A few days before the G7 summit to be held in Biarritz from 24 to 26 August 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron is meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Brégançon, in the South of France, on 19 August. The two leaders are expected to address key issues such as the war in Ukraine, which in 2014 led to Russia’s exclusion from the G8.
A ” Frozen Conflict “
Since the beginning of the conflict five years ago, the Donbass War has claimed more than 10,000 lives, figures that have been reported by several sources but are difficult to confirm. Despite a final ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk in February 2015, clashes between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army in the east of the country still persist.
“We are in a situation where we continue to have a certain number of deaths on a regular basis,” says Florent Parmentier, professor at Sciences Po, a French famous school, and researcher at HEC. This statement echoes the four soldiers killed on August 6 during a new attack between separatists and Ukrainians.
This was confirmed by Loup Bureau, a documentary filmmaker who has been visiting the Donbass regularly for three years and who films the fighting on the Ukrainian side: “The resources deployed in this conflict are enormous. When there are one or two deaths, it means that the fighting has been very violent. That is why it is misleading to talk about a frozen conflict.
Hope of Peace ?
Florent Parmentier has observed a radical change in Ukrainian politics since the election of the new President Volodymyr Zelensky on 21 April 2019. “His position is quite different from that of Petro Poroshenko (former Ukrainian President). Volodymyr Zelensky really considers a perspective of peace in the Donbass.
Loup Bureau is not so optimistic, “Zelensky called Putin several times for peace agreements, a de-escalation zone has been set up where the two armies have withdrawn, but it remains anecdotal in relation to the front zone. »
Opinions also differ on the spot. “Ukrainians are divided between reaching peace agreements to end this war, which has been going on for more than 5 years and has claimed many victims, and others want the Ukrainian army to launch an offensive to reclaim Russian territories, but for that they are in a very bad position,” says Loup Bureau.
For these two specialists, no prospect of peace is possible without Russia’s agreement. “It is Russia that is in charge of the entire Donbass conflict. Having been on the field, it is never the Ukrainians who open fire. They’re just answering. Russia can choose whether or not to end the conflict,” says Loup Bureau.
But these new prospects for peace could also be beneficial to Russia, which seems open to negotiations, as Florent Parmentier explains. “This conflict has a cost and the Russians are starting to get economically tired. Especially since a number of demonstrations are currently taking place in Russia, mainly for economic reasons. For Putin, it is better to have an unsatisfactory peace than a good war.
But Florent Parmentier concedes it: Donbass is above all a strategic place for Russia, “an opportunity to get closer to Europeans while retaining influence in Ukraine. The idea is to say to ourselves that if we[Russia] want to continue to have an influence in Ukraine, we must allow Donbass to reintegrate Ukraine, so as to control the whole political process.
A ” Normandy ” Summit ?
“Putin uses Ukraine as a buffer zone with us Europeans,” says Loup Bureau. “It is a way for him to put pressure on Ukraine to prevent it from joining the European Union and NATO”, a project to which the country aspires.
Emmanuel Macron hoped on Monday that the conditions would be met quickly to organise “in the coming weeks” a summit in “Normandy” format (France, Russia, Ukraine and Germany) in order to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“President Putin has had several exchanges with him in recent weeks, it is an opportunity for us to revisit this situation, to be able to exchange and to be able to prepare future meetings. In close collaboration with President Zelenski and Chancellor Merkel, we will have to consider the opportunity – which is my wish – for a new summit in Normandy format in the coming weeks if we can configure the way forward,” he added to the press next to his counterpart.
Some 13,000 people have been killed since spring 2014 in the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatist fighters.
Concluded in 2015 to resolve the conflict between Kiev and Moscow, the Minsk agreements have largely remained a dead letter despite efforts by Berlin and Paris.