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Normandy Four chaos: Is there scope for progress in eastern Ukraine?

Author : Natalia Lebed

When Ukraine’s representative in Minsk peace talks Leonid Kuchma signed the Steinmeier formula, it was said that without this formula a meeting in the Normandy Format negotiations would not take place
09:00, 17 October 2019

TBU channel

When Ukraine’s representative in Minsk peace talks Leonid Kuchma signed the Steinmeier formula, it was said that without this formula a meeting in the Normandy Format negotiations would not take place. And power placed special hopes on it. October 1, the formula was signed, but it seems that months have passed since then.

The situation began to change: under the influence of the street protests, President Zelensky reversed, explaining in a video message that Steinmeier’s formula could have an alternative - in the event that Ukraine could not manage to take control of the entire border.

Related: Is Zelensky’s bet on Normandy Four justified?

Zelensky, however, was late with editing the formula: for the first time since the presidential election, sociologists recorded a drop in the rating of the head of state by 7%.

The rating of the newly elected Prime Minister Honcharuk is also declining.

"This is a painful compromise, we know and hear every word spoken against it, but at the same time, we still hope that we can go this way without going so far as not to damage our sovereignty, territorial integrity more than we already have," Ukraine’s MFA head Prystayko declared.

But, in the end, the last word will be for the legislative power, not for the executive one. It is the Verkhovna Rada that will adopt (or not) the law on elections in Donbas. Experts noted that such a vote could gather considerable demonstrations under the walls of parliament, which would soon flow under the walls of Bankova.

However, this is not happening yet. But representatives of the diplomatic circles are allegedly preparing for a meeting of the Norman four format. We say "supposedly" because there is no 100% certainty that such a meeting will take place.

Related: Kremlin refuses to discuss Crimean issue in Normandy format or in any other

October 9, Volodymyr Zelensky spoke about the Norman meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Later, Merkel was supposed to talk about this with French President Emmanuel Macron. And then the two of them - Merkel and Macron - were to persuade Vladimir Putin to give the green light to participate in the Normandy Four format.

According to Zelensky, there is some progress in this, but he has not yet announced what exactly the parties can agree on. Meanwhile, Zelensky’s plans are even more far-reaching than the Normandy quartet. “We can meet in two formats - the Norman format and my direct meeting with the President of Russia. Nobody talks directly about this meeting, because everyone is against it,” Zelensky said during his press marathon.

Reuters: Moscow has nothing against Normandy Four

Reuters reported that  “Moscow, however, said the door was still open for a fresh meeting of the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany to discuss resolving the five-year-long conflict in the Donbass region, in which U.N. monitors say more than 13,000 people have been killed. In a breakthrough this month, negotiators from Ukraine, Russia and the rebels agreed that Kiev would grant the rebel region special status and hold local elections there. Under the agreement, rebel fighters and Ukrainian troops would also pull back from the line of contact. But it remains unclear how exactly any of these steps would be implemented and the stalling of the easiest one - the troop pullback - could indicate that the actual settlement of the conflict remains a distant possibility. The pullback originally scheduled for Monday and then delayed until Wednesday has now been put off again because of continued shelling by the rebels, a spokesman for Ukraine’s defense ministry said, adding that a straight week of strict ceasefire adherence was a prerequisite. Commenting on the delay, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a successful pullback would have jump-started the implementation of peace accords, but it was up to the leaders of the countries known as the Normandy Four to decide whether to press ahead with a summit aimed at ending the conflict.”

Related: UN peacekeepers to be deployed in Donbas in case of Minsk, Normandy talks' fail

Eurasiareview: Macron and Trump drift to Russia

Eurasiareview gives a whole retrospection of the gradual "surrender" of Ukrainian interests to Western partners: “Had President Vladimir Putin no real interest in rejoining the Club, he would not have minced his words to reject it outright. Instead, he expressed readiness to host a G-8 summit with China, India and Turkey. The G-7 is unlikely to agree to his suggestion. However, it does open the door to the possibility that Russia would be able to return to the ranks of the developed world. Another significant development is President Macron’s acceptance of President Putin’s invitation to attend the 75th anniversary celebrations of victory in the Second World War (WWII) on 9 May 2020 in Moscow. President Trump has also been invited to the event. It remains to be seen whether he will take it up. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Xi Jinping of China have likewise been invited to the event. Victory Day, as this annual celebration is described in Russia, is a very important day in the history of post-Soviet Russia. Attendance by any major Western leader at this event would be a significant symbolic boost to President Putin’s standing with his people and to Russia’s prestige − it would be seen as the end of Western isolation of Russia. The 70th anniversary celebrations five years ago were attended by non-Western leaders like Xi Jinping, India’s Pranab Mukherjee and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro. Many Western leaders chose not to attend the event in protest over the issues of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine.”

