Political solutions in Ukraine don't seem to be in the cards. As plans for international peace talks falter, Ukraine appears to be backing a purely military resolution of the conflict in its east.
"This crisis cannot be resolved by military means." For months, Western politicians have been repeating this phrase when talking about the crisis in Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, too, has been calling for a renunciation of violence and a dialogue between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
But up to now, there has been little sign that anything other than military means are being attempted. After Malaysia Airlines flight MH317 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in mid-July, allegedly by the separatists, the Ukrainian army intensified its offensive in the regions around Donetsk and Luhansk even further and was able to retake control of several towns. But the number of casualties has been growing, also among the civilian population; the UN now puts the death toll at more than 1,000.
"The Ukrainian government, supported by the US, is going all out for a military solution," said Gerhard Mangott, an expert on Eastern Europe with the University of Innsbruck, in an interview with DW. "The successes of the so-called anti-terrorist operation, with its high civilian death toll, have encouraged them in this strategy."
No Geneva II talks planned
By contrast, the diplomatic front is not seeing much action. Apparently, there are no plans for another international peace conference like the recent one in April. Back then, top diplomats from Ukraine, Russia, the US and the European Union called for an end to violence and for all irregular fighters to be disarmed. These proposals were only partly implemented.
In early May, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier proposed a follow-up conference. So far, it has not taken place. Neither the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin nor the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could confirm to DW that any preparations were being made for a Ukraine conference.
The position of a special OSCE envoy to Ukraine has yet to be filled again, either. Wolfgang Ischinger, the well-known German diplomat and chairman of the Munich Security Conference, stepped down from the post in a surprise move at the end of May - after just a few weeks.
Ischinger helped organize roundtable discussions with moderate representatives of the separatists in eastern Ukraine. He left his post amid sharp criticism from the Russian Foreign Ministry, which had accused Ischinger of coming out in favor of a military deployment of the Ukrainian army in eastern Ukraine. Ischinger has denied the accusations.
Observers say that the lack of any readiness to compromise in Moscow and Kyiv is the main stumbling block to holding Geneva II talks. Russia has demands that the eastern Ukrainian separatists participate in any peace conference, whereas Kyiv has vehemently opposed their involvement. The Ukrainian government does not want to enhance their status or give any legitimacy to the "terrorists," as Kyiv calls the separatists.
Kyiv is ready only to hold consultations in a contact group consisting of representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE. So far, this group has met up three times: twice in eastern Ukraine, and once in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has stressed that he did not act as mediator at the latter meeting, and only provided the venue for the talks.
However, the talks held by this contact group have not been concerned with finding durable solutions to the conflict, but with solving issues of the moment. For example, the Minsk meeting discussed the access of OSCE observers and international experts to the Malaysian Airlines crash site, and a prisoner exchange.
Even though no international conference is planned as of yet, other forms of negotiation have been tried. The driving force here has not been the EU or the US, but Germany and France. When Russia's President Vladimir Putin was invited to Normandy at the beginning of June for the D-Day anniversary, the German chancellor brought about the first direct talks between the Russian leader and the victor in Ukraine's presidential elections, Petro Poroshenko.
Top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany also met in Berlin on July 2 and came to an understanding regarding a ceasefire, "confidence-building measures on the Russian-Ukrainian border" and meetings of the contact group. Only the last item was implemented.
Merkel's telephone diplomacy
German Chancellor Merkel is always picking up the phone to speak with the Russian president or his Ukrainian counterpart. She phoned Putin three times in July alone. However, she has been unable to persuade him to bring his influence to bear on the separatists.
The only thing that top Western politicians haven't tried yet is holding direct talks with the Putin in Moscow. When Russia went to war against Georgia in August 2008, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to Moscow just four days later and was able to negotiate a ceasefire. At the time, his country held the EU presidency. Currently, Italy holds the position, which it has done since July 1.