German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier convenes four-party talks in Berlin on Minsk Protocol, as Russia intensifies invasion of the Donbas

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier plans to meet with the foreign ministers of Russia, France and Ukraine in Berlin on Monday to see if progress can be made on implementing the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014. He does so immediately following strong comments by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that sanctions against Russia will not be lifted untul major progress is made on implementation of all 12 points in the Minsk Protocol.

One of those points calls for withdrawal of Russian forces and equipment from the eastern Ukraine.

Another calls for restoration of Ukrainian control of the border.

In the meantime, Russia has sent another so-called ‘humanitarian” convoy into the Donbas–bypassing any border, OSCE or IRC control or verification of the contents, while OSCE observers report that Russia has just sent another 300 “little green men” (Russian special forces) into the Donbas. There are also reports of new Russian armor moving into the Donbas.

So, there you have it. Merkel attempts to stake out a strong position upholding sanctions against Russia until the Minsk Protocol is implemented. (Did someone forget to mention the illegally conquered Russian-occupied piece of the Ukraine known as the Crimea?)

The next day, Steinmeier announces a meeting with the foreign ministers of Russia, France and the Ukraine to seek to make progress on implementation of the Minsk Protocol, so Francois Hollande of France, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Angela Merkel of Germany and Petro Poroshenko of the Ukraine can meet to negotiate the same subject. The latter  talks were originally scheduled for January 15 in Astana, Kazakhstan, but have become uncertain since Merkel said she would not attend unless real results were to be achieved.

The talks in Berlin on Monday are an apparent effort to guarantee sufficient results so that the summit may be held.

The problem is that the Germans should not be meeting with the Russians while they are intensifying their invasion of the Donbas, a point which Merkel seems to grasp. With France–which is calling for a lifting of sanctions–at the table, it is hard to see how anyone but Vladimir Putin could benefit from these diplomatic discussions, whether in Berlin or Astana. His goal is to sow dissension among the Europeans, and to block renewal of the sanctions in March.

Steinmeier speaks as if it is the foreign ministers who have to overcome the obstacles to full implementation of the Minsk Protocol. But it is Putin who has created the obstacles, and who alone can remove them. It not not a collective effort, as Steinmeier seems to believe.

The European Union and the U.S. have imposed sanctions against Russia….They have also called on the Kremlin to implement the Minsk peace agreement between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels signed in September.

That includes the withdrawal of Russian heavy weaponry from eastern Ukraine, an effective border supervised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the freeing of prisoners by rebel groups.

“Minsk must remain the compass for any further steps. But it’s a long and rocky road towards a complete implementation of the Minsk agreement,” Mr. Steinmeier said. “We want to undertake a fresh attempt to get the obstacles out of the way. It would be wrong not to try it.”

–Nick Shchetko (Kiev) and Andrea Thomas (Berlin),”Fighting Flares Up in Eastern Ukraine; Six Government Soldiers and Two Civilians Killed in Renewed Violence Ahead of Peace Talks,” Wall Street Journal, Updated Jan. 9, 2015 12:00 p.m. ET.

We are in a realm in which the only communication that counts is through actions, not words The foreign ministers of the four countries don’t need to travel to Berlin to tell Putin he must stop intensifying his invasion of the Donbas before any further talks are possible. Instead of a summit with Putin in Astana, Merkel and Poroshenko should hold a summit with Hollande to bolster his resolve to uphold the sanctions in March.

The Minsk Protocol has already been negotiated. It is foolish in the extreme to entertain the possibility of renegotiating the points it covers. It is simply time for Putin to comply with its provisions.

See “Full text of Minsk Protocol on Ceasefire in Ukraine (September 5, 2014)” The Trenchant Observer, September 7, 2014.

Once that has been done, if Putin wants the sanctions to be lifted, we can address the issue of the Crimea, and what can be done about it.

The Trenchant Observer

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The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.