5 Mar 2014

Ukraine, Paris and Brussels

It sounds like the foreign ministers meeting in Paris are seeing some very up-market buildings but little progress.


They’ve met in the Elysee Palace, the Quai d’Orsay, the US Ambassador’s residence … they’re currently in a break-out session to check back with capitals.

William Hague started the day saying that what was needed today was the Ukrainian ministers and and the Russians to meet face to face. That didn’t happen. The Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov wasn’t willing to do that.

At one point the Ukrainian delegation left for the airport, but were persuaded to turn round and hang around in another building, to keep open the (faint) option of a meeting and be on hand to be consulted about discussions in another room.

The Kerry/Lavrov interaction started with what the State Department called a “brief pull-aside”, and then they both went into a meeting with William Hague and the German and French foreign ministers before breaking off for a longer Russia/US bi-lateral.

These talks could well carry on for another hour or two, I am told.

One source says that Sergei Lavrov is fixated, as he was in Madrid at a press conference this morning, on implementing “the 21st February agreement,” which amongst other things would mean putting the deposed President, Viktor Yanukovych, back into power.

One source suggested the Russians were saying that was a precondition for talks.

These meetings are expected to carry on a while yet, and that makes it hard to know exactly what the EU will agree tomorrow when heads of government meet in Brussels.

If there are plans to talk again and the mood is not too dark it will increase the pressure to keep the communique there pretty general.

One EU source said we should expect a message from the EU reaffirming principles of territorial integrity, discussing political and democratic transition, plans for the May elections and much reassurance on monitoring.

It could also, in one country’s suggested submission, spell out how Russian troops numbers in Crimea should return to a “normal baseline.”

But whether it would unveil in gory detail the next level of escalated measures that would take effect is Russia doesn’t engage is an unknown.

The gore terrifies the some proponents as much or more than it might the intended victim.

The relatively puny EU measures announced so far, suspending G8 preparations and abandoning some meetings no-one particularly wanted to go to, are a long way from the US rhetoric about trade sanctions.

Agreeing an announcement on sharper threats worries some EU members enormously.

You get a flavour of just how tough everyone is ready to get when you see the Nato announcement that just flashed up at the end of official-level talks in Brussels: the organisation isn’t even suspending military cooperation with Russia for its breach of international norms, it is announcing a “review” of cooperation.

Take that, Vlad.

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