The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Paris on an official visit. In the French capital, he held talks with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron. During the meeting, the parties discussed the war in Donbass, the situation with the Ukrainian prisoners in the Kremlin and cooperative relations. Zelensky once again stressed that the ceasefire in Donbass is his main priority. He is not going to establish peace by military means, but by diplomatic and sanctions. Macron assumes that Ukraine has already begun negotiations with the militants. However, Zelensky later said that it is not about negotiations with the occupiers, but the contacts will be only within the framework of the Minsk format. Macron, for his part, assured that France will support Ukraine in all its intentions to end the war.
According to Macron, France is ready to hold a meeting in the Normandy format. However, before that, France must see that the parties to the conflict fulfill their obligations. The French President also said that Paris had already previously discussed with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and with Russian President, Vladimir Putin, which gestures and elements that "continue the Minsk process in order to resume the functioning of the Normandy format" could be.
Zelensky, for his part, stressed that the Minsk agreements and the release of Ukrainian prisoners run parallel to one another, and they needn’t to be mixed. Therefore, Ukraine in parallel will continue "Minsk", and then will return to the Normandy format. The Ukrainian President stressed that he wants not only to end the war in Donbass, but to return the Ukrainian prisoners in the Kremlin to their Homeland. Zelensky and Macron discussed the return of 24 sailors captured by Russia on Azov Sea. Macron, for his part, stressed that the issue of the release of Ukrainians for him and his country is important and is in the field of his attention. At the same time, the politician reaffirmed about their support of efforts for their release.
Volodymyr Zelensky believes that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has no reason to return the Russian delegation. At the same time, the Ukrainian President stressed that Europe cannot feel safe as long as Russia pretends that international norms do not exist. Macron said that France will continue to put pressure on Russia in the future, but this does not apply to sanctions in the Council of Europe, as it is not the Russian state that suffers from them, but its citizens.
After an official visit to France and a meeting with Emmanuel Macron, President Volodymyr Zelensky went to another European state – Germany. On June 18, the Ukrainian leader met with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble held talks with representatives of German business circles. As with the President of France, the meetings with the German leaders were held in a friendly atmosphere and with mutual support. But the parties discussed the same sensitive issues – the situation in Donbass, anti-Russian sanctions, "Nord Stream - 2", the Normandy format of negotiations.
The minutes of Zelensky's meeting with the Chancellor provided for a number of official events and honors, as it should be at the highest state level. At the final press conference, the parties made a number of important statements. From the rostrum of Chancellor Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to those German entrepreneurs and politicians who advocate the lifting or easing of sanctions against the Kremlin's aggression: «Those who are campaigning for the lifting of sanctions, I urge you to visit the Donbass and see how much grief this war has brought to the Ukrainian people. Look at the Crimea, which has turned from a tourist region and a natural pearl into a real military camp. We did not start this war, but we dream and fight for its completion every day». Zelensky once again stressed in the European capital that anti-Russian sanctions is "the only way to settle this conflict without bloodshed. Merkel assured that sanctions against Russia will not be cancelled until the situation in Donbass will not move from the dead point in the direction of settlement and ceasefire. The same applies to sanctions for the annexation of Crimea.
As for Russia's return to the Council of Europe, Merkel noted this possibility when the aggressor fulfills certain obligations: "As for Russia's return to the Council of Europe, we had different opinions. We had to weigh two things. First of all, it is a violation of international rights against Ukraine. This is a problem that cannot be ignored by the international community. But Russia's return requires certain conditions to be met, it will not be realized at any cost."
The Chancellor also confirmed the agreement to resume the dialogue in the Normandy Four format with the participation of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia: "We are ready and looking for an opportunity to meet as soon as possible. On July 12, there will be a meeting of advisers in the Minsk format." "The preservation of the transit of Russian gas through Ukraine, its accumulation in Ukrainian storage facilities is a guarantee of energy security of Ukraine and Europe. As you know our contract for the transit of Russian gas ends at the end of this year. But we are negotiating now, and I think that our groups will sit down in the near future, and I am sure that we will agree. And no one in Ukraine will twist their hands." "It is no secret that our positions regarding the "Nord Stream 2" project are diametrically opposed. At the same time, we are grateful for the readiness of Germany for a substantive dialogue on this difficult issue."
At meetings with German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble, Volodymyr Zelensky raised the issue of infrastructure rehabilitation of Donbass and humanitarian assistance of Europe in this process. The President also touched on the issue of the release of Ukrainian sailors and prisoners of war held by Russia. With the German business community Zelensky discussed further reforms in Ukraine, the fight against corruption and the potential that the country can give to the European market.
The practical result of the meetings in Berlin (as well as in Paris) was the announcement of negotiations within the Normandy Four format. Volodymyr Zelensky counts on the resuscitation of the format and the effectiveness of a new conversation with the Russians. But the main obstacle is that officially Russia is not ready to make advances for Ukraine. The Kremlin openly took a wait-and-see attitude, counting on the manifestation of loyalty from the new government and Zelensky administration. In turn, the President of Ukraine declared that he doesn't intend to trade territories with the aggressor. The Kremlin's reaction to Zelensky's position is eloquently evidenced not even by what sounds on behalf of Putin's speaker Dmitry Peskov, but by what is happening in the occupied territories and the demarcation line in recent months.
Continuous searches and arrests of the Crimean Tatars, sentences to five inhabitants of the peninsula with imprisonment from 12 to 17 years for political beliefs, daily violation of a ceasefire regime and death of soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is a position of Russia towards Ukraine. In other words, it does not change. Which means that there are no talks about peace. The fact that Kyiv enlists the support of Europe is certainly important and correct. But if Volodymyr Zelensky is interested in moving the process from a dead point, he should look for solutions that will force Russia to peace, or encourage for this purpose.
Thus, Zelensky's foreign trips to the main European states took place. The newly elected President of Ukraine adequately presented the position of our state, which testified to the immutability of our foreign policy. However, although France and Germany welcomed the Minsk process, Normandy format, the release of Ukrainian prisoners of war and sanctions on the Russian Federation, in the end, both states were not heeded the call of Zelensky not to return Russia to the PACE. Therefore, now the new government must decide how it should strengthen its position and enlist the support of European friends in the future.