As part of the frenzied diplomatic effort to head off a conflagration in Ukraine, there has been a virtual summit between President Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, as well as meetings between the top diplomats in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna.
On Wednesday, when envoys from France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine met in Paris, it marked a revival of something known as the Normandy Format, a diplomatic grouping that has gathered periodically since the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.
The format has its advantages, according to some analysts. By excluding the United States, it keeps participants from getting bogged down in bilateral U.S.-Russia disputes. But France and Germany, as the European Union’s biggest powers and the ones with the most to lose economically through E.U. sanctions against Russia, wield enough political clout to conduct serious talks.
Expectations for Wednesday’s meeting were low partly because they included senior officials from the four nations, but not their leaders.
The group was created on June 6, 2014, when leaders of the four nations met on the sidelines of commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, during World War II. It was the first meeting between Mr. Putin and Petro O. Poroshenko, then the leader of Ukraine, since the Russian invasion.
The Normandy Format helped broker a cease-fire agreement, known as the Minsk accord, in the eastern Ukraine region of Donbas, where Russia-backed separatists had seized government buildings. But Russia and Ukraine argued over other steps, including disengaging armed groups in the region, and the cease-fire has been violated repeatedly.
The Normandy grouping lay dormant from 2016 to 2019, when Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, called for a renewed effort to resolve the conflict in the east. Mr. Zelensky has described the format as “the only platform for negotiations on a peaceful settlement in eastern Ukraine.”