Putin, Zelensky Agree to Donbass Ceasefire, Prisoner Exchange in Paris ‘Normandy Format’ Summit with Merkel, Macron
The first Normandy Four summit since 2016 has scheduled a new meeting in four months.
The Presidents of Russia and Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, agreed to implement a full-fledged ceasefire in the war in the Eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass by the end of 2019, during a summit the so called “Normandy Format”, also attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
At the summit in Paris on Monday night mediated by France and Germany, the leaders of Ukraine and Russia also agreed to an exchange prisoners of war.
The Normandy Format meetings have been designed to restore peace in Eastern Ukraine, after the eruption of a pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine’s Donbass back in 2014. The Donbass insurgency broke out in the months after Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014.
The Normandy Format meetings of the leaders of France, Germany, Russian, and Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 crafted the Minsk Agreements, which have reduced the intensity of the fighting. It does not deal with Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which is not recognized by the West and a large part of the international community.
More than 13,000 people have been killed in the war in Donbass in Eastern Ukraine so far, according to UN data, while millions have been displaced.
Monday’s meeting in Paris was the first summit of the Normandy Four leaders since 2016, and was largely made possible by Zelensky’s election to the Ukrainian Presidency in the spring of 2019. It was preceded by a prisoner exchange, with Zelensky making the achievement of peace in Donbass his top priority.
“The sides commit to a full and comprehensive implementation of the cease-fire, strengthened by the implementation of all necessary ceasefire support measures, before the end of the year 2019,” said the joint communique of the Normandy Format summit in Paris on Monday night.
The communique of the summit, which saw the first ever official meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, also stipulated for an “all for all” prisoner exchange by the end of the year.
Speaking after the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it had helped revive the 2015 Minsk II Agreement for restoring peace in Donbass, which has stalled.
“I say very openly, we have a lot of work to do, but my feeling from this meeting here today is that there is goodwill to resolve difficult questions,” Merkel declared, as cited by DW.
The Minsk II Agreement had called for the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the restoration of Kyiv’s control over its borders, and wider autonomy and local elections for the separatist regions.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been especially active in trying to mend relations between the West and Russia in recent months, made it clear that Zelensky and Putin had failed to agree on a timetable for holding elections in the territories held by the pro-Russian separatists in Donbass.
However, he said he hoped a compromise could be reached by the time another Normandy Four summit is held in four months’ time.
“We know there are disagreements on the calendar and phasing and we had a long discussion on it, but we said let’s give ourselves four months to articulate the security and political conditions for these local elections,” Macron told the news conference.
“We have made progress on disengagement, prisoner exchanges, ceasefire and a political evolution. We have asked our ministers in the coming four months to work on this,” the French leader emphasized, as cited by Reuters.
Ukraine’s leader Zelensky admitted he had hoped to achieve more during the summit in Paris.
“Many questions were tackled and my counterparts have said it is a very good result for a first meeting. But I will be honest, it is very little; I wanted to resolve a larger number of problems,” he said after the talks in Paris.
“I don’t know who (beat) who. I think it would be appropriate to be diplomatic as we’ve just started talking. Let’s say for now it’s a draw,” Zelensky declared when asked who had triumphed during the summit.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin in turn called upon Ukraine to grant autonomy to the regions held by the pro-Russian forces, and amnesty to their fighters.
“It is necessary to synchronize the process of achieving a ceasefire with the implementation of political reforms in Ukraine, envisaged by the Minsk Agreements,” Putin stated as cited by Russian state news agency Tass.
“In the end, I think, and we share this assessment, that this work was very useful,” the Russian leader added.
“[The summit] gives us the grounds to suppose that the process is developing in the right direction,” Putin said, as cited by Reuters.
The first Putin – Zelensky meeting is reported to have lasted about 10 minutes, and there was no public handshake or contact between the two. At the end of the news conference, Putin thanked Merkel and Macron but omitted Zelensky.
During the news conference, Putin also commented on the recent assassination in Berlin of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Chechen separatist from Georgia, of which Germany is suspecting Russian intelligence services. Last week Berlin expelled two Russian diplomats over the case.
Putin denied Russian involvement in the murder, and promised the cooperation of Russian authorities. He described Khangoshvili as a “bandit”, and said the Chechen separatist had been among the organizers of the Moscow Subway Terrorist Attack in 2010.
(Banner image: Russian Presidency)