French-hosted Normandy summit to facilitate talks on eastern Ukraine conflict

French President Emmanuel Macron hosts Russian and Ukrainian counterparts Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky as well as German Chancellor Angela

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Photo: AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron hosts Russian and Ukrainian counterparts Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris today to discuss steps to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The annual four-nation Normandy summit has been held since 2014 to facilitate the end of the war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. France and Germany are hopeful that troop withdrawals, prisoner exchanges and a tentative agreement for elections in the separatist-held areas in recent months will set the scene for a major diplomatic breakthrough between Kiev and Moscow for ending the current stalemate.

The negotiations are a big test for Zelensky, who is under huge pressure at home to balance conflicting objectives. On one hand, failure to move the dial on the five-year frozen conflict will breach a key election promise to end the war in Donbass. On the other hand, agreeing to elections without the full disarmament of rebel forces will be painted as a loss of Ukraine’s sovereignty by his political opponents.

Zelensky’s polling took a major hit after the prisoner swaps were agreed to. Therefore, a highly unpopular move, like negotiating directly with the rebel authorities unrecognised by Kiev—as Russia demands—is unlikely. A slow measured approach with small concessions and goodwill gestures is likely the more favourable option.

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