GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 610, 29 January 2022

The Normandy Format: Europe, Russia and Ukraine
Padmashree Anandhan

What happened?
On 26 January, Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia representatives held talks under the Normandy Format at the Elysee Palace in Paris. After the talks, Adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Andriy Yermak, said: "The very fact that the Normandy format has resumed work is already a very positive signal… a kind of audit of the implementation of both the Minsk agreements and the agreements of the leaders of the Normandy format from 2019."

On the same day, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Dmitry Kozak said: "We had a tough conversation, but maybe, the first straightforward conversation, in order to take inventory of all the problems connected to the implementation of the Minsk agreements."

What is the background?
First, failure of dialogues so far on Ukraine. To address the Ukraine crisis, a series of dialogues have taken place in January, including the following: US-Russia talks, NATO-Russia Council (NRC) meet, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) special plenary meeting and the recent Geneva talks held again between the US and Russia. All these discussions have failed to defuse the Ukraine crisis. 

Second, Europe, Russia and the Normandy format. France and Germany's renewed attempts to negotiate with Russia under the Normandy format show their tactical approach. It has not only given a place for Ukraine to represent its views but has allowed Russia to be the host of the meeting and listen to its demands without the intrusion of any other powers. Although Russia did not follow both Minsk agreements in real-time, the previous talks held in 2014 and 2015reduced the intensity of the conflict.

Third, the Minsk Protocol and Ukraine. The protocol aimed to achieve three key objectives: Establishing peace in eastern Ukraine; achieving Ukraine autonomy, and ceasefire and withdrawal of weapons. None of the objectives was achieved; the Donbas region is still under the occupation of the Russian separatists. The only significant difference since 2014 is the support of the NATO military, which has strengthened Ukraine to have a stronger defense against Russia.

Fourth, Russia's acceptance of the Normandy format. Moscow views it as a favouring set-up due to various factors. Until now, the talks held by various parties from the US, NATO, and OSCE show no promise to Russia's demands, the Normandy format serves as a better possibility to get what it wants and escape sanctions. Even if the talks fail to address the demands of Russia, it can go back to doing what it was doing before, similar to how it reacted to the Minsk agreements. It can use the Nord Stream 2 as a trump card with Germany, which is stifling in the energy crisis. It is a no-loss situation. 

What does this mean?
First, Europe is aware of Russia's stubborn stance on Ukraine, and Moscow never liking the West, especially the US. Therefore, letting the US be the prime mediator of the Ukraine crisis may be considered a bad option. For which Europe sees itself as an imminent player in de-escalating the tensions.

Second, Russia still opting for a diplomatic path to resolve the tensions with Ukraine shows the emphasis on diplomacy. It has made the US withdraw its military support from Ukraine and sees the talks with Europe as a scope to satisfy its demands.