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Published on July 10, 2014
Hearing of M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, before the National Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee

Paris, July 8, 2014


There’s a series of questions which concern Ukraine.

The situation on the ground is the following. On 5 and 6 July, the Ukrainian troops – the armed forces coming under the government’s authority – achieved their most important success over the separatist troops since the outset. The strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk were recaptured by the Ukrainian troops. A good many of what are being called separatists, rebels or whatever term you use to describe them, are withdrawing from the Donbass region, especially Donetsk.

Parallel to this, there’s intense diplomatic activity generally in what I’d call the “Normandy format”, the “Bénouville format” – i.e. France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine are taking action, especially on the diplomatic front. The United States and Poland are playing a frequent part in these talks as well. But it’s the quartet which is really at the heart of the diplomatic operations.

There are aspects which are known: for example, we had a meeting in Berlin last Wednesday at a time when we had to try and get the Russians and Ukrainians to resume talks; discussions have been made public, often President Hollande and Angela Merkel’s telephone conversations with President Obama, President Putin and President Poroshenko; and there are many other initiatives.

We think this four-member format has perhaps ended up being the most effective over the period, with it being clearly noted that we’re in contact with the other partners and – obviously as far as we’re concerned – with the Europeans.

What’s going to happen in the next few days?

We are of course trying to get the ceasefire declared and implemented.
Secondly, we’re trying to ensure that the border between Ukraine and Russia is protected and isn’t an open door.

We’re also trying to secure the release of all hostages and we’re trying to get the contact group – made up of Russians, Ukrainians and the OSCE – to do its job.

We were close to getting somewhere – it was a question of the choice of location. The Russians were proposing that the contact group meeting take place in Donetsk, which the Ukrainians rejected. And, equally, the Ukrainians wanted the meeting to take place in Kiev; this was rejected by the separatists, who didn’t want to leave Donbass. Alternative solutions have been proposed. As I speak, they haven’t in fact been accepted but we’re continuing our effort towards the goals I’ve set out.

There’s what’s desirable and there’s also what’s likely. What’s desirable is what I set out: for the ceasefire to be re-established and implemented, which means it must be respected by the Russians and the Ukrainians. What’s desirable is for the hostages to be released. What’s desirable is for the contact group to meet.

On the other hand, at European level, we’re having meetings, including the one scheduled next week, on 16 July, between heads of state and government, which has this matter among other things on its agenda, to see what sanction mechanisms are applicable in view of the situation.
Now, if we try and think about what may happen independently of what we’d like, the Ukrainian government may feel that it has made progress, because it has recaptured some of what was held by the separatists, and it may want to press its advantage. Equally, if it presses its advantage and goes on attacking, the separatist forces risk regrouping around Donetsk or perhaps some other city and we risk entering a process of siege, from which it is obviously extremely difficult to emerge, with considerable damage caused.

The Russians have blown both hot and cold. They’ve made a number of concessions, which we must be honest enough to acknowledge. When they say the Ukrainians can control a number of border posts which, by definition, are located on their territory too, it’s a concession.
Conversely, the information we have shows there are still a lot of crossings being made: troops crossing and weapons crossing. And our American partners tell us they have extremely detailed documents on these.

And there’s also a new element I’m obliged to bring into the political analysis, namely that the Ukrainian President and government have announced there will be a general election in October. Clearly, without being able to see into the future, it might be said, with regard to that election, that the idea that the Ukrainian government must increase its “advantage” may be an important factor.

In any case, in this situation I think France’s task is to continue, particularly through this four-way format which I’d call the “Normandy format”, to demand and propose – acting as guarantor if need be – both a ceasefire and the monitoring and sealing of borders, as well as the release of hostages and meeting of the contact group. That’s exactly where we stand today. (…)./.

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