By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
On October 19th a new round of the “Normandy Format” talks took place in Berlin, bringing together German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Ukraine President Petro Poroschenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The heads of state were accompanied by their respective foreign ministers and experts, in order to discuss plans how to settle the conflict between the Kiev government and Eastern Ukraine, based on the full realization of the Minsk II peace plan (September 2015). A second round of discussion in Berlin was devoted to the war in Syria and what should be done in order to end the bombing in Aleppo. This discussion did not include Ukraine president Poroschenko.
Although the Berlin discussions were not a breakthrough, it is significant that Russian President Putin visited Berlin for the first time since 2 years, after the outbreak of the Ukrainian conflict. The participants agreed to put together a new “roadmap” based on a German-French proposal, in order to solve the ailing Minsk II peace process. At the EU heads of state summit (which began October 20 in Brussels) no new sanctions were announced against Russia. Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande underlined however that sanctions are kept on the table as an “option” depending on how things would proceed on the ground in Aleppo, which they qualified as “war crimes” perpetrated by Russia and Syria.
At a press conference given by President Putin shortly before his departure, the Russian President gave his own evaluation concerning the Berlin meeting. His short statement reflects that there is potential for deescalating the conflicts and for finding a minimal agreement between East and West. The President emphasized that the “agreement reached with our colleagues” shows that “all participants concurred that the settlement in South Eastern Ukraine should be based on the Minsk II agreement and we all confirmed our commitment to this agreement. We devoted a good deal to security matters and agreed on a range of issues regarding further immediate actions to solve the situation by ‘disengaging’ the conflicting sides. We agreed to search for locations where the efforts can be continued. In two locations the disengagement has already taken place”, Putin underlined. “We confirmed our readiness to extend the OSCE in the ‘disengagement zones’ and to continue joint efforts for agreement on the special status of certain areas in Luhansk and Donbass.
The second round of negotiations in Berlin, according to President Putin, was devoted to “discuss with our colleagues on Syria and the situation around a Syrian settlement in general. I informed the European partners of our view. What needed to be done in order to fight terrorism and root it out from Syrian soil and make sure it does not flare up elsewhere”, Putin said. “Primarily we talked of the political component in this process. I reminded the colleagues that Russia suggests stepping up efforts to develop and adopt a new constitution (in Syria) on the basis of which parliamentary elections could be held and preliminary agreement could be reached between all. This would have to involve all countries in the region drawn in the process. We also informed them of our intention that Russia decided to extend the pause for as long as possible, based on the actual situation in the area.” Putin underlined that Russia expects our “partners, especially our Americans to separate the Al- Nusra Front and similar terrorist groups from healthy opposition.”
Deliberate sabotage of Minsk II
Shortly before the meeting took place in Berlin, the German Daily “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (FAZ) made a significant shift in its usual reporting concerning the Ukraine conflict. On October 18th FAZ Ukraine correspondent Konrad Schuller published a lengthy article which was based on an evaluation of a recent OSCE Mission report. According to Schuller the report illustrated clearly that since 21rst of September when the “conflicting partners” in Ukraine with the help from the German and French side decided to implement a “disengagement agreement” for three “pilot regions” in Eastern Ukraine, the Ukraine artillery had by far more attacked than the pro- Russian fighters. The OSCE mission report gives “evidence” that during the last weeks the Ukrainian armed forces began an offensive despite the agreement concluded by September 21 to renew the cease fire in the industrial area Donbass and to disengage the troops. Since the 21rst of September the OSCE mission observed 1030 times violations perpetrated by the Ukraine in the separatist areas while the Russian fighters only violated 79 times. Also in respect to heavy weapons and military vehicles in the security zones along both sides of the Front the relation is the same. Why is it happening this way? Some think, Schuller stated, that the Ukraine government, sees a permanent war as justification for “slowing down the political process in the Donbass region”. Such political process demands a special status law given for the Donbass region, local elections and an amnesty. They think that elections in the future would be a fraud. The disengagement of the three pilot regions also does not proceed, commented Schuller and “Ukraine is responsible for that.”
