In accordance with instructions of the Russian, German, French and Ukrainian leaders, we held long and serious Normandy format talks at the level of foreign ministers. This meeting was agreed upon during a telephone conversation between the four leaders on September 9. We were instructed to primarily concentrate on the compliance with the Minsk agreements, particularly political regulatory aspects, such as constitutional reform, Donbass’ special status and local elections. We also touched upon other aspects of the Minsk agreements that are the subject of talks and agreement as part of the Contact Group and four subgroups, which were specially created to this end. First and foremost we expressed our satisfaction that the ceasefire regime is more or less observed. There are individual incidents of this regime’s violations but, in general, our assessment of what is going on is quite positive. It is in line with the assessment that was expressed during a telephone conversation between the leaders of Russia, France, Germany, and Ukraine. A draft agreement on the withdrawal of weapons of a calibre under 100mm is being discussed by the Contact Group’s subgroup on security issues in Minsk. In his report, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission Ertugrul Apakan confirmed that the draft agreement is 90-percent ready. There are some details left to be agreed upon, but as always, “the devil is in the details.” Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister of Germany, the meeting’s host country, already said that we had called for an early agreeing and signing the document on all details concerning the withdrawal of weapons under 100mm calibre as part of the working subgroup on security. This allows for close monitoring by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. We hope the remaining issues will be agreed upon during an upcoming meeting of the subgroup on security issues to be held in Minsk on September 15-16. The second topic of our discussion that we have agreed upon is overcoming various inconsistencies in the Minsk agreements, which arose during the work of the subgroup on political issues and concerned the modality of holding local elections in the proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR). We welcomed the efforts by Pierre Morel, the coordinator of the working subgroup on political issues. He offered solutions that only partially satisfy both the Ukrainian government and the representatives of the proclaimed DPR and LPR; generally, though, Russia, France and Germany believe that these inconsistencies can be overcome. We advocate for the corresponding working subgroup to promptly hold further consultations based on the ideas that were expressed by the Pierre Morel, so this issue can be resolved no later than October 2 (a summit of the Normandy four was scheduled on this date). We agreed on specific recommendations, that the Normandy four minister can submit to the Russian, French, and Ukrainian presidents and the German chancellor. We discussed humanitarian issues. We are deeply concerned that there are still obstacles preventing the delivery of the necessary goods and services across the contact line. We urged the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission that it should focus more on the contact line situation, so that the essential items could be delivered to Donbass without impediment. Our colleagues and us focused on water supply in Donbass. Recently, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission issued a report on this issue. A situation is developing, which the OSCE qualifies as a violation of international humanitarian law. It demands to provide unfettered access to fresh water for civilians in non-international conflict zones. We also considered positive steps in the work of the subgroup on economic issues. There is progress in terms of dealing with coal supplies from Donbass to the rest of Ukraine. There are also other specific projects taking shape that are designed to restore the supply of water and other infrastructure that is necessary to ensure the normal life (or, at least, close to normal life) for those in the DPR and LPR. My impression of today’s talks is rather positive. We again underscored the key condition of success for implementing the Minsk agreements, which is establishing a direct dialogue between Kiev and the representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk. This is stipulated in the Minsk agreements and must be strictly observed. We thoroughly considered the full spectrum of political issues. There were some arguments regarding the sequence of steps regarding the constitutional reform, the necessary actions by the Kiev authorities to ensure the standing special status of Donbass; our arguments, we believe, were heard. Today an important step was taken to prepare for the Normandy four summit, which is set to take place in Paris on October 2. For this, we are willing to stay in touch and to do everything in order to ensure that the decisions made at the summit will make the implementation of the Minsk agreements obligatory and allow for no deviations whatsoever from these important documents. Question: Did you discuss the possibility to extend the Minsk agreements? Sergey Lavrov: We touched upon this issue. We are proceeding from the fact that the most important thing is to preserve a firm balance secured in the Minsk documents, approved and signed on February 12; all the more so, as the package of the Minsk agreements was approved by a UN Security Council resolution. I believe that this is an issue that will still be discussed. The essence of agreements — rather than some artificial deadlines — is important to us. They, first and foremost, depend on the effectiveness of a direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. Questions: What are your impressions from the talks? Sergey Lavrov: Positive, overall. I already said that the atmosphere was good. We don’t see eye to eye on all issues, but we have a strict criterion – the text of the Minsk agreements approved by the leaders of our respective states, signed by the representatives of Kiev and Donetsk and Lugansk, and signed off by the representatives of Russia and the OSCE. I think this is the beacon that should guide us. The most important thing is to stay the course.
Berlin, September 12, 2015