Germany and France to resume ‘difficult’ Ukraine talks in March

German, Russian, Ukrainian and French representatives have agreed to meet again in March after "difficult talks" in Berlin, sources close to French and German negotiators told AFP on Friday.

Scholz and Macron
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and French President Emmanuel Macron speak at a joint press conference on January 25th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Pool | Kay Nietfeld

The meeting in the so-called four-way “Normandy” format late Thursday lasted more than nine hours, the sources said.

“These were difficult talks in which the different positions and various options for a solution were clearly worked out,” they said.

Participants from all four countries, however, remain committed to the 2015 Minsk peace agreement between Kyiv and Moscow on the separatist conflict, and will “continue to work with vigour on implementing it”, they said.

READ ALSO: Scholz sees ‘progress’ in diplomatic efforts to ease Ukraine crisis

They have agreed to meet again in March after the next meetings of the so-called Trilateral Contact Group, which includes representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The Normandy format was launched in 2014 in a bid to bring peace to conflict-torn eastern Ukraine.

Mediation between Russia and Ukraine by Berlin and Paris led to the Minsk agreement of 2015, but Kyiv and Moscow regularly accuse each other of violating its terms.

Tensions have escalated in recent months due to Russian troops massing on the border with Ukraine, with Western governments fearing Russia is planning to invade its neighbour.

According to the French presidency, the discussions Thursday focused on political questions such as whether Ukraine should negotiate with the separatists, as well as humanitarian questions such as the release of prisoners.

“Russia agreed to the substance of the negotiations, but ultimately insisted that… Ukraine negotiate directly with the separatists, which is Ukraine’s only red line,” it said.

“The situation is very tense,” Gabriel Attal, a spokesman for the French government, told Europe 1 radio, but “we are continuing to make progress on the diplomatic front”.

READ ALSO: Scholz says Germany open to boosting troops in Baltics

Member comments

  1. The Minsk Agreement is the only format that can bring the parties together, France and Germany must do their best to keep the parties involved and talking to one another for the peace of Europe.

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Green ministers outshine Scholz as stars of German government

Eclipsed by two Green party ministers over his response to the war in Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is battling to wrest back public approval - starting with a speech to parliament on Thursday.

Green ministers outshine Scholz as stars of German government

Scholz, whose Social Democrats (SPD) are in power with the Greens and the liberal FDP, has faced a barrage of criticism over his perceived weak response to the war, including his hesitancy over sending heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Green party Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck have impressed with their more vocal approach, topping a recent survey of the country’s most popular politicians.

Scholz’s party suffered a crushing defeat in a key regional election at the weekend, losing to the conservative CDU with its worst-ever result in Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The Greens, meanwhile, almost tripled their score compared with five years ago to finish in third place and look almost certain to be part of the next regional government.

READ ALSO: Why the Greens are the real winners of Germany’s state elections

Der Spiegel magazine called the result a “personal defeat” for Scholz after he was heavily involved in the election campaign, appearing on posters and at rallies.

Already famous for his lack of charisma before he became chancellor, Scholz now appears to be paying the price for dragging his feet in dealing with Moscow over fears of escalating the crisis.

In a bid to win back the public, Scholz has in recent days given lengthy television interviews.

On Thursday, he will be explaining his policy to lawmakers ahead of the EU summit at the end of May.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (m) with ministers (l-r) Svenja Schulze, Annalena Baerbock, Robert Habeck, Cem Özdemir and Christine Lambrecht at a meeting in May 2022.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (m) with ministers (l-r) Svenja Schulze, Annalena Baerbock, Robert Habeck, Cem Özdemir and Christine Lambrecht at a meeting in May 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Sitting tight

In a devastating reading of Scholz’s outings so far, the weekly Focus assessed that “his language is poor, his facial expressions monotone and his body language too understated.”

According to Der Spiegel, the chancellor’s communications strategy seems to revolve around one mantra: “Repeat, repeat, repeat.”

Other media have accused him of stubbornly sticking to the same plan and ignoring what is going on around him.

“His party is plummeting, but the chancellor feels that he has done everything right… Doubts and questions rain down on him, but Olaf simply sits tight,” said Der Spiegel.

Scholz’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit has defended the chancellor, suggesting that the public value his calm demeanour and would find it “inauthentic” if he tried to turn himself into Barack Obama.

READ ALSO: How war in Ukraine has sparked a historic shift in Germany

But for political scientist Ursula Münch, Scholz does not come across as calm and measured but rather “imprecise” compared with his colleagues from the Green party.

Scholz has also not been helped by the fact that Defence Minister and fellow SPD politician Christine Lambrecht is currently caught up in a storm of criticism for allowing her son to accompany her on a government helicopter on their way to a family vacation.

‘Strong moral underpinning’

Baerbock, meanwhile, has turned around her public image after a series of blunders during the 2021 election campaign, coming across as clearer and more decisive than Scholz in her response to the Ukraine crisis.=

The 41-year-old former trampolinist has become the face of Germany at international summits, from the G7 to NATO, and in early May became the first German minister to visit Kyiv.

Habeck, meanwhile, has impressed with his dedication to weaning Germany off Russian energy.

And their meteoric rise is all the more surprising given the Green party’s traditional positioning as a pacifist party opposed to sending weapons to conflict zones.

For the first time in their 42-year history, according to Der Spiegel, the Greens are being judged not on “expectations and promises” but on their performance in government.

“The strong moral underpinning of the Greens’ policies and the fact they openly struggle with their own principles comes across as approachable and therefore very credible,” according to Münch.

“Of course, this increases their clout compared with the chancellor.”

She therefore predicts an “increase in tensions” between the Greens, the SPD and the FDP, with life not expected to get easier for Scholz any time soon.

By Mathieu FOULKES