Conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation broke out following a political crisis in late November 2013. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to suspend the process which would have led to the signing of an Association Agreement with the European Union caused a popular movement called the “Revolution of Dignity” (Euromaidan).
In Crimea, masked Russian soldiers without insignia took control of all the strategic points in the region on 27 February 2014. On 16 March 2014, a “referendum” for independence and attachment 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. In March 2014, armed groups without insignia under Russian control supported 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 talks 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 Federal Chancellor in the Normandy Format or N4.
Negotiations were also launched in Minsk in the Trilateral Contact Group including representatives of Ukraine and Russia and mediated by the Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as well as involving separatists (representatives of “certain regions of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts”) in four working groups.
On 5 September 2014, the Trilateral Contact Group parties signed the Minsk Protocol : 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 (at times informally called “Minsk II”).
This Package of Measures set out the operational stages for implementing the Minsk Protocol. Its intention was to advance the security situation on the ground and the political process jointly without preconditions. The objective was 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 Package of Measures 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 it was signed. But the crisis persisted due to the parties’ lack of political will to deliver on their commitments. Tensions continued to fuel the Russian-Ukrainian conflict on a regular basis.
In Crimea, Ukraine has not restored its sovereignty and its territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
In eastern Ukraine, repeated ceasefire violations have continued to directly threaten civilians and the humanitarian situation is still very critical, particularly for the most vulnerable people.
The year 2019 was marked by the election of Volodymyr Zelenskyy as President of Ukraine. He received more than 73% of votes and made settling the conflict a priority of his term of office.
Since he was elected, several advances have been made on the ground:
- The ceasefire of 21 July 2019 led to an unprecedented decrease in violence;
- The disengagement was successful in three pilot zones (Stanytsia Luhanska, Petrivske, and Zolote);
- The bridge in Stanytsia Luhanska was rebuilt, making it easier for civilians to travel across the contact line;
- In December 2019 then in April 2020, two exchanges of prisoners involved in the conflict led to the release of a total of 239 elderly people from both sides;
- Additional ceasefire consolidation measures were enacted on 27 July 2020.
Moreover, Russia and Ukraine exchanged 70 political prisoners (different from those held in relation to the conflict since 2014), including the film 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 has never recognized 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 hosted another Normandy Format Summit of Heads of State and Government on 9 December 2019, following on from the last Summit held in Berlin in October 2016. At this Summit, a number of measures to improve the situation and to facilitate the implementation of the Minsk Agreements were made, including consolidating the ceasefire, making progress related to mine clearance, 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 was made regarding all the legal aspects related to the political component of the Minsk Agreements.
See the common agreed conclusions from the Paris “Normandy” Summit
Normandy Format political advisers continued to hold discussions, despite the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 epidemic. On 26 January 2022, they met in Paris and issued a joint statement, the first since the Paris Summit, affirming their willingness to pursue work in the Normandy Format.
France has had a policy of firmness, dialogue and solidarity with Ukraine to move towards a political settlement of the conflict and to help de-escalation since the increase in tensions with Russia on the Ukrainian border at the end of 2021. In light of this, the French President and the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs travelled to Kyiv on 8 February 2022, following a visit to Moscow the day before. France reiterated that any new attack on Ukrainian sovereignty would lead to massive, costly sanctions for Russia.
Despite all of its international commitments, Russia decided to launch a large-scale military offensive in Ukraine on 24 February 2022. France, alongside its European and international partners, has continued its exceptional efforts to support the Ukrainian people since the outbreak of the war.
Updated in June 2022