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On the eve of telephone conversations of the countries participating in Normandy Four, US President Donald Trump has paid an official visit to France on July 13-14. In addition to issues of bilateral relations and international security, Presidents Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron discussed the situation in Ukraine.
Trump and Macron did not clarify what specifically they discussed on the Ukrainian issue. In their early statements, the leaders of the two countries expressed a similar opinion on the issue of a peaceful settlement in eastern Ukraine. Both presidents are not going to cancel the anti-Russian sanctions until the Russian Federation stops aggression in Ukraine. According to Politico, Donald Trump would not abolish anti-Russian sanctions until changes in Ukraine and Syria that satisfy the interests of the United States take place. Emmanuel Macron said during the last G7 summit that France and other countries agreed that economic sanctions against Russia should remain in force until Vladimir Putin stops the war in the east of Ukraine.
Trump and Macron do not believe that the Minsk accords are the only way to resolve Donbas conflict. According to Liga.net, American president is preparing his plan for the settlement of the conflict and does not believe that the Minsk agreements are the only option for a peaceful settlement for Ukraine and Russia. Trump's opinion echoes the position of US Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volcker, who has a reputation as an anti-Kremlin "hawk". In his opinion, the Minsk accords are not a full-fledged peace treaty that can resolve the conflict in Ukraine. At first, it is necessary to ensure cease-fire and to resolve the whole block of issues on the security of the Minsk agreements. Without this it will not be possible to settle political and other issues.
Emmanuel Macron concretized and supplemented the provisions of the Minsk accords. In his opinion, the parties to the conflict must stop the fire and withdraw heavy equipment from the line of contact. In the hottest areas, complete disarmament (demilitarization) should be carried out. Then the parties should provide OSCE monitors with access to the conflict zone and release the hostages. Russia must abolish the decree on issuing documents to the inhabitants of the occupied territories and restore Ukraine control over all the captured enterprises. Ukrainian media has called this approach "Macron’s formula" or "Macron’s plan". This is an alternative to “Steinmeier's formula” (of the former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier), which implies simultaneous adoption of amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine on the special status of Donbas, holding local elections, and withdrawal of Russian military and weapons from the occupied territory.
On the eve of the meeting between Trump and Macron, the text of the draft law "On the peculiarities of state policy for restoring Ukraine's state sovereignty over the temporarily occupied territory of Donetsk and Luhansk region" was promulgated. This bill was prepared not in the Verkhovna Rada, but in the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC). The document proposes to fix on the legislative level the responsibility of Russia for the occupation of certain territories of Donbas. It is emphasized that the Kremlin violates international legal norms and Minsk agreements. As reported by Liga.net, Ukraine's "allies" are "aware of the details" of the bill.
It seems that Presidents Trump and Macron could agree on interaction in the "Norman format" and discuss the strategy of the upcoming talks with Vladimir Putin in the "Norman format." The US is not a member of the Normandy Four. At the same time, Donald Trump is interested in restoring confidence among European partners, with whom there are disagreements on climate and transatlantic trade. This applies primarily to Germany, which in previous years played the major role in the "Normandy Four" and could not convince Russia to fulfill the Minsk accords. German Chancellor Angela Merkel believes that the EU does not make sense to count on the US, as long as Donald Trump is in power. Europe is unhappy with the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement, the protectionist measures of the US authorities and Trump's demand to increase defense spending by 2%. The more active participation of the US in the settlement of Donbas conflict will allow Donald Trump to demonstrate to the EU that the United States continue to guarantee security in Europe and promote the settlement of local conflicts at the borders of the EU.
Since Donald Trump has concentrated on the settlement of the Syrian conflict and the North Korean problem, he decided to share responsibility for maintaining security in Europe with his French counterpart. Macron believes that despite the existing differences on trade and climate issues, the US and EU can cooperate on security issues. The positions of Trump and Macron converge on Syria (fighting against ISIS, counteraction to chemical attacks). Emmanuel Macron criticizes Russia for cyberattacks and interference in the political processes of the EU member states. For the French president, participation in the settlement of Donbas conflict is an exam for the role of an EU leader, who is able to solve problems of regional security.
