By Bohdan Nahaylo

March 30, 2021

Kyiv Post

I’m appalled to learn that Germany and France have, according to Moscow, chosen to speak directly to Vladimir Putin’s Russia over the heads of, and without, Ukraine.

Whatever their intention, and however scrupulously packaged as another well-meaning effort, it has already drawn a virtual protest response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

And this comes shortly after Berlin and Paris reportedly prepared a “peace plan,” without Ukraine, and submitted it to Moscow. Is this because they are fed up with the long-standing impasse and their failure to make a difference?

Because of their evident unseemly impotence, or perhaps lack of drive, to impact on the dismal state of affairs? Or, perhaps, because the new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden is potentially poised to play a more active role in this sphere? Not to mention the post-Brexit U.K., or even the European Union inspired by the “re-setting” of relations with Washington, and their deterioration with Moscow.

The Kremlin initially pretended it knew nothing about the German-French “initiative,” but Kyiv has in recent days confirmed its existence without revealing the contents. This has forced the Kremlin to find ways to respond.

We’ve already had embarrassing unilateral “initiatives” from Ukraine’s “partners” in the Normandy Four peace process. The notorious Frank-Walter Steinmeier plan proposed by Germany’s president in 2016 which caused such a negative stir in Ukraine sticks in the mind.

This time, presumably, Moscow, which has been behind the recent abandonment by its proxies of the ceasefire in the Donbas, has been caught flat-footed by the German-French diplomatic ploy. It is now probably attempting to save face by suggesting it can deal directly with Berlin and Paris without Kyiv.

This new move by Berlin and Paris is hardly an example of textbook diplomacy. Once again it alludes to a certain arrogance and aloofness devoid of tact and credibility as to the motives. Berlin and Paris want to look good, but are not prepared as the English say, “to put their money where their mouth is.”

Therefore, it is time to be blunt and express an opinion or two which may or may not be to everyone’s liking.  As a columnist, allow me to present them in the form of conclusions and messages from frustrated Ukrainians and informed and concerned sympathetic friends from outside their country.

Perhaps, for various reasons, the Ukrainian president’s administration, or the country’s foreign ministry, will still not say this outright – diplomacy dictates – but let me convey what is generally felt within and beyond Ukraine. It’s time to say: Okay, enough is enough. Thank you, Germany, and France for all your proclaimed efforts. Yes, the Normandy Four format process initially may have looked grand on the surface, but at the end of the day has failed to deliver. It has amounted to an empty application of the smoke and mirrors technique where appearances are supposed to compensate for substance.

On reviewing the record of the last seven years, it seems Berlin and Paris have put their own national, read business, interests before those of the issue at hand.  Securing peace in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is the aggressor and the impediment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and Ukraine the victim, with its soldiers and citizens again continuing to die each day as a result, has not been a priority.  So, time to call a spade a spade and look reality in the eye.

Dear German and French politicians and diplomats, you have facilitated and participated in talks and presented yourselves as peacemakers.  But, in reality, while joining other states in condemning and applying sanctions because of Putin’s aggression – for which we are grateful – you have in effect gone along with his manipulation of the situation and, in effect,  accepted his terms for any movement forward.

You know very well that the Minsk accords of 2014-15 were imposed on Ukraine by Russia at moments of weakness because of the latter’s military predominance. Yet, you went along with them and continue to insist that their unworkable terms remain sacrosanct.

You are aware that they are designed to block progress. The capitulation of Ukraine is Putin’s precondition for “peace” in eastern Ukraine on his terms. And these include decoupling the issue of Russia’s aggression in Crimea with its military actions and occupation of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

You have put your own interests first in dealing with Moscow and ending the Russian-Ukrainian war has never been a priority for you. Certainly not something that you would be prepared to jeopardize your own relations with Putin over.

And Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, backed since February in this regard by France’s President Emanuel Macron, has continued, despite the opposition of most of Europe, the US, and of course, Ukraine, to persist with the notorious Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.

You are prepared to risk Europe’s security and make a mockery of its professed values, for appeasing an autocratic tyrant who makes no secret of wanting to destroy European-style democracy and what you profess to champion.

You could have at least used the Nord Stream 2 issue as a lever in your “negotiations” with the Kremlin’s emperor for whom your energy markets and your benevolent passivity are so important. Yes, as I mentioned, we are grateful to you for supporting the continuing sanctions against Russia for its occupation of Crimea and seizure of part of eastern Ukraine, and going through the motions of the Normandy Four “peace process.”

But today we have to acknowledge what has been increasingly apparent. This is more of a show of concern than an actual commitment to facilitate ending the conflict between Russia and Ukraine – in fact between Russia and the West – as soon as possible.

Okay, we accept you have other national interests that take precedence, and that maintaining productive working business relations with Russia is one of them.

So then, respect Ukraine’s SOS call during the last month for others to step in and help where you have not been prepared to apply your full weight – the US, the UK, the EU, Poland, Lithuania, and perhaps others.

We remember that before the Normandy Four format materialized in July 2014, the first international talks addressing Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine were held in Geneva in April 2014 with the participation of Ukraine, Russia, the US and the European Union.

It is time that we reviewed this arrangement and, with all due respect and gratitude to Berlin and Paris, request them to make their contribution through a more effective, and certainly, non-exclusionist, calibrated joint international approach.

And here, it is not for Moscow to have the final say unless it wants to confirm that it is both responsible for the conflict in question and opposed to a peaceful resolution.

Russia will in any case continue to rely on China, with which it is currently openly forging a strategic partnership, to continue backing it in the United Nations Security Council and elsewhere. And others to block the investigation of its military role and human rights record.

Washington, London, and others – it’s time to step in. And Kyiv, following on from your bold Crimean Platform strategy, do not make the tactical mistake of allowing Moscow to get away with depicting the issue of Crimea as unrelated to that of its military intervention in eastern Ukraine.

In short, it is time for all to think outside the stifling Normandy Four box and recognize that a more effective and comprehensive international effort is required to press Russia to act responsibly as a member of the international community. Or at least deter it from continuing to act as a bully and troublemaker.