there might be a diplomatic way out of Ukraine’s Donbas crisis. After the recent Normandy format talks between Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany in Berlin, all sides emphasized that, despite the lack of a breakthrough, discussions will continue.

Nobody should expect a quick or easy solution to the continuing impasse – but even the most difficult and protracted negotiations are preferable to the spectre of further armed conflict.

The recent flurry of high-level meetings and subsequent press conferences gives a good flavour of the sides’ positions and concerns. Thus Vladimir Putin insisted, at the press conference following his February 7 meeting with Emmanuel Macron, that “there is simply no alternative” to the Minsk II accords of February 2015, which attempted to bring an end to hostilities in the Donbas region of east Ukraine.

That Putin would take this stance is not surprising. But what is worrying from a Ukrainian perspective, is Macron’s acknowledgement that “the Minsk agreements are the only foundation” for a “political solution to the Ukrainian issue.” The Minsk agreements have, over seven years, failed to bring peace to the Donbas.

Perhaps even more disconcerting for Kyiv is that Macron assured Putin that France and Germany would “continue working … to ensure full compliance with the Minsk agreements and to achieve a complete settlement of the conflict in Donbas.”

A few days before the meeting between Macron and Putin, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, gave an interview to the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita in which he stated unambiguously that “there will be no special status, as Russia imagines, there will be no veto power” for any region over national policies. While this was widely reported, Kuleba in the same answer also pointed out that Ukraine was already “carrying out a very deep decentralization reform, and (was) ready to work on the implementation of the Minsk agreements.”

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One issue, therefore, involves the obvious disagreements over what the Minsk agreements actually require — from whom and in what order. The terms of the agreement specify that a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons will be monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

This will be followed by dialogue on local elections and by Ukrainian legislation “on interim self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.” There will also be an

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