Report on RT.com, Oct 2, 2015 (with accompanying video news report at weblink and further recommending reading below)
The ceasefire in Ukraine has been widely respected and the security situation has improved, French President Francois Hollande said after a meeting of the ‘Normandy Four’ countries today in Berlin. However, the Minsk peace accords are unlikely to be fully implemented by the end of the year.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Presidents Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko had moved closer to one another during the talks. Footage released prior to the meeting showed the Russian and Ukrainian leaders shaking hands.
Hollande and Merkel agreed that the talks, which lasted almost five hours, concluded with a positive outlook. The four leaders managed to reconcile issues concerning the withdrawal of heavy weapons in Eastern Ukraine, Merkel said. “There is hope for progress. We are narrowing the gap between us,” she said after the Normandy Four meeting.
Friday’s talks in Paris were aimed at assessing the progress of the Minsk peace agreements reached by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France during the previous summit in Minsk, Belarus on February 11-12, 2015.
Merkel said that while progress is visible at every point, no individual stage is close to completion. Hollande also remarked that the final implementation of the peace accords is unlikely to ne in place by the end of the year as was originally planned.
As for local elections to take place in eastern Ukraine, Hollande noted they should take place no later than 80 days after Kiev passes an electoral law [see ‘Read also’ further below]. However, he added that the election in the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic scheduled for October 18 cannot go ahead [sic].
“It’s therefore likely, even certain now, that since we [sic] need three months to organise elections, we would go beyond the date that was set for the end of Minsk, that is to say Dec.31, 2015,” he told a news conference.
Hollande also stressed that humanitarian organizations should be provided with better access to the war-torn regions and the number of crossing points for them should be extended. He added that the prisoner swap procedures should also be sped up. The next Normandy Four meeting of foreign ministers will take place in November.
The previous Normandy Four meeting was held at ministerial level in mid-September, where the sides agreed to step up talks between Kiev and the rebels in Ukraine’s east before winter sets in.
“We expressed satisfaction that the ceasefire is being observed more or less. Separate cases of violation are taking place, but in general we have a positive assessment of what is happening,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Berlin on September 13 after that meeting.
“It has not become easier, but I would like to inform you that the talks were far less confrontational than they were last time,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at that time.
Minsk peace accords: Successes and controversies
The Normandy Four summit meeting held in Minsk on February 11 was then taken to the ministerial level. Marathon talks that followed were difficult and lasted for more than 16 hours, ending well after midnight.
The sides, however, managed to seal a peace deal, which was later called a roadmap towards a solution that would stabilize the situation in the region.
The peace deal called the ‘Minsk-2 Agreements’ envisaged a ceasefire beginning February 15, withdrawal of heavy weapons, prisoner swaps and constitutional changes that should have been implemented in direct dialogue between Kiev and the self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukrainian. Special status for the regions and decentralization of powers were part of the agreement.
However, a lasting truce was only reached in late August. Kiev and the Donetsk and Lugansk republics have maintained an armistice since September 1, however, both sides still occasionally accuse each other of violations.
The withdrawal of heavy weapons from the demarcation line between the two warring sides was also implemented in September. On September 29, the ‘contact group’ of Minsk-2 reached an agreement for withdrawal of arms with calibers of less than 100mm.
Several prisoner swaps have taken place. Nevertheless, a political solution still remains elusive. Both sides say they are implementing the Minsk-2 accords, but the peace process still lacks direct dialogue between Kiev and the eastern regions of the country.
Constitutional reform introduced several months ago by Kiev rules out special status for eastern Ukraine and suggests instead only “special local governance procedures for the Lugansk and Donetsk regions,” as President Poroshenko told Ukrainian TV Channel 5 in an interview on September 7.
Speaking about the reform of the constitution in the same interview, Poroshenko once again emphasized the amendments he proposed would remove Article 92 of the Constitution, which gives “special status” to individual cities. He said “there would be no special statuses, no parades of sovereignties” in Ukraine.
Moscow continues to insist on the importance of direct dialogue between Kiev and the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.
Ukraine agrees to joint heavy weapons pullback in agreement with Donbas rebels, Wall St. Journal, Sept 28, 2015
Decentralization reform in Ukraine, by Halyna Mokrushyna, New Cold War.org, August 28, 2015
Note by New Cold War.org:
 While there have been prisoner exchanges since Minsk-2 was signed, the ‘all for all’ exchange envisioned by the agreement has not been implemented due to stalling by Kyiv. In addition, human rights organizations in Ukraine have urged the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics to include in any arrangements over prisoner exchanges with Kyiv that the estimated 1,200 political prisoners presently detained by Kyiv be included. Report here.