Related: Steinmeier formula implementation is step to Normandy Format talks, - Zelensky

The outlet states that “Finally, President Putin. has domestic political reasons to consider for seeking normalisation with West. That would lead to the lifting of sanctions and help strengthen the economy. His popularity is weakening; the Levada Centre, a Russian independent polling organisation’s recent survey showed that 38% of those polled did not wish to see him remain in office after his term ends in 2024; 54% wanted him to remain president while 8% were undecided.”

The Guardian: Zelensky is crushed from three sides

President Zelensky is in a difficult situation now - this is the promise of the article on the pages of the British The Guardian.

“The fallout from Zelenskiy’s involvement in the Trump impeachment saga is an unwelcome distraction for him. It came as a result of a phone call with the US president in July. The call triggered a leak from a whistleblower, claiming that Trump had temporarily withheld military aid to Ukraine as a way to pressure Zelenskiy to launch an investigation into Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, and his involvement with Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. Zelenskiy repeatedly denied being pressured to launch the investigation and even said that he was unaware that the military aid had been held up in advance of the call. Now his unprecedented 70% trust rating among Ukrainians is at risk. The published transcript of the sycophantic phone call with Trump didn’t help, generating the Monica Zelenskiy taunts,” reads the article.

Related: New law on Donbas special status to appear after Normandy Summit, - parliamentary speaker

Foreign policy: confusion in formulas and the "gas sector"

The Steinmeier formula is also discussed by Foreign Policy publication: “The Ukrainian comic-turned-president announced on Oct. 1 that he had signed the Steinmeier Formula, a road map to ending the war with Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of his country. The process, which is overseen by Germany and France, calls for local elections in occupied parts of the Donbass region and its recognition as a special autonomous region.”

“Western diplomats and military officials believe that some variation of the Steinmeier Formula is the only long-term solution to ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Implementing the formula will next require a meeting of the so-called Normandy Four—Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France. But diplomats and experts told Foreign Policy they believed Russia did not want the Normandy meeting to occur…  Other observers take an opposite view, saying it’s Zelensky, not Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’s in the uncomfortable position. “The pressure of this formula is all on Ukraine and Zelensky and not on Putin, and that is the reverse of where it needs to be,” Michael Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense covering Russia and Ukraine, told Foreign Policy. “Merkel and Macron have said that Ukraine needs to make concessions to help Putin find an offramp, which is ridiculous because it is Russia that has troops in Ukraine,” Foreign Policy wrote.

Related: Kremlin not interested in Normandy format negotiation, - Ukraine's MFA head

Atlantic Council: watch out for the Moldovan version

A rather unexpected aspect of the study of the Ukrainian problem was chosen by the Atlantic Council.

“The October 1 settlement announced by Zelenskyy referred specifically to the Steinmeier Formula. Many in Ukraine worry that the Steinmeier Formula aims at promoting peace—but not necessarily a just peace for Ukraine—so Germany and other European states can get back to business as usual with Moscow. Zelenskyy, however, announced a seemingly modified version of the Steinmeier Formula. He stated that local elections in the occupied region would be held only after Russian and Russian proxy forces withdrew and Ukraine reestablished control over the border with Russia. This sequencing would amount to a victory for Kyiv and, if accepted by Moscow, would constitute a significant departure from Russia’s previous position. Of course, if the Kremlin does not accept this sequencing, the October 1 agreement is doomed. Those who call the agreement a surrender fear that local elections, if not managed carefully, will give political power to allies of those who have run the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics.” By all credible accounts, the “People’s Republic” authorities have done a horrible job managing local institutions and delivering government services. In elections held under Ukrainian law, monitored by the OSCE to ensure that it met free and fair standards, and with the bad guys with guns having left for Russia, would voters really choose to empower people with demonstrably bad track records at governance?” Atlantic Council states.

Related: Merkel confirms holding of Normandy Format summit in Paris

And it is precisely the reason for what President Zelensky loses his rating. But this is just a beginning, and no one knows the consequences of the Normandy Four meeting. It is not known whether this rendezvous will have a result, but popular attitude to Zelensky will definitely change it.

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