The French president and German Chancellor have announced a surprise visit to Moscow on Friday February 6, hoping to achieve a deal that could put an end to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. As Hollande spoke of decisions of war and peace, suspicions have been raised that the Kremlin might attempt to split Europe and the US as the American Congress urges President Barack Obama to send military aid to Ukraine. The talks are set to start at 5 PM local time (2 PM GMT).
The contents of the Franco-German plan remain a secret, but according to an anonymous Western diplomat the plan follows a proposal put forward by Putin. Putin’s plan advocates creating a territory similar to the frozen-conflict areas of Abkhazia and Transnistria. Meanwhile Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk stated that his government would not accept a peace plan that would alter the country’s territorial integrity or sovereignty. The results of the talks are to be revealed later on February 6.
New peace talks: a reason for optimism?
The recent surge in fighting in eastern Ukraine had prompted the meeting, said Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin’s senior policy advisor Yuri Ushakov interpreted the visit as a “positive step”, stating that Putin is ready to hold constructive talks. Merkel and Hollande met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev a day earlier, on Thursday February 5. After their meeting Poroshenko stated that he had hope for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. Merkel herself stated, prior to leaving for Moscow, that it was “totally open” whether they would succeed in achieving a ceasefire. The Chancellor made clear that these talks won’t necessarily provide a solution and that future talks might be needed.
According to the Kyiv Post, the negotiations between the two European leaders and Putin are based on the twelve provisions of the Minsk agreement, which was signed in September 2014. The agreement implemented an immediate ceasefire that would be monitored by the OSCE, however, it failed to stop the fighting at the time. Since then new peace talk attempts have failed. Merkel’s personal visit to Moscow however could mean this time it’s different as the German Chancellor has previously stated she wouldn’t personally meet with Putin if there wasn’t a concrete prospect of progress in achieving peace.
Ceasefire in Debaltseve, Ukraine
Meanwhile there are reports of what appears to be a truce around Debaltseve, a town northeast of Donetsk that is strategically important due to its rail hub and road junction. Rebels have claimed that the truce came into force at 9 AM Moscow time, there have been no reports of fighting since. According to the report Kiev hasn’t confirmed the truce.
The town has been a major fighting point in the ongoing war since January 17 as the Ukrainian government refuses to give up the town, whereas the rebels have been shelling the city. On this day however multiple convoys consisting of empty buses under the supervision of OSCE, rebels and government forces have been moving into the town, in what seems to be an attempt to evacuate the remaining population.
Obama’s new security strategy & Ukraine
On the same day that Merkel and Hollande are speaking with their Russian counterpart Putin to resolve the situation in Ukraine, Obama is set to present his new security strategy for the remaining two years of his presidency. On February 3 Poroshenko claimed that he has “no doubt” that the US will provide weapons in Ukraine’s fight against the pro-Russian separatists. Two days later Poroshenko met with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the possibility of arming Ukrainian forces. During his visit to Ukraine Kerry stated that the Russian aggression was the “greatest threat” to Ukraine and the US. The secretary of state argued that while the US seek a diplomatic solution, they would not close their eyes to Russian tanks and fighters crossing the border.
So far Obama has opposed the idea of sending arms to Ukraine, but the meeting between Kerry and Poroshenko as well as the pressure by Congress following the surge in fighting could possibly change Obama’s mind. Whether the American strategy towards the ongoing crisis in Ukraine will change should be revealed later today once Obama has presented his new security strategy.
Arming Ukraine: bone of contention
Whereas US congress pushes Obama to send arms to Ukraine, Merkel prefers to focus on diplomacy in order to put an end to the conflict. She expressed firm belief that the conflict cannot be solved militarily, fearing a proxy war. The topic will most likely be discussed during the Chancellor’s visit to Washington on Monday February 9. The sudden visit to Moscow by Hollande and Merkel could be interpreted as a way to bypass the possibility of the US sending weapons to Ukraine by concluding some sort of deal with Putin.
Following Merkel’s and Hollande’s visit to Moscow, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the American Vice President Joe Biden advocated unity regarding Ukraine after his meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk. Biden made no mention of a possible arms supply by the US during the conference. The coming week should prove whether the transatlantic community stands together over this delicate issue. The result of the peace talks as well as Obama’s new security strategy should provide us with answers.
door Jules Damoiseaux