On December 9, 2019, the leaders of the Normandy Four states met in Paris. It became a platform for the first meeting and face-to-face negotiations between Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin. In general, the delegations of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia spent almost ten hours in the Elysee Palace — until late at night. Following the meeting, the parties approved a communique and participated in a joint press conference. The most important agreements were the exchange of prisoners and a ceasefire in the Donbas.
What has been agreed?
- Exchange of prisoners — is scheduled by the end of 2019. Red Cross workers should have access to the prisoners — "full and unconditional". At the same time Zelensky repeatedly mentioned the format of the exchange of "all for all", while Putin spoke of "all specified at all specified". The communique has both formulations (exchange "by the end of the year on the basis of the principle of "all for all", starting with "all specified at all specified"). Later Zelensky said that it was about returning 72 people from "LPR and DPR" to Ukraine.
- Truce — a full ceasefire in the Donbas should be established by the end of 2019.
- Withdrawal of troops — agreed on the mutual withdrawal of troops at three more points by the end of March 2020. General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will determine where exactly. According to Zelensky, these will be "humanitarian points", not strategic positions. Putin insisted that Ukraine withdrew troops along the entire demarcation line, Zelensky disagreed.
- Minsk Agreements - recognized as the basis of the Normandy format.
The communique emphasizes, that:
- Normandy Four committed to "their full implementation". However, at the final press conference, Merkel expressed hope that the Minsk format "will be able to revive and it will be flexible».
- Steinmeier Formula — it will be included in the Ukrainian legislation "according to the version agreed by the Normandy Four and the Trilateral Contact Group". The validity of the law on the special status of Donbas (temporary) will be extended for a year. "It is easier for us to continue this law now and then introduce the Steinmeier Formula - seeing certain steps from the other side that we are approaching de-escalation rather than to adopt a new law" Zelensky explained at a briefing to Ukrainian media.
- OSCE Mission - should have access to the entire territory of Ukraine and work 24/7, not just 12 hours a day.
- Normandy Format — will continue. The next meeting of the Normandy Four should take place in four months, in the spring of 2020. Prior to this, the advisers to the heads of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs were asked to find options for the implementation of "political and security conditions" so that the local election could be held in the "LPR and DPR".
What were the most controversial topics?
- Border control — the issue remained open. Zelensky insisted that Ukraine should gain control before the local elections and Putin insisted that only after the elections, referring to the text of the Minsk Agreements in 2015. According to Zelensky, this discussion took the most time, the topic was raised at all levels — several times in the quadripartite format, in a conversation with Putin face-to-face, in bilateral communication between the Ukrainian and Russian delegations.
- Date of local elections — have not been agreed yet, Ukraine has not made any specific commitments regarding their deadline.
- Return of wrongfully convicted Ukrainians from the Russian Federation and Crimea - the issue was taken "out of brackets" of the Normandy meeting on December 9. Zelensky intended to talk about a large exchange, including these categories, but failed to do so.
- Fixing in Constitution the special status of Donbas - the Ukrainian side claims that it did not agree to this.
- Withdrawal of troops — according to Zelensky Russia, France and Germany were talking about the withdrawal along the entire demarcation line. The Ukrainian side categorically did not agree to this, citing, among other things, the low pace even in the "pilot" areas. Zelensky defends the position that the way to resolve the conflict must be found before the withdrawal of troops along the entire demarcation line.
Red lines - at the final press conference Zelensky outlined specific points on which Ukraine will not make concessions.
- preservation of Ukraine's unitary status and impossibility of its federalization;
- immutability of the vector of movement and development of Ukraine ("impossibility of anyone to influence this issue", except the people of Ukraine);
- refusal to make concessions at the cost of territories ("Donbas and Crimea are Ukraine»).
What else was talked about? Crimea — this issue "was not reached" at the summit, although the Ukrainian side was preparing to raise the issue of annexation, Zelensky said. Gas — the topic was not raised during negotiations of the leaders of the Normandy Four, but discussed in bilateral negotiations with Russia. "We have unblocked this issue" Zelensky said. According to him, in further advisers to the Presidents and the energy companies will negotiate on the details of the new contract. Ukraine requires its signing for 10 years, "but it won't be exactly one year" the President explained. "We agreed to negotiate" concluded the head of "Naftogaz" Yuriy Vitrenko. Kyiv's direct negotiations with the "LPR and DPR" — President Zelensky made it clear that he would not sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of the so-called "LPR and DPR". Zelensky said that it would be "more fair" to involve in the negotiations within the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk not only representatives of quasi-republics, but also residents of Donbas, who were forced to leave their homes because of the conflict.
Russian media assessed the meeting of the Normandy Four as positive for Russia, and neutral or negative results for Donbas. The narrative that there is a civil war in Eastern Ukraine, a conflict exclusively internal, continues to spread. And the main outcome of the summit in Russia was determined by the fact that " Ukraine has a lot of tense homework to do".
The success of the Russian side is that the summit allegedly showed the world how Ukraine is not going to fulfill the Minsk Agreements in the future, not agreeing to change the Constitution and withdraw troops along the entire demarcation line. This was stated by presenter Vladimir Solovyov in the program "Full contact with Vladimir Solovyov" on the radio "Vesti FM". In addition, a new horror story appeared in the Russian media – allegedly, if Ukraine gains control over the border in the East, Donbass is threatened by a "second Srebrenica".
In general, after the summit, the rhetoric of propagandists regarding Ukraine has not changed much. The next day after the meeting in the Russian media were news that more than 50 thousand residents of "DPR" received Russian passports, and one of the deputies of the State Duma proposed to cancel the state duty for obtaining Russian citizenship for residents of the occupied territories.
Thus, as previously expected,
- Putin remained in his position, but for the President of the Russian Federation this visit was not too favorable.
- The fears of Ukrainians that the meeting of heads of state will be unsuccessful for our state were not justified, on the contrary, Macron and Merkel supported Zelensky.
- The President of Ukraine stood up to this meeting with dignity, having taken small steps to resolve the conflict in the Donbas.