This week's Normandy summit on the Ukraine conflict, attended by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany, does not appear to have resulted in anything approaching a breakthrough. Moscow and Kiev affirmed their previous positions at the meeting in Paris, and announced their intention to continue to facilitate the stabilization of Ukraine's war-torn Donbas region, while making no substantial changes to the tools already available to them. Still, all the participants gave a positive assessment of the talks, and it didn't seem that they were simply being polite.
For French President Emmanuel Macron, the summit in Paris that he so actively enabled was not just a chance to demonstrate his skills as a diplomat and peacemaker. It was also part of a broader attempt to restore dialogue with Russia, despite sharp criticism from some quarters of the European political class. German Chancellor Angela Merkel clearly values the Normandy format as part of her political legacy, but ultimately, the leaders of Germany and France see themselves as intermediaries, while responsibility for the dynamic of talks lies firmly with Moscow and Kiev.
A key focus for the Normandy-format talks is the humanitarian aspect. After all, people are still dying in the Donbas, and the socioeconomic situation there is terrible. This aspect is particularly important for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as it is comprehensible to his voters and close to their hearts, and protects him from his detractors, who are ready to seize any opportunity to criticize him for appearing too compliant in the talks.
A large-scale prisoner exchange that took place in September is one of Zelensky's first visible successes in renewing peace talks, and at the Paris summit, it was agreed that this process would continue this month. Giving prisoners on both sides the chance to see in the New Year with their loved ones is an important positive signal from which everyone benefits.