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Ukraine’s ‘crude provocation’, Vladimir Putin speaks with Germany’s Merkel and France’s Hollande

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia's President Vladimir Putin (C) and French President Francois Hollande attend a meeting on resolving the Ukraine crisis at the Kremlin in Moscow February 6, 2015. The leaders of France and Germany flew to Moscow on Friday in a last-ditch effort to negotiate a peace deal for Ukraine, but expectations of a breakthrough were low after gains on the battlefield by pro-Russian rebels. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

The Kremlin website has confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation about Ukraine with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday 23rd August 2016.

The Kremlin’s summary of the conversation discusses the implementation of the Minsk II agreement and says that

“President of Russia Vladimir Putin updated his colleagues on the crude provocation by Ukraine, which sent a group of subversives in early August to stage terrorist attacks in Russia. Kiev’s use of such forceful measures is directly harming the Minsk process and cooperation within the Normandy format.”

The Kremlin summary confirms that Putin, Merkel and Hollande agreed to meet on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 summit in Hangzhou in China to discuss Ukraine.

One notable absentee from the conversation was President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine. Following the Crimean incident Putin ruled out meeting with him in the Normandy Four format at the G20 summit. 

The Kremlin summary of the telephone conversation between Putin, Merkel and Hollande suggests that Putin is sticking to this position and that Poroshenko will be excluded from the meeting Putin, Merkel and Hollande will have together at the G20 summit in Hangzhou.

Whilst it is not unprecedented for Putin, Merkel and Hollande to discuss Ukraine together without involving Poroshenko, the fact that Merkel and Hollande are doing so now so soon after the Crimean incident shows that he is at least for the moment excluded from the discussions.

The Kremlin summary does not make it clear who initiated the call.  However it is overwhelmingly likely that the primary purpose of the call was for Merkel and Hollande to gain assurance from Putin that following the Crimean incident Russia is not about to walk away from the Minsk II process. 

For the Europeans that would be a total disaster, exposing their sanctions policy as an empty bluff, and one which they would want to avoid at all costs.

The Kremlin summary shows that whilst Putin did provide that reassurance, he also made very clear what he wants the Europeans to do.  First and foremost he wants the Europeans to pressure Kiev to fulfil the political provisions of the Minsk II Agreement, including by talking directly to the leaderships of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics

“(The leaders) focused on the importance of formalising the special status for Donbass, implementing a constitutional reform and amnesty, as well as holding local elections. All these issues should be coordinated within the Contact Group, where Kiev can talk directly with Donetsk and Lugansk.”

Secondly Putin wants the Europeans to pressure Kiev to pull its troops back from the contact line and to do finally what it committed itself to do under the Minsk II agreement, which is to remove its heavy weapons from the area

“The leaders also expressed concern over persisting instability at the contact line and numerous ceasefire violations and pointed to the need for strict compliance with the ceasefire agreement, the withdrawal of heavy weapons under the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission’s control and the adoption of measures to further de-escalate tensions, including by disengaging the armed groups and creating demilitarised zones.”

As Putin of course knows the Europeans have up to now entirely failed to do any of these things so that Kiev has implemented neither the political nor the security provisions of the Minsk II agreement. 

Whether Putin threatened any action if they did not do so now the Kremlin summary of course does not say.  That should become clearer at the summit in Hangzhou.

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