The crisis in Syria is more important for the international community and the main world centers of power than the crisis in Ukraine. The conflict in Ukraine is largely "artificial". It could and should have been avoided.
The Normandy Four meetings have been quite a success in terms of the observation of the ceasefire regime and not so successful in terms of political settlement of the situation in Eastern Ukraine.
In general, when we talk about the ceasefire regime, everything seems more or less clear to everyone. When it comes to political settlement, "interpretations" of the Minsk II Agreement start appearing, predominantly among the Ukrainian authorities and their Western political sponsors. Such "interpretations" underlie the fact that the political dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk has not begun and Kiev's commitments stipulated by the Minsk II Agreement remain unfulfilled. For some reason, Kiev believes that amendments affecting Eastern Ukraine can be introduced without the consent of the Eastern Ukraine (self-proclaimed republics) itself.
Obviously, this approach is ineffective for political settlement. In this regard, the potential of the Normandy Four (actually three, Ukraine does not bear upon it) is limited. Doubtlessly, Russia, France and Germany make certain attempts to induce Kiev to respect the terms of the Minsk II Agreement. However, Kiev is reluctant to comply with the trio's position. Perhaps, it is due to the local elections and the need to bolster the "high degree of patriotism" in the society. In this case, the situation should be re-examined after the elections, somewhere in the second half of November.
There are two significant breakthroughs in the settlement process of Ukraine.
The first one is the actual observation of the ceasefire regime, considerable de-escalation of the conflict and drastic reduction of the risks of new escalation. This may have different explanations. However, the veto imposed by President Obama on the defense budget, which implies direct military aid to Ukraine, suggests that the top US decision makers understand the risks and realize that any escalation of conflict in Eastern Ukraine is unacceptable and may lead to irreversible consequences. At the same time, the US position on political settlement of the conflict has not really changed and remains very stern, aimed at limiting Russia's influence in Ukraine by any possible means.
As for the second one, the migrant crisis in Europe convinced France and Germany to "better understand" the terms of Minsk II and indisputably show more interest in stability in Ukraine than a year ago. Paris and Berlin realize that neither the crisis in Ukraine nor in the Middle East can be solved without Russia's constructive role.
This has not propelled a special rapprochement between the positions of France, Germany and Russia, and it hardly would in the near future, but the number of irresolvable differences has gone down. Europe does not need a new crisis in Ukraine. It does not need unnecessary and largely demonstrative Russophobia among Ukrainian authorities. It is another reason why all the parties involved in the conflict understand that new escalation of the conflict is unacceptable.
President Putin made a very detailed clarification of what Minsk II provisions Kiev was interpreting arbitrarily and just how Kiev was trying to imitate fulfillment of the agreements.
Without getting into details and legal nuances, we can point out the following moments:
- all the legal initiatives the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine needs to pass should be coordinated with the self-proclaimed republics;
- constitutional amendments in Ukraine should not be limited by transitional provisions or time;
- all the humanitarian limitations (commercial and economic relations or transition of citizens) should be lifted immediately, regardless of the general political discussions or adjustments in the Ukrainian law.
Only after that, we can talk about a shift from de-escalation of the situation in the Eastern Ukraine to normalization. It is not happening at the moment. This means that implementation of the political element of the Minsk II Agreement has not begun yet. It increases the risk of a new "frozen" conflict, which (at least verbally) Kiev and its Western sponsors would prefer to avoid.
The key goal of the forthcoming meeting in Berlin is to stimulate the political element of the settlement process.
It is currently unclear how it can be done practically, but such goal is part of the agenda.
Doubtlessly, Berlin and Paris will keep certain pressure on Kiev, but its effectiveness is vague. So far, Washington has consistently neutralized all the attempts to put any pressure on Kiev, and Europeans cannot "force" Kiev to start realizing the political part of the Minsk II Agreement.
There will be another attempt in Berlin, but the extent of its fruitfulness depends on a number of factors that are either hard to define or are only unraveling. In any case, the changes in Kiev will only begin after November 15 and will depend (among other things) on the public response following the election results.
The crisis in Syria is more important for the international community and the main world centers of power than the crisis in Ukraine.
Large international coalitions are engaged in the conflict in Syria and the Middle East as a whole. There is a real collision between radical Islam, which is an influential world-scale factor and lays claims for recognition as a new independent power, a non-systemic, aggressive and devastating power. None of this has been seen in the Ukrainian conflict.
The conflict in Ukraine is largely "artificial". It could and should have been avoided, unlike the conflicts in Syria and the Middle East, which are a natural result of the collapse of secular statehood in many Arab states. The destruction of authoritarian regimes in North Africa and Middle East made radical Islam the most appealing version of "vertical mobilization" for many, most active "network" structures in the countries. It demonstrates that, regardless of the military campaign in Syria, the conflict in the Middle East and North Africa will be long-running. The conflicts in Somalia and Sudan alone have been ongoing for over 20 years.
The conflict in Syria is a lot more serious than the conflict in Ukraine. Russia and the US are a lot deeper engaged in the Syrian conflict, while the conflict in Ukraine is (and was) of less importance to them.
Nevertheless, two nuances should be mentioned.
First of all, the US is ready to "play" geopolitical games on any number of “boards" and the development of the situation in Ukraine will be constantly in Washington's limelight, whoever is in charge of the White House, however the situation in Syria develops. The US is not only "playing" to restrain Russia, it is simultaneously playing to restrain everyone capable of (potentially) seriously challenging Washington's will to dominate the world ubiquitously and single-handedly. The US will not "leave" Ukraine or "forget" about it, even despite the exceptionally complicated internal political situation in Ukraine, which constantly extravagates the "worst American expectations".
Secondly, unlike the US, Western Europe is not ready for "global geopolitical games". The migrant crisis alone is largely changing the sentiments of the Western European man in the street, who demands peace, comfort and "return to normalcy" from the government. Under such priorities, the positions of Germany and France on Ukraine start depending on the internal political situation. On the other hand, Western Europeans are entirely against "greater involvement" of their countries in the situation in the Middle East.
Therefore, the situation around the settlement process in Ukraine is influenced not only by the situation in Syria and the Middle East, but also by the general situation in the world and the internal political situation in Western European states.
In general, all the world problems are interconnected one way or another. Ukraine is no exception here.