The foreign ministers from the Normandy Format Contact Group of Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine met in Berlin on June 11 to discuss the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, which has seen an uptick in fighting over the last several weeks.
The June 11 meeting in the German capital was the first of its kind in over 16 months for the foreign ministers of the Normandy Format, which first met on June 6, 2014 while on the sidelines of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day allied landings in Normandy.
High on the agenda of the meeting was the issue of deploying a UN peacekeeping mission to the war zone, a position that Moscow, as a party to the conflict, has refused to back under the mandate presented by Germany and France. Both Paris and Berlin want UN troops to be deployed in all areas controlled by Russia’s armed forces and its local pro-Moscow separatist allies. The area would include troops whose task would be to patrol a demilitarised zone on the Ukraine-Russia border.
Russia has flatly rejected any proposal that would see an outside force deployed in areas where its combat forces are carrying out active operations with its proxies.
In an interview ahead of the meeting on June 11, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told local daily Bild that he had no expectations that reviving the stalled peace talks aimed at ending the four-year-old conflict would be easy, adding, “The differing interests and concerns of Ukraine and Russia are far apart in many areas.”
Maas later told reporters at the close of the meeting that the deployment of UN peacekeepers to the region would be an “appropriate measure” to ensure that the Minsk Accords, “can finally be implemented with the help of the United Nations.”
Nearly 10,500 people have been killed and more than a million people displaced from their homes since war erupted in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass Region in April 2014. Multiple efforts to implement a cease-fire have largely failed. The UN Security Council most recently adopted a statement on June 6 encouraging all of the parties involved in the conflict to recommit to a 2015 peace deal, known as the Minsk Agreements, and expressing “grave concern” about the increase in the intensity of fighting in the Donbass.
All 15 Security Council members, including Russia, have agreed to back a presidential initiative put forth by France and Germany in January 2017. France’s Ambassador to UN Francois Delattre said Russia’s agreement “is one of the reasons why the presidential statement is important…and, of course, it makes a world of difference.”
The 2015 peace agreement, signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, has helped reduce hostilities, but the civilian death toll in the conflict has now exceeded 2,700, with as many as 9,000 injured, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. An estimated 1.6 million people remain internally displaced – the largest uprooted population in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world.
Over half a million civilians live within 5 kilometres of the 457-kilometre line that divides the opposing forces in eastern Ukraine, subjected to shelling, gunfire, landmines, and unexploded ordnance.
On May 29, UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council that “the relative calm that held in the early weeks of 2018 was followed in April and May by a sharp increase in the number of victims, adding, “The security situation on the ground remains volatile. The killing, destruction, and immense suffering continues and eastern Ukraine is facing a serious humanitarian crisis.”