German Chancellor Angela Merkel prepared to host a summit Wednesday with the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and France aimed at reviving the stalled peace process in eastern Ukraine. The conflict in Syria is also likely to be discussed.
Prospects of significant progress on either front look poor. Merkel said ahead of the meeting that “we certainly can’t expect miracles” on Ukraine or Syria, but she wanted to exhaust every possibility of progress.
Merkel and Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, François Hollande of France and Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine have met sporadically to discuss eastern Ukraine. This is the first time the four have met in more than a year.
The 2015 Minsk agreement brokered by France and Germany has helped end large-scale battles between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia separatists, but clashes have continued and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled.
The decision to hold the meeting Wednesday evening in Berlin follows a flurry of telephone diplomacy over the past week.
Merkel told reporters Tuesday that the talks would be about “establishing where things stand” and stressed that Germany wouldn’t refrain from blunt talk — including on Syria.
Merkel and Hollande have been sharply critical of Russia’s support for Assad’s forces, with Merkel suggesting Tuesday that Moscow was partly responsible for atrocities, citing “Syrian and Russian airstrikes on helpless people, hospitals and doctors.”
Merkel said the possibility of imposing sanctions against Russia for its actions in Syria remained on the table. “But the priority is that we look at lessening people’s suffering in some way,” she said.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin wasn’t expecting a breakthrough on Ukraine.
“The goal of the meeting is to see where we stand and identify the obstacles to fulfilling the Minsk agreements,” Peskov said. “Russia has shown a constructive flexibility, but it can’t be the only one doing so.”
Peskov stressed that the Minsk agreements envision action by Ukraine and the rebels, not Russia.
He didn’t offer any evaluation of chances of progress on Syria, which Putin, Merkel and Hollande will discuss without Poroshenko.
Speaking privately, European diplomats said any talks on Ukraine and Syria should be seen as a positive step, even if no concrete decisions are reached.
Several groups were planning to stage protests outside the chancellery, where the meeting will be held.