Historically, the Americans and the French helped each other in the war for US independence, in the First World War. This time Washington and Paris decided to help each other in settling the conflict in Donbas. Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump will try to revive the "Normandy Four." The prime role of Germany, which has no influence on the Kremlin, would be transferred to France, behind which the White House stands.
The United States and France do not go on a frontal attack with Russia on the issue of a peaceful settlement in Ukraine. During the talks with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit, Donald Trump did not focus on the Ukrainian issue. Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov said that the settlement of Donbas conflict will continue within the framework of the Minsk agreements and no alternative scenario was proposed by the US. On the margins of the G20 summit, Donald Trump checked Vladimir Putin for the ability to negotiate. The US is counting on a "gentlemen's agreement" with Russia over Ukraine. Donald Trump took into account the interests of the Kremlin during the negotiations in Hamburg, agreeing to create of security zones in southern Syria, which will be patrolled by the Russian military police and will be in the sphere of influence of the Kremlin. As a response gesture, Russia should agree to the settlement of Donbas military conflict, withdraw its troops from Ukraine, and Kyiv should restore control over the border.
Information in the media about the plans of Trump and Macron, the bill of the NSDC on Donbas, is a purposeful preparation of the ground for the forthcoming telephone talks in the "Norman format." Ukraine, the United States, and France let the Russian leadership understand that it is useless to hamper the process of peaceful settlement in Donbas and try to dictate its will, to deny the presence of Russian military and terrorists on Ukrainian territories. Ukraine has every right to restore territorial integrity, to abolish the illegitimate authorities of the "DPR" and "LPR" because the speeches of Donbas separatists in the spring of 2014 are simply Russia’s planned provocation. The Russian Federation is an aggressor country and cannot be a mediator in the conflict.
It is possible that following the results of "Normandy Four" negotiations with the participation of Emmanuel Macron, Russia will not change the tactics of behavior concerning Donbas. Kremlin deliberately does not comply with the Minsk accords and continues shelling to provoke social and political instability in Ukraine. The lack of progress in resolving the conflict dissatisfies Ukrainian society. Vladimir Putin hopes to restore in Ukraine of a political regime aimed at joining the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEC) and rapprochement with Russia.
At a press conference following the results of the G-20 summit, the Russian president in frivolous form stated that the current Ukrainian government "is playing with Russophobia," and Russia and the Ukrainian society allegedly have common interests in many areas. He is interested in implementing the Moldovan scenario in Ukraine, so that the Ukrainians elect pro-Russian politicians against the backdrop of the inability of the pro-European coalition to solve pressing economic problems and achieve restoration of territorial integrity. The newly elected President of Moldova, Igor Dodon, is skeptical of the Association Agreement with the EU and is interested in organizing the federalization of Moldova, granting broad autonomy to the separatist formation in Transnistria, where Russian troops are stationed, as well as in Donbas.
It is not advantageous for Vladimir Putin to withdraw Russian troops from Donbas before local elections are held in the occupied territories, and the Constitution of Ukraine amends the "special status" of the region. A significant part of Russian society will take this step as a military and political defeat of Russia. The minds of uncritically thinking Russians are full of stereotypes, according to which Ukraine ostensibly should fulfill the political part of the Minsk agreements first. On the eve of the presidential elections in the Russian Federation in 2018, Vladimir Putin will continue to play with the protection of the Russian-speaking population of Donbas.
If Vladimir Putin is not compliant on the Ukrainian question, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron will face a choice. They can repeat the fate of ex-Presidents Francois Hollande and Barack Obama and "express concern" about the lack of progress in "Normandy Four". Donald Trump can tighten anti-Russian sanctions in accordance with the bill "On Counteracting Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia," which was approved by the US Senate. The bill provides for the distribution of restrictive measures to the oil and gas sector, the prohibition of foreign financing for the construction of new Russian gas pipelines.