The Trilateral Contact Group is made up of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and in September 2014, representatives from all three parties signed the Minsk Protocol, an agreement to end the Donbass war. Now, with worries that fighting may flare up again, there have been proposals to head back to the Belarusian capital for further talks.
According to Kiev’s deputy prime minister, Alexey Reznikov, the Ukrainian side will refuse to attend. “We said that we will not take part in the meetings of the Trilateral Contact Group if the Covid-19 quarantine suddenly ends and it is proposed to continue consultations in Minsk,” he explained on Monday. “To hold talks in real life, we will have to look for another country, another city.”
This is because Belarus is “under the influence” of the Kremlin, and Kiev has lost confidence in its northern neighbor, he said. As things stand, due to Covid-19, discussions between the three parties take place via videoconference. Before the pandemic, they met face-to-face in the Belarusian capital.
Reznikov’s assertion that Kiev will no longer go to Minsk follows attempts by other Ukrainian officials to move discussions to another country. Last summer, Ukraine’s former president Leonid Kravchuk, who now serves on the Donbass negotiation team, revealed that he tried to move talks from Minsk to Sweden.
In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry then noted that “the key to success in settling the Ukrainian conflict is not in the change of negotiating venues or formats,” but simply the political will of all parties.
The conflict is taking place in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine, collectively known as Donbass, where a civil war has raged for almost seven years. Separatists now control large swathes of land and have declared themselves to be independent of Kiev. While Russia does not recognize these breakaway states, Ukraine accuses the Kremlin of supporting them.
The situation has escalated in recent days. The OSCE has noted a significant increase in the number of ceasefire violations. Reports have indicated a build-up of military equipment on the Russian side of the Ukrainian border, leading to the German Foreign Office calling for “all sides to show restraint and work towards the immediate de-escalation of tensions.”