The conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation began in 2014 and continues today.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, more than 13,000 people have lost their lives and 25,000 have been wounded since 2014. A total of 1.6 million people have been forced to flee their place of residence to other regions in Ukraine and approximately 1 million refugees have moved to bordering countries. Donbass has become one of the world’s most mine-filled zones, together with Afghanistan and Iraq.
The conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation broke out amid a political crisis in Ukraine in late November 2013. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to suspend the process leading to the signature of an Association Agreement with the European Union caused a “revolution of dignity” (Euromaidan).
In Crimea, masked Russian soldiers without insignia began action to take control of all the strategic points in the region. On 16 March 2014, a “referendum” for independence and annexation to the Russian Federation was held. The international community did not recognize this annexation.
At the same time, a destabilization operation was launched in eastern Ukraine. Armed groups without insignia under Russian control supported the demonstrators calling for the independence of these regions. On 11 May, the de facto entities of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and of the “Luhansk People’s Republic” declared their independence following a “referendum”. This vote, held outside of the framework established by Ukrainian legislation and marred by a number of irregularities, was considered illegal by Ukraine and was not recognized by the international community (including the Russian Federation).
France supported the European Union’s sanctions in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of Ukraine.
Diplomatic negotiations began in June 2014. The 6 June 1944 D-Day Commemorations provided an opportunity to start diplomatic discussions between the Ukrainian and Russian Presidents under the auspices of the President of the French Republic and German Chancellor in the Normandy Format.
Negotiations were also launched in Minsk in the Trilateral Contact Group with representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as well as separatists (representatives of “certain regions of Luhank and Donetsk oblasts”).
On 5 September 2014, the Trilateral Contact Group parties signed the Minsk Protocol (“MINSK I”): 13 political and security measures aiming to end the conflict.
On 11 and 12 February 2015, the Normandy Format Summit of Heads of State and Government was held in Minsk. The Trilateral Contact Group parties signed the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements (Minsk II).
Minsk II sets out the operational stages for implementing Minsk I and resolving the conflict. Its intention is to advance the security situation on the ground and the political process jointly without preconditions. Ultimately, its aim is for the separatist-held zones to be re-integrated under Ukrainian sovereignty with decentralized organization.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 2202, which was adopted on 17 February 2015, endorsed this Package of Measures and called for its full implementation.
The adoption of Minsk II resulted in a significant drop in the number of victims, with three-quarters of the approximately 13,300 deaths caused by the conflict occurring before the adoption of the Package. But the crisis persists due to the parties’ lack of political will to deliver on their commitments. Tensions continue to fuel the Russian-Ukrainian conflict on a regular basis.
In Crimea, Ukraine has not managed to fully restore its sovereignty and its territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
In eastern Ukraine, repeated ceasefire violations directly threaten civilians and the humanitarian situation is still very bad as winter approaches, particularly with regard to the most vulnerable people, including the elderly.
The year 2019 has also seen the election of Volodymyr Zelenskiy as President of Ukraine. He received more than 73% of voter and made resolving the conflict a priority of this term of office.
Since he was elected, several advances have been made in the field:
- The ceasefire of 21 July was the most successful of the conflict and generated an unprecedented decrease in violence until the beginning of September.
- Disengagement from three pilot zones through a Framework Agreement concluded in 2016 in Stanytsia Luhanska, Petrivske, and Zolote, has successfully been conducted (completed on 30 June in Stanytsia Luhanska, heavy weapons and forces were withdrawn from Zolote on 1 November and on 12 November in Petrivske).
- The bridge in Stanytsia Luhanska, destroyed in 2015, was rebuilt in a few months and inaugurated on 20 November. It will facilitate the everyday lives of thousands of civilians who cross it every month, particularly elderly and vulnerable people.
Moreover, Russia and Ukraine proceeded to exchange 70 political prisoners (different from those held in relation to the conflict since 2014), including the director Oleh Sentsov and the 24 Ukrainian sailors held since 25 November 2018 following a serious naval incident in the southern part of the Kerch Strait.
France does not and will not recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea: the redrawing of international borders by force is a breach of international law and of the commitments made by the Russian Federation.
France deplores the worsening of the human rights situation in the peninsula, which especially affects the Crimean Tatars. It calls for the release of all persons detained in violation of international law.
France has a policy of firmness and dialogue to move towards a political settlement of the conflict.
France instigated the diplomatic exchanges of June 2014.
France hosted another Normandy Format Summit of Heads of State and Government on 9 December 2019, following on from the last Summit held in October 2016 in Berlin. At this Summit, great strides were made in implementing the Minsk Agreements, when it comes to consolidating the ceasefire, making progress related to mine clearing, opening new crossing points, identifying new areas of disengagement, and exchanging prisoners taken during the conflict. The parties also reiterated their commitment to seeing that progress is made regarding all the legal aspects related to the political component of the Minsk Agreements.
Read the Agreed Conclusions of the "Normandy Format" Paris Summit
France’s support for Ukraine
Since 2014, France has provided several kinds of assistance to Ukraine: emergency humanitarian and medical assistance, assistance for displaced persons, and support for the implementation of reforms. It is fully committed to support for Ukraine provided in the European framework. In 2018, it contributed €600,000 in humanitarian assistance, which has been used to renovate critical infrastructure in eastern Ukraine and to provide assistance to vulnerable people. In January 2019, to help improve the production and distribution of safe drinking water in conflict-affected areas, Ukraine and France signed an agreement which included building a new water treatment plant in Mariupol.
In 2019, France granted €1.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine via aid allocated to the ICRC, the Danish Demining Group, the French NGOs Triangle Génération Humanitaire and Première Urgence Internationale. As a priority, these actions are expected to improve the situation of hundreds of thousands of people living near the line of contact, and who continue to be the main victims of the conflict.
This solidarity is also visible within the OSCE framework: France took part in election observation missions organized by the Organization’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in 2014, 2015-2016 and 2019. In addition, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) has 17 French observers, who have been present in the field since the start of the conflict (primarily in the east of the country, but also in other regions).
Updated: December 2019