The main result of the Berlin ministerial meeting was the announcement of a delay in setting a date for the Astana heads of state summit. The next meeting of the four ministers may be held between January 19th and 25th, conditional on progress in working-level talks on the Ukrainian crisis settlement and the increased prospect of the parties adhering to the Minsk agreement. A contact group on its implementation is expected to work on the problem in the coming days. Difficulties in setting up a preparatory meeting “coincided” with increased military activities of the pro-Russian separatists in Donbas.
What should we make of these developments? It seems that Russia is raising the stakes, hoping that the drastic economic and financial situation of Ukraine will force it into concessions. In addition to the deteriorating situation on the frontline, Russia has hinted that it may demand an early return of 3 billion USD provided to the Yanukovich regime a year ago. Evidently, Russia has shifted its efforts on the economic front in an attempt to make the Ukrainian leadership give up on plans of Euro-Atlantic integration. Thus, economic and financial support to Ukraine, starting with assistance for radical economic reforms, is crucial both for internal stability and countering the external threat. Unfortunately, delays on agreed aid, including from the IMF, creates new possibilities for Russia.
All of these recent events paint a wider picture of a broken international system. Although Crimea is temporarily off the agenda for the Minsk talks, it features in the calculations of the parties involved, especially the Russians. The European security architecture is in ruins, as a breach of the Helsinki principle of the inviolability of borders has now opened up a Pandora’s Box.
The evolution of the situation towards a “frozen conflict” presents clear evidence that Russia wants to use the crisis in eastern Ukraine as a bargaining chip in a larger geopolitical debate with the West; as well as an instrument of pressure on Ukraine. Although the existing negotiating format is useful, US participation might prove necessary for a breakthrough.
An alternative to talks is an escalation of the fighting, possible destabilization of the situation in the entire region, further human losses as well as a risk to global stability. That is why it is necessary for the talks to continue.
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.