Kremlin observer Alexander Rahr’s evaluation
In a commentary written by German Kremlin observer Alexander Rahr on his German website “Russland kontrovers”, the Russia expert noted, that while the Berlin meeting was not marking a “turning point in world history”, the conflicting parties in the Ukraine, Ukraine and Russia, at least agreed to the fact, that the OSCE gets a more “robust mandate” as mediator, in order to prevent separatists and the official Ukraine Army to fight against each other along the military demarcation line in Eastern Ukraine, i.e. that the OSCE is to separate the two conflicting parties and if necessary enforce this by arms. According to Rahr what was said in respect to maintaining the road map (2015) was not so much “enlightening.” As it looks now, the Ukraine only is ready to give the separatists in East Ukraine “autonomy status”, if Russia gives up its entire support for the rebels. In turn Moscow first demands recognition of the autonomy status for the Donbass, after that it is ready to give back the border control to the Kiev Government. From Rahr’s viewpoint a more important signal given during the Berlin negotiations was “that in Berlin Moscow had presented a road map for Syria which the West could accept. After a withdrawal of the armed regime rebels from Aleppo, a new constitution for Syria and new elections should be pushed through. The road map offers a common Russian and Western approach in Syria, at the end of which Assad has to go and where Russia and the West must turn toward real aim in Mideast: the fight against Islamic terrorism”, Rahr wrote.
More people mobilizing for “a pan- European security zone”
A sober realism was also reflected in this year’s 162nd Bergedorfer Roundtable (sponsored by the prestigious German Körber Foundation), which gathered high level German and Russian security and foreign policy experts end of July in Moscow (“Russia and Europe: Escalated Alienation?”). The participants demanded that “concrete steps toward de-escalation” including minimizing the risk of collision between Russian and NATO aircraft and warships should be taken by informing the respective counterpart in advance about military manoeuvers, so as to achieve minimum level of transparency, coordination of technical processes and predictability. They also demanded a more robust mandate given to the OSCE: “In the current situation the primary objective had to be ensuring that dialogue could be continued and that the parties remained willing to talk. This required the deployment of all existing platform for dialogue. In particular greater importance would have to be attached to the OSCE: in the past this organization had mainly been used by the West ‘to extinguish fires’. After all if the OSCE were used appropriately in this context, it could develop into a long- term ‘bridge builder’.”
In the same line one should see a public call which was launched end of July by leading German Trade Unionists, SPD members and security experts under the title “End the spiral of Violence- for a new peace and détente policy now!” Among the signers there are the chairman of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB ), Reiner Hoffmann, the chairman of the United Services Trade Union (ver. di) Frank Bsirske, the former advisor of Dr. Egon Bahr -once key architect of the Ostpolitik under Willy Brandt- Dr. Wolfgang Biermann, as well as the former chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Prof. Dr. Horst Teltschik; among the signers there were also the chairman of the communications department of the “German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations”( Ostinstitut der Deutschen Wirtschaft), Andreas Metz, as well as Dr. Christian Wipperfürth, Associate Fellow of the German Council of Foreign Relations (DGAP), and Dr. Götz Neudeck (Association of German Scientists, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs), as well as Church representatives.
The call underlined that while NATO and Russia are beginning a new spiral of rearmament, the need to construct a “pan- European peace order” is now more urgent than ever. It should be based on the principles of the “Charter of Paris” which was solemnly signed 25 years ago by the heads of State from Europe and the U.S. in order to establish peace and confidence in post- communist Europe. “Without cooperation with Russia further conflicts are threatening and a new rearmament round, the escalation of the Ukraine conflict and still more terror and wars in the Middle East, which result into millions of refugees (…) A European security will not be possible -despite all political differences- without or even against, but only together with Russia.” Therefore the call underlines, that the lessons should be learnt from the experience with détente policy since the 1960ies, especially under former German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who got the Nobel Peace Price because he “held out his hand for reconciliation with former enemy countries.” What is needed in light of the actual crisis, the call stated, is a “pan-European ‘common security’ zone, which is based on cooperation of all states between Vancouver and Vladivostok.”