Ukraine summit on October 2 with Putin in Paris: Remember who you are talking to

See Benoît Vitkine, “Un sommet sur l’Ukraine à Paris dans l’ombre de la Syrie, Le Monde, le 1 Octobre 2015 (à 10h53 – Mis à jour le 01.10.2015 à 16h16).

On Friday, October 2, Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel and Petro Poroshenko will meet with Vladimir Putin in Paris in what has come to be known as the “Normandy format” (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia). Somehow, without supervision or formal coordination, Hollande and Merkel have come to speak for all of Europe and NATO in seeking to secure implementation of the Minsk I and Minsk II protocols, signed on September 5, 1914 and February 12, 2015, respectively.

The Minsk Protocol was originally entered into on September 5, 2014 in an obvious attempt by Putin to avoid the imposition of third-stage or sectoral sanctions by the EU. His effort failed in terms of achieving that immediate objective, but has succeeded in deterring EU members from adopting even further sanctions against Russia in response to its ongoing violations of the ceasefire and other provisions of the Minsk II agreement.

On the ground, Russia has continued its military invasion of the eastern Ukraine which is now ruled by Putin’s puppets, who are entirely dependent on Russian financial, military and other support.

Over 8,000 people have been killed since Russia began its invasion of the Donbas in April, 2014.

Putin has now ordered his puppets in Donetsk and Luhansk to observe a truce agreed upon on September 1, 2015. For the first time since the original Minsk Protocol a year ago, the truce has generally held.

Building on this “success”, France and Germany, in particular, seek in Paris to make further progress in implementing the other provisions of Minsk II. French President François Hollande has now called for a lifting of the EU sanctions against Russia, while CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner, the SPD, has through its leader in the Bundestag, Sigmar Gabriel, made an outspoken appeal for such action.

Putin’s goal is clearly to achieve a lifting of the EU sanctions when they come up for renewal in January, 2016. Merkel, for her part, is under pressure from the SPD to lift the sanctions, while at the same time she is under strong pressure from the leader of her CSU partner, CSU Chairman and Bavarian Minister-President Horst Seehofer, who has sharply criticized her policy on refugees and other migrants.

Notably, she had strong praise for Gerhard Schroeder at a recent ceremony launching a new biography of the former SPD Chancellor, who happens to be Putin’s business partner, friend, and chief apologist in Germany.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, for his part, is seeking to maintain strong EU financial and political support for the Ukraine, while opposing any easing of the sanctions. His ultimate goal is EU membership for his country. Concessions to the “separatists” evoke strong opposition at home.

The summit therefore includes two parties, Russia and France, who are openly calling for a lifting of the sanctions against Russia, and a third led by Angela Merkel whose political future may hang in the balance. Seehofer could oppose her in the selection process for the candidate of the CDU/CSU alliance in the next elections, whereas if she lost CSU support in congress she might need to rely on the SPD to remain in office.

Into this mix the perfidious Mr. Putin will enter with the goal of allowing just enough Minsk II progress to give those in the EU who favor a lifting of sanctions sufficient ammunition to achieve their goal.

He can make some “concessions” to implementing the other provisions of Minsk II, while ensuring that the provisions that call for a withdrawal of all foreign forces and restoration of control of the border to the Ukraine by December 31, 2015, are subjected to new conditions whose fulfillment he controls.

Paris and Berlin may have already paved the way for such concessions. Vitkine reports,

La solution de compromis élaborée par Paris et Berlin prévoit que le scrutin pourra se tenir dans les territoires séparatistes à une date différente du reste de l’Ukraine, mais bien en conformité avec le droit ukrainien, et sous la supervision de l’Organisation pour la sécurité et la coopération en Europe (OSCE). Pour convaincre les séparatistes d’accepter ce compromis, Paris et Berlin ont obtenu une concession de Kiev : que deux autres points très sensibles de cette feuille de route de Minsk – le retour du contrôle ukrainien sur la frontière russo-ukrainienne et le retrait des groupes armés de la région – n’interviennent qu’en toute fin de processus.

In the end, Putin will be negotiating for a Minsk III agreement which changes the terms of Minsk II (as Minsk II changed the terms of Minsk I), so that he will remain in control of the eastern Ukraine, with his soldiers and other forces staying in place in the Donbas while the border with Russia remains open.

We should keep a very watchful eye on what is being negotiated in Paris. Putin, if successful, will have solidified the “frozen conflict” in the Ukraine, retaining the levers of control, while the EU sanctions are lifted (with a parallel lifting of sanctions by the U.S. likely to follow).

Putin is a master chess player. While all attention is now on the Russian military intervention in Syria, the biggest game–which involves upholding international law and the U.N. Charter, and the freedom of the Ukraine to eventually join the European Union–will be playing out in Paris on Friday, and in the corridors of power in Europe where pacifism and appeasement toward Putin and Russia appear to be ascendant once again.

Europeans and Americans, and particularly the French and Germans, need to bear in mind who Putin is, what Russia’s policies of unbridled nationalism and military aggression have wrought and portend, and the fundamental threat that Putin and Russia pose to the existing international political and legal order, not only in Europe but throughout the world.

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