On Monday, October 11, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the ongoing Donbas conflict. They opened a new round of discussions on how to manage the hostility in Eastern Ukraine. The conversations with Russia and Ukraine were conducted separately. The conversation with the Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky addressed the implementation of the Minsk Agreement while the talk with the Russian President Vladimir Putin called to advance the peace talks.
Zelensky’s tweet reaffirmed that Ukraine, Germany, and France “stand for agreeing on coordinated successive steps that will ensure peace” after having discussed the Normandy Summit preparations, a talk that would be conducted between four foreign ministers. The Kremlin official statement quotes that “The worrying stalemate in the effort to end the internal conflict in Ukraine was discussed in detail, with the three leaders noting the importance of implementing the 2015 Minsk agreements as the only possible basis for a settlement.”
While the 2015 Minsk agreement resulted in a full bilateral ceasefire it did not end the conflict entirely. Both sides see the need to bring back the discussion as the parties accuse each other of not abiding by the rules of the peace agreement. While the Kremlin adheres to the 2015 Minsk agreement as the main framework for the discussion they have also been known to start accumulating troops on the Ukrainian border. Volodymyr Zelensky visited Donbas back in April around the time when Russian troop build-up was escalating.
It seems to be highly unlikely that the continuation of the ongoing accusations will bring any resolution to the conflict. On a broader scale, Ukraine has become a new arena for the battle between NATO and Russia to unfold. The long-term promises from the NATO side to let Ukraine join a Membership Action Plan (MAP) in order to accelerate their entrance to the alliance have not been put into action yet. Zelensky stresses the need for Ukraine to join MAP as a necessary step to deter Russian aggression. However, NATO seems to be more cautious as the retaliation from the Russian side might spark a full-scale war. While both alliances exercise their geopolitical interests in the Black Sea region there will be no robust actions taken to end the conflict. More importantly, the migration from the region as well as killings, poverty, and lack of development will continue to be an everyday reality.
Overall, over 13,000 people have died in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine which started after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. A big number of Donetsk and Lugansk citizens had to leave their home and town that used to be some of the biggest cities in Ukraine with growing economies. Foreign governments like Germany and France have previously played mediator roles in the conflict. They came to an agreement in Minsk in 2015 to end the ongoing hostilities but only in the most visible way. With the region being unstable and with Russia controlling separatists in both cities, the new negotiations will be placed around controversial issues for both sides.
For the peace negotiations to work this time there must be more independent third parties taking part in the talks. There should also be more feedback from civil society on the issue of violence and interference in Ukrainian affairs. While the involvement of bigger geopolitical players is an important factor that hampers the peacebuilding process, the power of civil society and democratic forces in the advocacy and protection of the society’s interests should not be ignored.
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