Ukraine Steals Attention in Milan – no Progress Reached

Ukraine Steals Attention in Milan – no Progress Reached

The 10th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit took place in Milan on October 16-17, 2014. The issue of relationship between Europe and vibrantly progressing Asia paled in comparison with the events in Ukraine. The hectic meetings of heads of states and top EU leaders with the participation of presidents Putin and Poroshenko on the sidelines of the ASEM event stole the attention away to hit the media radar screen. Europeans were especially concerned over the stability of Russian gas supplies going through the territory of Ukraine. 

On October 15 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that his forthcoming Milan meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin had been brought up in a phone conference with European leaders. «The European side asked for a telephone conference to be held on the preparations ahead of the extremely important meeting in Milan tomorrow, where European and EU leaders, together with me, the President of Ukraine, will convene for extremely important talks with the leadership of the Russian Federation, focusing on the extremely important issue of peace in Ukraine, the peace settlement, political process, and de-escalation in the country's east», Poroshenko said, adding the world had «high hopes for tomorrow».

By and large US President Barack Obama, French President François Hollande, Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the same thing. 

The October 16 – 17 talks proved to be too difficult and inspired no hopes for quick and satisfying results. The gap was wide. Dmitry Peskov, the Russian President’s spokesperson, said the leaders discussed Ukraine for more than two and half hours with differences on core issues to remain. «Unfortunately, some participants of the Milan breakfast demonstrated complete unwillingness to understand the reality in south-eastern Ukraine», Peskov said. According to him, some of its participants were reluctant to learn about the real state of affairs in eastern Ukraine, «Unfortunately, some participants of the breakfast meeting have demonstrated full reluctance to understand the real situation in southeastern Ukraine», he told reporters.

No matter that, the participants are interested in finding mutually acceptable solutions. A breakfast meeting with the participation of the Russian and Ukrainian presidents, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko, and other European leaders, started in Milan on October 17. The event, organized by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi as part of the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit, was also attended by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. After lunch the talks proceeded within the “Normandy format”. One-to-one Putin-Poroshenko meeting took place later in the day. 

The main points of discord were the al-inclusive settlement of the Ukrainian conflict on the basis of Minsk memorandum. The parties agreed there was little progress achieved. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called the talks «constructive», though acknowledging that there were «obvious differences» between the countries and the solution of the crisis «will not be quick and immediate, but needs time». It became obvious that the solutions in the format Kiev, Brussels and Washington (the US presence was invisible but felt) were unachievable. According to President Petro Poroshenko, the talks confirmed the validity of Minsk memorandum (all 12 points), «The first decision was that all sides will firmly adhere to the Minsk Memorandum and concentrate their efforts on the implementation of all 12 points of this document». He said. Another decision envisioned holding legal elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s republics, «Local elections that must be held in Donetsk, must be based on law, which I had signed» (meaning the Ukraine’s law on special Donbass status of September 16 - the author’s note). 

Nothing new about the Minsk Memorandum being effective – otherwise it would not have been signed. The accord on the would-be elections is rather murky. The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) will hold its own elections on November 2, despite the President’s move to sign a law on special self-rule status for eastern Ukraine’s regions, DPR’s Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko said on October 17. «We will not perceive this law. This does not concern us as it is signed by the President of another country. We are set to hold elections on November 2. We are determined for independence. We believe that our territory has been illegally occupied», he said. Besides, no the republics were not represented at the Minsk talks. 

A lot of things remain unclear about the gas deal. According to Petro Poroshenko, there is some limited progress achieved here, ''We have made certain limited progress on the gas issue. We have agreed on the main parameters of the contract and we are now continuing talks on the resources to cover the deficit of the funds needed to finance the contract». It’s hard to understand what the President meant. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said the gas transit deal was not discussed and was not part of the agenda.

The West is reluctant to get to the bottom of what is happening in Ukraine and continues to adopt a rather speculative approach. The Milan talks have brought about no progress. There is a sustained perception that as soon as the United States gets one way or another involved in the tripartite EU-Ukraine-Russia negotiations the progress on the Ukrainian issue immediately hits snags and becomes stymied. Perhaps Washington believes that the continuation of crisis allows killing two birds with one stone – it makes Ukraine shoulder the double burden to plunge the country into the managed chaos and weakens Europe and Russia as they conduct sanctions and anti-sanctions war.