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Talks on eastern Ukraine to resume in March, sources say

February 11, 2022

Normandy format talks on the Donbas conflict are set to continue next month. Meanwhile, a former top German adviser during the end of the Cold War has disputed Moscow's claims that NATO promised not to expand eastward.

Kramatorsk border units affiliated with Ukrainian Armed Forces' Joint Forces Border Units patrol the border
The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed thousands of lives since it began in 2014Image: Armed Forces/AA/picture alliance

Representatives of Germany, Ukraine, Russia and France have agreed to meet again in March to discuss the separatist crisis in eastern Ukraine after talks in Berlin on Thursday failed to produce results, sources close to German and French negotiators said Friday.

France's Elysee Palace confirmed that Russia had agreed to further meetings in the so-called Normandy format but had called for Ukraine to commit to negotiating with the separatists, which France called a "red line."

But all parties said they remained committed to the 2015 Minsk peace agreement between Kyiv and Moscow, which aims to resolve the conflict. Russia and Ukraine have both claimed that the other side is guilty of violating the accord.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, despite calling out Russia for escalating the situation both on land and at sea, says she wants Moscow at the negotiating table, "For we know the diplomatic approach is the only way to secure peace on the ground." 

Baerbock was clear-eyed in her assessment of what may come, noting that Germany and its allies drew the line at Ukrainian sovereignty and were preparing for every eventuality, "We are preparing with all measures and with rigour, but we are also simultaneously working for dialogue."   

Ukraine crisis: How reliable is Germany?

The four-way Normandy format, named after the location of the first talks in this configuration, was launched in 2014, in a bid to end the fighting in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.

Tension in eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian rebels have been waging an insurgency in the Donbas cities of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Since then, the conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

The ongoing conflict has pitted Moscow-backed rebels in Donbas against Kyiv government forces. The separatists continue to hold wide swaths of territory in Donbas.

Russia has recently amassed troops along its border with Ukraine, provoking fears it may be intending to invade its neighbor.

The tensions have prompted a flurry of Western diplomatic efforts, with several government leaders heading to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his demands for security guarantees from the West.

Those demands include an assurance that Ukraine will not be accepted as a NATO member and that the military alliance cease its eastward expansion.

List showing countries joining NATO over the past years

No NATO expansion 'promises'

However, a former long-term adviser to late Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Horst Teltschik, told DW in an interview that Germany had never promised Russia not to expand NATO eastward after the end of the Cold War, contradicting assertions made by Putin.

"I took part in all conversations held by Chancellor Helmut Kohl with [former Soviet] President Gorbachev and [former Soviet] Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze," Teltschik said.

"No promise was made ... in any phase," he said.

"The only condition from the Soviet side was that no NATO troops ... should be deployed on the territory of the former GDR [communist East Germany] and no NATO facilities. And that was complied with," he said. 

Teltschik also said that in his opinion, Putin knew that his demand for a cessation of NATO expansion was not acceptable.

"A sovereign state as we understand it, a democratic state, decides for itself whether it wants to join an alliance and what alliance it wants to belong to. That is the sovereign right of a sovereign state," he said.

What diplomatic efforts are underway?

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is to travel to Kyiv and Moscow on February 14 and 15.

"What is at stake at the moment is nothing less than preventing a war in Europe," he said Thursday.

"We want peace," he added following a meeting in Berlin with the leaders of the Baltic countries.

French President Emmanuel Macron held another round of talks with Putin on Monday that were conducted at a distance after Macron declined to take a Russian COVID-19 test, according to two sources from the French leader's entourage.

The sources told Reuters news agency that Macron's refusal to take the test arose from a fear of giving a sample of his DNA to a foreign power.

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace also visited Moscow on Friday. His trip came a day after British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who called on Russia to pull back the more than 100,000 troops it has gathered near Ukraine.

tj/wmr (AFP, Reuters, AP)