Zelenski and Putin meet in Paris to finish staging the thaw

The Normandy Quartet, of which France and Germany are also part, holds an expected meeting of uncertain outcome


The annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation in March 2014 and the beginning a month later of the separatist rebellion in part of the Donbas region, in eastern Ukraine, resulted in an unresolved conflict. More than 13,000 people have died victims of violence in the area, where they continue to register attacks on a recurring basis.

The escalation of initial violence, within the framework of which Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down with 283 people on board, has been followed by five years of latent and constant tensions. A 'contact line' of 427 kilometers and five checkpoints still separates the territories controlled by each side, which marks not only the political life of Ukraine, but also the day-to-day life of thousands of people.

Zelenski and Putin meet in Paris to finish staging the thaw
Zelenski and Putin meet in Paris to finish staging the thaw

The UN estimates that 5.2 million people have been affected by the conflict, of which 3.5 million require humanitarian aid. Nearly six out of ten families living near the 'contact line' have difficulty accessing medical care and, every month, around one million people cross some of the steps that separate the two territories – according to data from 2018–, often after waiting long queues in the open.

The arrival of Volodimir Zelenski to the Presidency of Ukraine, after a brilliant conversion from actor to politician, has at least changed the political playing field, in which the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, had given few or no signs of cession when businessman Petro Poroshenko still had the reins of Kiev.

Putin and Zelenski will face each other this Monday in Paris, at the resurrection summit of the Normandy Quartet. Together with the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, and the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, they will discuss ways of expressing in practice the gestures of relaxation that both neighboring countries have given in recent weeks, from an exchange of prisoners to the liberation of ships Ukrainians held for more than a year, going through a partial withdrawal of troops.

One of the ideas that are on the table is known as the 'Steinmeier formula', a peace plan outlined in 2016 by the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and that seeks to advance the Minsk Agreements, which still persist as a stone angle of the Quartet negotiations despite its poor application.

The formula, which was not even expressed in writing, raises the holding of elections in areas controlled by the rebels, as well as a hypothetical self-government.


CIDOB researcher Carmen Claudín has taken for granted, in statements to Europa Press, that the latest gestures of Kiev and Moscow are framed within the mutual will to “create a climate” that facilitates this Monday's meeting. The arrival of Zelenski “is what has made move a little this situation stagnant,” he admitted.

Zelenski, in fact, came to power with a series of promises under his arm, including ending a “war” that seemed already entrenched. Claudín has asserted that, the fact that so much time has passed since the beginning of the conflict does not necessarily have to be bad, since experience shows that these types of scenarios “are rarely solved hot.”

Thus, he recalled that Poroshenko agreed in his day the Minsk Agreements, with “a very clear Russian bias”, “hot” and “under very strong pressure” from its Western partners. Now, the context is different, although Claudín is not clear that all the actors who will sit at the Paris table are thinking of “the same solution”.

The Minsk Agreements are for now the strongest commitments to pacify eastern Ukraine, although they suffer from “vagueness”, according to the expert, who does not necessarily see “bad faith of anyone” but the result of a “great rainfall” .

In this regard, he pointed out that issues such as the special status that hypothetically will be granted to Donbas are not clear, since not all of this area is currently occupied by the rebels and, in fact, some areas of the east were in favor of Zelenski in the last elections.

Crimea, meanwhile, has become the elephant in the room, in a debate that does not seem to enter the game in a potential first phase of demilitarization of the conflict. Claudín has assumed that the EU and the western partners of Kiev do not want to “open the melon” at the moment.


The conflict triggered a cascade of sanctions against Russia and has marked the political relations of the international community with both Kiev and Moscow in recent years. The current Ukrainian government does not hide that it looks at Europe, also knowing that the Russian shadow remains a drag on any geopolitical reconfiguration of the region.

Daria Gaidai, foreign policy advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, Dimitro Kuleba, has ensured that European integration is a “priority”, to the point that he predicted that, within five years, the country should be able to meet economic criteria that would open the doors of the European Union.

Gaidai, one of the speakers at a forum organized in Madrid by the CIDOB, the Beltersmann Foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the European Commission, has also recognized that, in this particular dance, it is necessary for Kiev to go hand in hand with your partner . “The transformation of Ukraine depends on the strategic commitment of the EU,” he added.

The head of the Support Group for Ukraine in the European Commission, Peter M. Wagner, has picked up the glove, claiming that Ukrainian citizenship “chose the European development path in 2014”. Thus, he hopes to reach a future where he can “talk about Ukraine without constantly leaving Russia” and take advantage of the “positive things” that have happened in the last five years, as long as the former Soviet Republic keeps going “in the direction adequate. ”


The reformist path is the mantra that is repeated in Kiev, where politicians of all kinds recognize that there are still challenges in the fight against corruption or social and economic improvements. The president of the parliamentary commission that monitors anti-corruption policies, Anastasia Krasnosilka, has admitted that “the population is still frustrated.”

Krasnosilka, a member of the Zelenski party, believes that the change of president has led to “a faster and more radical reform” since Ukraine can be “a model.”

“It has the potential to be a worldwide success story,” said activist Olea Halushka, a member of the Corruption Action Center. Halushka recalled that the Ukrainian people have repeatedly called for “change” and find it necessary to continue advancing the reforms until they reach the “point of no return”, bearing in mind for example that in Ukraine corruption has become “endemic.”

Along the same lines, Claudín has pointed out that corruption is “something structural” in Ukraine, to such an extent that “power was also organized based on” certain practices that the authorities now aspire to extinguish, seeking for example that deputies do not act for spurious interests or that there are no longer “untouchables”.

The CIDOB expert sees Ukraine “prepared” to, in the medium term, join the European Union, although she has admitted that further reforms and a series of “democratic” improvements are needed to endorse the rule of law. For now, he added, “they have advanced a lot.”

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