Fighting is bound to continue despite the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, says DW's Ingo Mannteufel. But there is still hope, he adds.
Expectations of the Minsk meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko were muted. Not just because the fighting in southeastern Ukraine has grown even fiercer over the past days, but also because Russia has continued to fuel the conflict. Moscow sent an alleged aid convoy to Luhansk without Ukrainian approval. Russian paratroopers crossed the border to Ukraine – allegedly by mistake. But first and foremost, expectations were low because the violent conflict is based on diametrically opposed views in Russia and Ukraine.
The conflict was sparked by the planned EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. At the Minsk meeting, Putin again pointed out the possible economic damage for Russia. But actually, there's much more at stake: almost 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it's about key questions of the domestic and foreign policy order in the post-Soviet region. In truth, that makes it less a Ukrainian crisis than the biggest security policy challenge in Europe the 21st century has seen so far.
The current fundamental irreconcilability of the three different points of view in the conflict – Russian, Ukrainian and EU – doesn't give rise to expectations of quick solutions.
Fighting will continue
Consequently, any official statements in the wake of the Minsk meeting should be taken with a pinch of salt: Putin's alleged support for a cease-fire road map for eastern Ukraine sought by President Poroshenko is nothing but a diplomatic phrase. President Putin merely repeated Russia's previous position: it's a domestic Ukrainian matter, and Kyiv should take up direct talks with the separatists. Ukraine clearly rejects this point of view. That means the fighting will continue.
At the same time, the Ukrainian strategy of overpowering the separatists by bombing them in Donetsk and Luhansk is irresponsible and results in fatalities among the civilian population. Such policies won't achieve reconciliation in politics or in society in eastern Ukraine. It would be much more important for Ukraine's government troops to restore control over their side of the border, because time and again, fresh supplies of weapons and fighters slip across the porous border with Russia. The EU should remind the Kyiv leadership of that goal and it should also support boosting Ukraine's border patrol. Even President Putin agreed to negotiations on that issue. Now, this willingness must be tested, and fast.
Hope in the gas dispute
The Minsk meeting did have one concrete result: on September 6, gas talks between Russia and Ukraine, put on hold in June, are scheduled to restart along with European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger. That is the right decision, because if there is no agreement between then and the onset of autumn, there's the threat of yet another front forming in this undeclared war between Russia and Ukraine.
The Ukrainians will feel the consequences of discontinued gas shipments, and so will other European nations.