Will the peace talks on Donbas be transferred from Minsk "even to Antarctica"?

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Source : 112 Ukraine

Belarus’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Makei: You can move the talks on Ukraine even to Antarctica if you believe they will be a success
09:03, 29 January 2018

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Two recent events have led many observers to doubt whether Minsk would remain the platform for negotiations on eastern Ukraine conflict. Ukraine’s law on Donbas reintegration and Crimea, adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on January 18, does not even mention the Minsk agreements. The reaction from Moscow was immediate. Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matvienko and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov unanimously declared that the document had buried the Minsk agreements.

Related: Fulfillment of Minsk Agreements is doubtful in case of UN peacekeepers deployment, - Russia

The next day, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that during his meeting with Donald Trump, he suggested changing the place of negotiations. Presumably, Nazarbayev would not mind transferring the platform to Astana, as at the initial stage of the process, he wanted to play the role of the host, but then Minsk was given preference. Obviously, these events - the decision of the Rada and the statement of the Kazakhstani leader – have coincided randomly. Nevertheless, the situation was clearly troubling the Belarusian leadership.

Related: Russia’s Foreign Minister: law on Donbas reintegration cancels out Minsk agreements

Reacting to Kazakhstan’s initiative, the head of the Belarusian foreign ministry Vladimir Makei said that initially, Belarus did not ask to become a negotiations platform on the Ukrainian issue. In addition, unlike others, Belarus is not chasing the peacekeeper’s laurels, and actually, the negotiations can be moved even to Antarctica (“You can move the talks on Ukraine even to Antarctica if you believe they will be a success. But for this to happen all the parties involved in this conflict, as well as other countries posing as indifferent players but with vested interests, should be genuinely committed to ending the bloodshed,” Minister Makei said – Ed.)

However, statements of Ukrainian and Russian officials should bring some kind of reassurance. In particular, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin expressed the opinion that location – be it Minsk or another city – is absolutely not important. He also stressed that Minsk was chosen because of "Belarus' relative neutrality and convenient logistics." The press secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov noted that "in this case, the place of negotiations does not have such great importance."

Related: Ukraine’s Foreign Minister comments on proposal to move Donbas negotiations from Minsk

Of course, such explanations do not emphasize the significance of Minsk, but in any case, show that the parties have no intention of changing sewed on a soap. Nevertheless, no one should think that all the pitfalls are left behind. First, now we can expect that Russia and the separatists themselves would torpedo the Minsk negotiation process. That is, to remove this platform completely.

If the US is supposed to formally join the settlement process, it will inevitably be reformatted. And then the change of the site is really not ruled out. One of the reasons is that there is no full-fledged American embassy in Minsk (its staff base was significantly reduced during the 2008 diplomatic conflict).

Related: First in 2018 Trilateral Contact Group meeting begins in Minsk

Of course, Belarus has received certain political and reputational benefits, providing a platform for meetings of the Tripartite Contact Group. At the same time, Belarusian officials have greatly exaggerated the importance of this fact. In particular, the country was loudly called "donor of regional security", although no concrete evidence for this has yet been provided.

Some analysts argue that if Belarus loses its current status, it will be much more difficult for Minsk to justify its refusal to provide the territory as a springboard for Russian troops. However, even without using a similar argument, Minsk managed to temporarily avoid the deployment of the Russian airbase. One can conclude that the Kremlin does not seriously take the sluggish negotiation process, and if it abstains from deploying military bases in Belarus, it will call some other reasons for it. There is no doubt that if Moscow really decided to achieve this goal, it would find a way to "convince" the ally without much difficulty.

Related: Minsk talks: Ukraine to raise issue of releasing teens held in captivity in Donetsk

At the same time, some statements that Belarus failed the role of a platform for negotiations are really weak. This could not happen because the role is insignificant itself. Yes, if the platform disappears, the opportunities for official Minsk to harbor the illusions of its own importance will be reduced. In terms of the situation, when the nomination of new impracticable initiatives (such as "Helsinki 2.0") does not work, it is unlikely to avoid image losses.

But never more, since Belarus has already received from the West all the real dividends in connection with its policy in the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation. And not for the fact that it gave the negotiators a conference room and brought coffee. The main capital that Minsk gained against the backdrop of the new cold war between Russia and the West is the refusal to support aggression against Ukraine and from unconditional adherence to the Russian foreign policy.

Related: President of Kazakhstan tells about Trump’s proposal to move Minsk talks

Thanks to this, Europe and the United States have had formal reasons to turn a blind eye on the country’s, to put it mildly, not really democratic rule.  So now the task is not to lose the status quo. However, it is very difficult to find its solution due to a number of complex internal and external circumstances.

Andrei Fedorov

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