None of the tasks set by leaders of the Normandy Quartet (Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France) in Paris last week was solved during the first Contact Group meeting after the summit, analysts said.
Analysts described the Paris agreements as a restart of the peace process. Contact Group negotiators, who met in Minsk on Wednesday, were expected to achieve progress on implementation of decisions approved in Paris, in particular on a prisoner swap upon the ‘all identified for all identified’ principle by the end of 2019, to set the timeframe of a new ceasefire and to designate areas for the pullback of troops. But the talks stretched on late and produced no expected result, TASS reports.
"After the summit of Normandy Four, Kiev’s representatives came to Minsk unprepared to implement commitments undertaken in Paris. A cavalry charge, without implementing commitments, did not work. Nobody was scared. Everyone insists on definite guarantees and obligations. Time is against Kiev," the envoy of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) to the political subgroup, Rodion Miroshnik, said.
Among the urgent steps the Normandy Quartet said should be addressed urgently and completed by the end of the month is a prisoner swap under the ‘all identified for all identified’ formula. After the talks in Paris, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky vowed that the swap would take place on December 24, or by the end of the month.
"Regretfully, today’s session of the humanitarian subgroup failed to reach agreements on the prisoner swap due to the absence in Kiev of the mechanism of clearance procedures for the people to be swapped," self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic envoy to the humanitarian subgroup of the Contact Group Olga Kobtseva said after the talks in Minsk.
The Contact Group on eastern Ukrainian settlement reiterated that all the detained persons, designated for a prisoner swap, need to be cleared of all charges, Russia’s envoy to the Minsk talks, Boris Gryzlov, said. "It was noted that many people handed over by Kiev during previous rounds of exchanges, did not receive their identity papers and documents that prove they are not prosecuted in any way," the Russian diplomat added. In this regard, Gryzlov called upon the Kiev government to fulfill the existing agreements regarding the so-called judicial clearance of all individuals who are to be swapped.
Self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) envoy to the humanitarian subgroup, Darya Morozova, said Ukrainian representatives once again insisted on exchanging prisoners in several stages. According to Ukrainian media, Kiev suggested swapping "all convicted for all convicted" instead of the "all identified for all identified" formula sealed in Paris.
Kiev’s envoy Leonid Kuchma and Ukrainian presidential adviser Ruslan Demchenko insisted on excluding 11 people from the list, including several former members of the Berkut special-purpose police unit. The self-proclaimed republics refused, and the sides decided to take a pause.
"There are disagreements regarding the number of people. No final numbers are available so far, because Kiev has not yet carried out the verification procedure. All people must be verified," Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Foreign Minister Natalya Nikonorova said, adding that Donbass negotiators were still trying to reach an agreement with Kiev. "As far as the prisoner swap is concerned, we agreed to speed up our actions, agreed to communicate via a video linkup. We also plan to exchange electronic documents and to eventually try and coordinate all those mechanisms and decisions," she said.
Difficult negotiations on prisoner swap prevented the sides from discussing the opening of new checkpoints on the line of contact. "We simply did not have the time," LPR envoy Vladislav Deinego said.
Meanwhile, Lugansk People’s Republic envoy to the humanitarian subgroup of the Contact Group Olga Kobtseva said constructive dialogue on the opening of additional checkpoints between Ukraine and the LPR had also failed.
"It can be stated that today Ukraine de-facto disrupted agreements on two decisions made during the Normandy meeting," she said.
The issue of opening additional checkpoints in eastern Ukraine was raised by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said after the Paris summit that the talks focused on "large projects and humanitarian issues," but one also should not forget about "ordinary people who live there." "Our agreements are supposed to facilitate the improvement of their living conditions now, not at some point in the future," Putin added.
Eventually, the Normandy Quartet tasked the Contact Group with reaching an agreement on additional checkpoints within 30 days.
Another Normandy Quartet summit task, reflected in the final document, was to prepare and carry out disengagement of personnel and equipment in three new areas by the end of March 2020.
Ahead of the talks, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadim Pristayko said Kiev was preparing several alternative proposals for disengagement of forces in new areas of the contact line in Donbass.
However, according to DPR Foreign Minister Natalya Nikanorova, Kiev failed to present its proposals on new disengagement areas in Minsk. "There were proposals on our part, but no proposals voiced by the Ukrainian side," she told reporters after the talks.
Russia’s envoy to the Contact Group on eastern Ukrainian settlement, Boris Gryzlov, said "the three new disengagement areas should be viewed only as one of stages [of the process], as a step towards full disengagement of personnel and equipment." "At the same time, the Kiev delegation once again refuses to discuss the matter of disengagement of forces and personnel along the entire line of contact," he added.
No practical proposals were also voiced with regard to the "comprehensive ceasefire agreement," which, in line with the Paris summit decisions should be announced by the end of the year.
The Kiev delegation suggested declaring a new, ‘winter’ ceasefire. However, DPR and LPR said the previous ceasefire was agreed as having indefinite duration and was reinforced with a package of additional control measures. Those measures include obligatory investigation into all cases of violation and penalties for those guilty.
According to DPR, a total of 22 civilians were injured, 28 dwelling houses were destroyed and 307 damaged as a result of Kiev’s shelling since the current ceasefire came into force on July 21.
"None of those incidents was properly investigated by the Ukrainian side, those guilty were not found and punished," Nikonorova said.
"What really matters is not the name of the new ceasefire or its timeline… but strict observation of truce and additional measures of support and control, which the sides have earlier accepted as being of unlimited duration and which no one has declared null and void," she said. "That is why the republics suggested that the Contact Group declared its commitment to full and comprehensive implementation of ceasefire."
New OSCE envoy
The talks in Minsk were attended by Heidi Grau, who will replace Martin Sajdik as Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group in 2020.
"We welcome Ms. Grau and wish her success in our future joint work," the Russian envoy to the talks said. "I would like to thank Mr. Sajdik for his contribution to implementation of the Minsk process, for his participation in efforts to reach consent on very difficult matters, whose solution helped to save the lives of many people and prevent the situation in Donbass from deteriorating."
He described Sajdik’s work as "important, positive examples and lessons for colleagues, for new generations of European diplomats."
Gryzlov said the next Contact Group meeting will be held next year and wished "for the new year to be peaceful, to become the year when the Minsk agreements are implemented and the conflict is solved."
"The Russian delegation to the Contact Group will do its best to achieve these goals," he added.
The next Contact Group meeting is scheduled to take place on January 16.