The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France met in Berlin this week to discuss a “road map” for implementing their beleaguered peace plan in eastern Ukraine. FT reports:
Ms Merkel said the main progress at the meeting was to agree on a road map — to be completed by foreign ministers in November — that would contain sequencing details not in the original Minsk accord.
The agreement follows months of argument between Kiev and Moscow about the timing of key measures, with Mr Poroshenko saying a full ceasefire must come before Ukraine can implement promised political reforms involving decentralising power to its regions, and Mr Putin accusing Kiev of delaying the reforms.
The parties also agreed that armed monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe could be deployed, although the timing of such a move was left unclear. Mr Putin said the OSCE could “broaden its mission”.
Despite talk of a road map, no concrete details were agreed on timing. Even those involved could hardly describe the results as a breakthrough: “Today, too, has worked no wonders,” said Angela Merkel.
An agreement to deploy armed OSCE monitors could theoretically make a difference on the ground. Currently, OSCE monitors in Ukraine are unarmed and largely ineffectual. But the organization’s consensus-based structure means that any expansion of the mission would be subject to Moscow’s approval. Russia has wielded that influence in the past to ensure that the OSCE mission can only monitor two checkpoints on the long Ukraine-Russia border. There have also been allegations that some Russian OSCE monitors work for Russian intelligence and have passed information to the separatists.
In other words, Putin still holds the cards here. Any expansion of the OSCE mission, including the deployment of armed forces, will happen on terms acceptable to Russia. The same goes for the road map on implementing the peace.
Meanwhile, at an EU summit in Brussels today, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to demand a statement from EU leadership that the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement will not set Ukraine on a path to EU membership. The agreement is unpopular in the Netherlands, where voters rejected it in an April referendum, and Rutte is exploring several options to respond to public concerns, including a potential “opt-out” of the pact’s military provisions.
Unfortunately, the Dutch wavering only proves how short-sighted European policy toward Ukraine has been. As we wrote in 2013, the Europeans got in over their head, misunderstanding the implications of the Association Agreement and underestimating Putin’s resolve to block it. Fundamentally, Ukraine matters to Russia more than it does to the EU. Putin knows this, and he has exploited every tool in the book, including annexation and invasion, to block Ukraine from joining Europe. Bureaucrats in Brussels will never be able to match his tactics. The latest peace talks have shown that Europe lacks leverage in Ukraine, while the Dutch dissent has only revealed how feeble Europe’s commitment really is.