation of Crimea by Russia was and is unlawful, and that secondly the fighting in eastern Ukraine must be ended immediately." The German government is still of the opinion "that this Russian-provoked conflict in eastern Ukraine cannot be resolved by military means but only at political level". To this end the Minsk agreement must be implemented in full, stressed the government spokesperson.